Tuesday, September 18, 2007

CSFF Tour: Mars Hill Classified, Part 3

Title: The Return

Series: Mars Hill Classified #3

Author: Austin Boyd

Genre: Adult near-future science-fiction

Excerpt from Chapter 1 of The Return:

Friday, February 21, 2020: Mars

The small point of light moved toward them, an unhurried but relentless advance across a lifeless red plan. Not an out-of-the-ordinary sight on Earth, perhaps—a slow vehicle crossing the high desert. But this was Mars. And until moments ago, eight Martian astronauts, along with all of mankind, had thought those explorers were the sole living beings on this forsaken, desiccated planet.

“The glint’s still headed straight for us.” Rear Admiral John Wells, known to his crew as “Hawk,” pointed at the computer display, consternation knitting his brow. “At the current speed of advance, it’ll be here in three days. Tops.”

John heard the quickened breathing of the seven other astronauts gathered around him in the quiet of the Martian morning. Hemmed inside their tight cylindrical home, the crew formed a tense circle in the mission operations center of their laboratory module.

“You’ve only seen those reflections at sunrise, right?” Martin Oswald, their lanky flight engineer, better know as “Oz,” winced as he plucked hair from the side of his head. The guy’s nerves had gotten so bad the bald spot was hard to miss now.

Colonel Melanie Knox nodded and looked up from a data terminal, her small frame bristling with energy. “Satellite surveillance picks up a glint as it crosses the horizon every morning. But only at low sun angles. There’s no mistake—something’s out there. I woke you because I wanted you to see for yourselves.” She studied her wide-eyed crewmates and waved a hand across the screen. “Whatever it is, guys, it’s closing in on us.”

A grieving astronaut returns to Mars to resolve the past.

The Writing: The writing of The Return has the same strong pulse as the first two books of the Mars Hill Classified. Fast, intricate plotting is made even more intense by a ticking clock. Characters you care about—and a few you don’t—gain more depth and complexity. There are minimal viewpoint problems, like in the excerpt above, but most are scarcely noticeable.

Of most interest to me, though, is how the story ends. This can be one of the hardest things to pull off well in writing: The Return must wrap up not only this book, but also the whole series.

In short, the execution of the end in The Return is not flawless. A handful of expectations planted in earlier books aren’t fulfilled. I also longed to have seen the emotion fleshed out when John learns some shocking news (found on page 437—I won’t say what, since it’ll spoil part of The Proof). To drop that kind of bombshell and to not work it through with John has left the issue feeling unresolved, even though I had suspected the truth early on.

My biggest complaint is the lack of explanation for what happened to Amy and her kids. I understand the spiritual point being made with the parallel to Joseph, but I long for even a basic supposition of the antagonist’s motive—after all, Joseph's brothers had a very real motive, even if God was controlling what was happening. Hence, this plot twist feels forced, as if it was added simply to make that spiritual point and to guarantee point-of-view characters at certain places.

Despite these faults, Mr. Boyd does an excellent job ending this trilogy overall. Loose ends are tied up. Mysteries are revealed. Characters reach a point of emotional closure, satisfying the reader as well. The news article added in the extras at the end also was a nice clarifying tie-up.

The Story: As in The Evidence and The Proof, the spiritual thread is woven almost flawlessly throughout the story. It does get a little heavy-handed and perhaps reiterates the theme a tad too much in the end—largely due to the lack of a motive for what happened to Amy—but as whole, the spiritual dimension is seamless with the rest of the story.

Summary: This is an excellent wrap-up to an excellent series. A must read for science-fiction lovers and the readers of suspense and thrillers, especially techno-thrillers. Because of some of the issues about genetics, pornography, and reproduction dealt with in this book, while not extremely graphic (probably less bloodshed in this book than in the previous two), I recommend that it not be read by those under 15.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Can't wait to find out what happens? Order The Return here.

(Click here to see reviews of Book 1 and Book 2.)

1 comment:

Becky said...

I haven't finished The Return yet, so only skimmed your review. I like your age limit suggestions. That's a great add.

If you didn't write novels, Chawan, you'd have a real future as a reviewer. Or maybe an editor.