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"Stand By For Mars!"
Book Reviews

Book Reviews by Edogawa Ranpo

The Heart of Mars
Chuck Rosenthal
Hollyridge Press, 2007
157 pages

I'll start this review with the most important part. Should you read this book? Yes, you should!

There are two types of writers, as Isaac Asimov once said, and they produce two types of books. "The mosaic and the plate glass."

Plate glass fiction is for those who like clean, simple prose that moves a story along quickly.

The mosaic is all about the words - beautiful prose to evoke a mood as well as tell the story, which can necessitate many readings to appreciate it or understand it fully.

My own preference is for the plate glass style. I like rip-roaring action adventure novels for the most part, philosophical treatises aren't my cup of tea. But The Heart of Mars is so beautifully written, and so intriguing, that I was drawn into it despite myself. (Although, in my research after finishing the book, I think I drew from it things the author had not intended, but more of that later.)

There has never been a good reason to be anywhere, let alone here. Yet here I am. And there you are. I am learning to write. And you, by now, must be learning to read.

One of the big fish ferries from the ocean moon, the Gift Moon, Europa, had been hijacked and by all indications re-routed to the fourth planet, the desert planet, Mars. Where could you hide a billion fish on Mars? Who could keep them? Who could eat them? That's how my story begins. I was sent from Home, once called Earth, to investigate. There were robiots available, but you can't send a robiot to do a Nutian's work. In fact, you send a homan.

Long ago, one of the many things that was supposed to happen that didn't happen, was that things called machines would learn to think on their own. Non-biological space ships would travel at the speed of light. Or faster. But we have learned that there is an ebb and flow to everything. As the Nutian might say, we plumb run out of progress.
Both page 1 and Chapter 1, The Heart of Mars

The narrator, and "detective" of the story is Marl, half-homan and half-Nutian, biologically, but all-Nutian, mentally. "Survive and contribute," is his mantra, and the mantra of the Nutians.

The first half of this narrative is all about world-building, as Marl explains what is known about how humans used to live on Home (or Earth) before the Return of the Nutian, an amphibian race who saved Earth and its people from the devastation they had wrought via global warming and warfare, and how the Nutians aquaformed Home, as well as other planets and satellites...and how they eventually intend to aquaform Mars.

On the Gift Moon Marl meets ElmoLeonard, a Pet (a creature that runs the Moon for the Nutrian, while the cetaceans work it:

Pets themselves were olfactory communicators and when they first came in contact wih us they found dogs much more intelligent than homans and assumed, on the basis of their olfactory complexity compared to ours, and by the way we fed and cared foer canines, that dogs had run the planet before the Nutian Return. The creature in front of me seemed to explode, at first, with a flurryof noses, and emitted a penetrating odor akin to a frightened yak.

The Pets are "more colony than character, more pack than person. Whatever their original or singular disposition, no one has ever seen it, for they are always in some group of furriness, clinging bodies, limbs and heads, which crawl about each other in constant, mutual affection, rubbing and petting themselves in total self-absorption and speaking, when they speak, by a kind of anarchy of mutual agreement, from one mouth or in unison."

Creatures, including humans, can be absorbed into the Pet, or detach themselves, as does a woman called L, who acts as Marl's guide while on the Gift Moon.

She also accompanies him when he sets out next for the planet Mars...and on this journey, in which they spend most of their time having sex (the details of which are left to the readers imagination) they also find time for L to teach Marl how to write. L was a homan (or human, as she calls herself) from one of the Wild Zones still remaining on Earth, before allowing herself to be aborbed into the Pet ElmoLeonard.

On Mars, as on the Gift Moon, there are no Nutrian (or First Nutrian, as the pure bloods are called), but there are many pockets of homans in little fiefdoms...most of them scattered across the land that will shortly be aqua-formed by the Nutrians.

Marl learns of a being named Kurtz, and sets out to find him. However, he must navigate amongst many of the human tribes on Mars, from the Young Italians, or Roamins, who spend their days pillaging and their nights drinking and having sex, to the Germans, to the Swiss and the Austrians, always in search of the elusive Kurtz, and learning more about the Nutians...and their Return... than he ever thought possible.

Chuck Rosenthal raises interesting philosophical questions in his narrative at the heart of The Heart of Mars (as well as echoes of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness), which give one to think.

But, even though we never meet a Nutrian throughout the story, I find them more attractive than the various tribes of humans, who remind me of nothing more than the various native American tribes who fought against the encroaching white man during the era of "The Wild West." They enjoyed fighting each other too much to band together in order to defeat the common enemy - and so were defeated.

So it is with the Humans on Mars. They all exist in their own little enclaves - and hate everyone in all the other enclaves, and seem to live only to copulate and kill. I found myself hoping at the end that the Nutrian's Aquaforming of Mars gets completed rather quickly to put an end to all that useless existence.

However, that's only my take on these humans, and as I said there are many layers in this narrative. Check it out for yourself. You will take something away from your reading.

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