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Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer

Reviewed by Alex Binkley

Martian Murder Mystery Marks Sawyer’s Scope

The one thing that can be said of Robert Sawyer’s string of 21 science fiction novels is they’re all built around intriguing ideas. Not only do Sawyer’s books entertain, they usually make you think about the science and the concepts he weaves into them.

Among my personal favorites are the religious discussions in the alien’s search for the Supreme Being in Calculating God, the different morals and philosophies in the Neanderthal trilogy based on a parallel dimension Earth where the Neanderthals survived and the humans died, and the concept of a living entity in the Internet in the Wake, Watch and Wonder trilogy.

Red Planet Blues is Sawyer’s latest attempt to blend sci-fi and the enormously popular mystery and crime genre. He has done it before in several novels and short stories but not to the point of a complex series of related crimes for the protagonist to solve along with the readers.

The story is set in New Klondike, a gritty dome covered city that brings up memories of the Klondike and California gold rushes. Sawyer conveys a feeling for the community that certainly wouldn’t encourage tourism.

The crimes revolve around supplying a lucrative black market on Earth with Martian fossils that date back to a time when the planet hosted simple but numerous life forms. Sawyer even comes up with scientific sounding names for the fossils that are to be found in a mother lode in the barrens of a planet whose precise location is a closely-guarded secret.

As in any criminal enterprise with great riches at stake, murder and intrigue complicate the life of private investigator Alex Lomax as he tries to sort out the good guys from the bad ones amongst a collection of double-crossers in their original or the much enhanced transfer model bodies.

The transfers, as they are usually called, present a big complication for Lomax and the limited presence of police in New Klondike. A transfer can obtain a whole new look plus the ability to travel anywhere on the planet without oxygen or a protective suit. Of course they don’t exempt those who make the switch in special clinics from the old sins of greed and avarice.

The book should appeal to fans of both genres as Sawyer put his solid science background to good work but also shows a flair for the crime solving approach.

Having developed the gritty P.I. figure, one wonders whether Sawyer will resist the temptation to bring us further tales of Alex Lomax.

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