Book description

Book info

Author
Title
eBook formatMass Market Paperback, (torrent)En
PublisherAvon Books
File size6.9 Mb
GanreScience Fiction
Release date 01.02.1997
ISBN9780380778638
Pages count326
Book rating3.88 (28 votes)
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_River of Dust_ by Alexander Jablokov is a science fiction novel set on the planet Mars several centuries into the future. Humanity has resided on the Red Planet for several hundred years and has started to develop its own culture there. Early, starry-eyed attempts at surface habitats and terraforming have been abandoned, as Martian society is an urban and underground one. There are large cities on Mars, or rather in Mars, tunneled through the Martian rock, sometimes peeking at the sky above through heavily shielded windows, but more often very deep underground.

The best thing about the book is its portrayal of the Martian cities (particularly of the main setting of the book, the city of Scamander). The author did a good job of portraying Mars as a distinct culture, as a country, with its own fashion, fads, sense of decorum and of honor, relationships between government and the governed, politics, holidays, festivals, dreaded figures from its past, etc. The reader is not eased into Martian society but rather pretty much thrown into it and for a time it was difficult going but eventually understandable. It almost reminded me of watching Shakespeare performed or hearing the quick banter of interwar British high society types in a _Poirot_ movie; hard to comprehend at first, maybe even baffling, but after a time you get used to it and don't even notice it after a time.

The worst thing about the book though is its complex, difficult to understand plot, one of politics, intrigue, and family feuds. In one sense, the novel is about who has control over Mars, which political faction, whether Earth or one of the ones native to Mars, whether its own government (nominally independent of Earth) or another faction, that of the Pure Land School, lead by an individual named Rudolf Hounslow. Within this struggle various organizations fight politically with one another even though they agree on overall goals (two military/police organizations - Internal Security or InSec and the Vigil - clash quite a bit over jurisdiction and methods in the book). In another sense, it is also a tale of family tragedy, of the rise and fall of a once great family and in particular two brothers, Hektor and Breyton Passman and their father, Lon, a family still haunted by a past in which the Passman brother's mother and sister had died and torn apart in the present by divided loyalties in the Byzantine politics of Mars.

Byzantine plots in and of themselves might not be such a problem and I knew going into the novel that Martian politics would be a major theme, but I was hampered by the fact that I never really understood some of the actors. What motivated Hounslow and the Pure Land School (or one of their acolytes, Brenda Marr, who was a major character)? What did they want? They wanted to control Mars, but what made them different from any other faction? They were described as Neo-Confucian, but what did that mean? They spoke a few times of the purity of the Martian surface, but was that just a sense of aesthetics or did they seriously think that Martian society would give up the vast underground cities, given how difficult if not impossible life would be on the surface? Brenda Marr herself was a complete enigma; I never once understood her motives. Was I supposed to?

With regard to the Passman brothers, I felt Jablokov didn't quite flesh them out well enough. Despite them being the main characters, I never quite understood why they were estranged, or why they chose the sides that they did, which detracted some from any sense of tragedy that the author was building towards. He did a nice job of describing their great home, Xui House, once a fine noble building that was the center of attention, now largely empty, but their motivations never quite clicked with me

In the end, I have mixed feelings about the novel. I thought it had a promising beginning, and the end, while exciting in some ways was also confusing in others. On the one hand the book had one of the finest portraits of a possible, future Mars but on the other hand its heavily political plot to me at least never quite gelled. A good effort though.

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