Book Review – Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer

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Alex Lomax is the only private detective on Mars. The small town is populated by biologicals and transfers, people who have transferred their consciousness into artificial bodies so they can live forever. A fossil deposit has been found which has caught the interest of a number of parties, but when dead bodies begin to show up Alex starts to get involved in a mystery that spans decades. 

Red Planet Blues is actually a continuation of a novella, and this takes up the first ten chapters. Unfortunately, this is noticeable and it’s fairly jarring when you reach the end of the chapter. It also creates a bit of a strange pacing issue because it feels like a new story is starting but it’s still a continuation of the one you just read and a lot of it is connected but some new things have to be introduced, so that bit doesn’t flow as well as I might have liked. 

But overall the narrative is quite fast-paced and the writing style is easy to read. I liked the archeological focus of the story and it feels like a classic adventure but with futuristic elements. The environment of Mars was almost a character itself and I loved the concept of transfers and how they were presented. The mystery itself, well, I can’t help thinking there were a few twists too many with many characters having different agendas. At certain points it was a bit difficult to keep track of it all, although when it came down to it it wasn’t actually that complicated. I do feel as though it ended with a whimper instead of a bang as well. 

My other big problem is all the references to old movies. Now, I love pop culture references in things I watch and read but there were so many here and they felt so forced they took me out of the story completely. Some of the more subtle ones did make me smile, like when he mentioned fal-tor-pan, but otherwise they were pretty cringeworthy and harmed my enjoyment of the story. I don’t really blame Sawyer because it’s his book and one of the great things about being a writer is that you get to be self-indulgent if you want to, but I would have preferred it had they been toned down. 

Other than the transfers there were another couple of concepts that I liked. One of them was the fact that Mars is kind of like a prison, and that due to the difference in gravity between Earth and Mars, the longer you spent on the red planet the less likely it was that you would be able to adjust to Earth’s environment. So going to Mars was actually a risk in and of itself, and it was interesting to see why each character chose to do so. The other thing I liked was the little subplot that happened between the previous explorers, the ones who first discovered the fossil deposits and this gave a nice bit of history to the world presented in the book. 

I wouldn’t put Red Planet Blues high on my list of priorities but I did enjoy it. Despite its failings it was still a fun read although I’m not sure that it’s a book that will stay with me.

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