This is a killer sci novel. The basic plot is that the world is on the brink of total nuclear war. The government feels that the only hope is to establish a colony on Mars.
The trendline forecasts look pretty sour. Now they show nuclear escalation probabilities peaking pretty fast. We’ve got a date for it. The curve continued shows the point-nine probability in less than seven years. “Which means,” he added, “that if we don’t have a viable Mars colony by then, we may not live to have it ever.”
So what the government sets out to do is to create a cyborg – a guy who is mostly hardware who can live on Mars without having to have a special shelter against the climate and gases.
This is the story of the making of that cyborg man – man plus. The technology of it, the psychology of it, really interesting. But we also get into the idea of Truth with a capital T.
He had to accept Roger’s [the cyborg] need for mediation circuits to interpret the excess of inputs, but he had no answer for the great question: If Roger could not know what he was seeing, how could he see Truth?
And ‘mediated truth’, touching on what governments feed the populace.
And of course, since this was written in the 70’s, long before the internet, it is filled with references to newspapers, music tapes, microfiche files to read, and typewriters.
It is also still before feminism took hold. All the main characters are male, none of the astronauts are women, and backpack computers for wearing on Mars are called brother computers. The only women are in supporting roles, caretaking roles: nurses, and a psychiatrist. The wife of the Man Plus is drawn in negative lines. She is the baddie.
As so many of the best sci fi of that era, it is filled with the fear of nuclear extinction, of the damage man does to man and to the planet, and the need to escape, which serves as the vehicle on which the story rides. You can compare this with Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy which was written in the late 90’s, and which concerns itself with the technology and excitement of creating a Mars colony and then terraforming the planet to make it habitable. The tenor of the two stories have an entirely different feel to them, but Pohl’s story echos more Walter M. MIller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz, also of this era, (written in the 60’s), the fear of nuclear destruction all pervasive in the book.
There is so much really excellent sci fi, both the early stuff and the more modern works, that it would take a lifetime to read it all.