Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Desolation Road

I've been a fool for Mars ever since I read Robert Heinlein's juveniles as a kid. So I was immediately hooked when I saw Desolation Road's splendid cover by Stephan Martiniere. It captures perfectly the flavour of the book. (Click on the image for a closer look.)

Desolation Road is the story of a remote community on Mars that pops up unexpectedly in the middle of the Great Desert. Transportation is supplied by the Bethelem Ares Railroad, which exploits local resources as well as its own workers under the guise of "industrial feudalism."

What makes the book special is the author's fervid imagination, and his obvious relish in embroidering this world with extravagant detail. Various travelling side-shows visit the town, the Poor Children of the Immaculate Contraption erect a basilica, and the Truth Corps of the Whole Earth Army sets up a pirate radio station that broadcasts vampire music.

The large cast of characters includes:
  • Persis Tatterdemalion
  • Inspiration Cadillac
  • Johnny Stalin
  • Ruthie Blue Mountain
  • Our Lady of Tharsis
  • Heart of Lothian
  • a time-travelling greenperson
  • a fetus that gets exchanged for a mango
  • a man whose soul passes into a locomotive
  • an aging couple who turn into trees
  • the Greatest Snooker Player the Universe Has Ever Known
  • the legendary King of Swing, Glenn Miller, who arrived on Mars via a time warp

My only complaint is that the latter part of the book is dominated by a series of tedious battles. I got tired of the all the tachyon beams and casual bloodshed, and especially of the ultimate deus ex machina, a timestorm brought about by Dr. Alimantando's chrono-kinetic arts.

Once things quieted down the story rolled on to a shapely and satisfying conclusion. The book is a clever combination of fantasy and SF, and the writing (The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction calls it "rococo") is superb.

More Mars

Red Planet (Robert Heinlein 1949)
The Martian Chronicles (Ray Bradbury 1950)
The Sands of Mars (Arthur Clarke 1951)
Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars (Kim Robinson 1992, 1993, 1996)
Mars, Return to Mars, Mars Life (Ben Bova 1992, 1999, 2008)
Moving Mars (Greg Bear 1993)
Red Dust (Paul McAuley 1993)
The Martian Race (Greg Benford 1999)
How To Live on Mars (Robert Zubrin 2008)
Packing for Mars (Mary Roach 2010)
Postcards from Mars (Jim Bell 2010)

Total Recall (1990)
Mission to Mars (2000)
Red Planet (2000)
Stranded (2001)
Ghosts of Mars (2001)
Roving Mars (2006)

ERB's John Carter of Mars is in production and due for release in 2012.