Red Planet Blues, by Robert J. Sawyer (Ace, 2013, $25.95, 356 pp.)
reviewed by Zeke Teflon
Occasionally, “pure entertainment” science fiction novels are actually entertaining. Red Planet Blues fills the bill.
Based on Sawyer’s novella “Identity Theft,” which appeared in Mike Resnick’s sci-fi-noir collection, Down These Dark Spaceways in 2004, Red Planet Blues follows hard-bitten, hard-drinking, wise-cracking (what other kind is there?) private detective Alex Lomax as he unwinds a complex web of greed, theft, betrayal, murder, and identity transfers set against the background of a “gold rush” (in this case a fossils rush) on a near-future Mars.
If this sounds familiar, it should. Take out the sci-fi elements, and you have the underlying features of Treasure of the Sierra Madre–something Sawyer makes plain in naming a spaceship “B. Traven.” (Traven was the anarchist author of Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Death Ship, March to the Monteria, and other novels with the underlying theme that capitalism poisons human relationships and mass produces human misery.)
Here, Sawyer stays clear of the political subtext of Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and that’s a wise move in a comic-noir novel that has no pretensions other than being a good read.
There are many things to like in Red Planet Blues. The central character is sympathetic if shallow (hey, it’s a noir novel, whaddya expect?); the secondary characters are well drawn; the plot is tight and complex; the story is consistently amusing and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny; Sawyer doesn’t simply pad his original novella, but instead extends the story far beyond it; and he gets the science right.
* * *
Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia. He’s currently working on the sequel.
- Book review: Red Planet Blues by Robert J Sawyer (nickmatthews.ca)
- Red Planet Blues: A His and Hers Review (thebookstop.wordpress.com)
- Who is b. traven? (contraryperspective.wordpress.com)