Book Review: Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer

Red Planet Blues by Robert J. SawyerRed Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer
Gollancz, 353pp standard paperback, £8.99 cover price
£5.99 on Kindle (Jan 2016)

Reviewed by Alex Bardy (Twitter: @mangozoid)

In my last review I mentioned something about my lack of international reading credentials, and am wondering if reading multiple-award winning Canadian author Robert J. Sawyer counts as international reading…

Red Planet Blues is a bit of a misnomer, but it does kind of sum up the daily life of our only resident private eye, Alex Lomax, as he goes about his business on planet Mars, in this case investigating a series of linked cases to do with missing bodies, kidnapped minds, failed prospectors, and ‘the demise of the great Martian fossil rush‘. Truth be told, there are at least two distinct stories here, and the author acknowledges the first ten chapters are actually a reworking of an award-winning short story called ‘Identity Theft’ that got nominated for a Hugo, Nebula and Aurora way back when.

The story, or rather stories, take place in and around the domed outpost/city of New Klondike, and despite the author’s efforts, there is a distinct sense of ‘closure’ after the first ten chapters, meaning the thread linking this tale to the rest of the book is tenuous indeed, if not threadbare. It does make for an awkward read, but Alex Lomax is our wise-crackin’ badass PI, and you’ll either love him or hate him, frankly. I confess the further I read, the more I thought about Bob Hoskins’ portrayal of Eddie Valiant from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? with elements of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe thrown in for good measure…

The idea of an aging Mars population getting whipped into a frenzy for trendy ‘transfers’ (putting their mind and memories into an improved, younger android body)  isn’t a difficult one to grasp, especially in line with today’s ‘must-have’ generation of tech-heads, and the author does a good job of playing with the concept as he puts it into alternative scenarios alongside crooked cops, dodgy fossil-hunters and the like. A murder mystery is at the heart of this, and even then the concept of ‘murder’ is open for debate…

As one would expect from a multiple award-winning author (I hope), the writing is clear and concise, even felt a bit ‘dumbed down’, but the concepts and ideas are simple enough to grasp, and make for relatively light reading. That’s not always a bad thing, though, and makes for a welcome change of pace. By no means special enough to be considered essential reading, but light and fluffy enough to be taken as and when… I liked it.

* This review originally appeared on the British Fantasy Society (BFS) website here

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