Orion Books, out now
Meet private investigator Alex Lomax – he’s the P.I. on Mars that the dames love and the bad guys fear. Sometimes.
It’s clear reading Red Planet Blues just how much fun Robert J. Sawyer has had expanding his award-winning novella Identity Theft into a full-blown novel. Without losing a scintillon of his scientific credibility, Sawyer gives us a hard-boiled mystery whose twists are predicated on the conditions in and near the dome where a group of humans try to get along with those who have been ‘transferred’, their consciousness put into a replicant body.
It’s a Sawyer novel, so you can expect some philosophical debate to underlie the action, humour and sharp plot twists. There’s a discussion early on about whether the soul can be transferred (which is reminiscent of the debate in James Blish’s original Star Trek novel, Spock Must Die! about the use of the transporter), and questions of identity underline the entire piece, whether it’s the status of someone who is a ‘copy’ of a still-living person, or what someone stands for. Alex Lomax himself is a wisecracking PI – with a neat line in movie quotes (I was waiting for the Star Trek III one) – but there’s far more to him than just a gumshoe out to make a living, and I hope that Sawyer will see fit to revisit him in the years to come.
Sawyer knows the genres and there are tips of the fedora to a number of previous stories set on Mars (and, of course, the occasional dreadful joke), as well as characters who might have stepped out of a Humphrey Bogart movie. As ever, the science isn’t forced down the reader’s throat, but unquestionably you come away with a better understanding of the problems and advantages of living in a lower-gravity environment (particularly if, as might happen to the best of us, you become caught up in an attempt to find the most valuable McGuffins... I mean, fossils.)
There have been many stories which combine these genres before – the current BBC adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? has emphasised those elements – but Sawyer gives us characters we care about, all the clues we need to solve the mystery (and I was kicking myself for missing one of the key ones at the end!), and a lot of fun along the way.
Verdict: A highly enjoyable walk down the mean streets of Mars! 9/10