Red Thunder by John Varley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I honestly don't know what happened to this great book. Was it the timing? It came out in 2003, years before The Martian and absolutely after the stream of great Mars books of the '90s, but it hits that near-perfect sweet spot of adventure, underdog, and technical know-how using found parts and the gumption to --
GO TO MARS
-- at all costs.
I mean, come on, it's a perfect updated mix of Heinlein's Red Planet with the later Martian, getting ghetto and even hiring on a great street artist to adorn the spacecraft. I swear, I enjoyed every step of this novel.
Most of it is misfit characters either because of poverty, racial inequality in Florida (yeah, yeah, don't laugh, it happens there, lol), being a washed-up maverick drunk, a misdiagnosed idiot savant, or being too smart and female.
Rusty tankers, pick-up trucks, and using the shoulders of all the scientists that came before is a wonderful gimmie that capitalizes on my own obsession with privatized space travel, but it's the ONE obviously SF notion that gives this book its real oomph. Without Jubal's Christmas ornament breaking the laws of physics and all, waiving most of those energy requirements, this would never have gotten off the ground. But hey! It's SF and there has to be one little tweak to give us anything like this.
I mean, no trust fund could pull this off unless your daddy is Elon. And even then... I mean, come on.
And this doesn't bother me at all.
I swear, it's like I'm reading a totally modern early Heinlein that doesn't fear to stare at all the obvious problems in the face AND it does it with an awesomely clear voice.
This book should never have been lost in the mix. It should have new life again right now. Especially for all of us seeing space travel come back alive. I literally sat on the edge of my seat as I read this. :)
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