SNOWFALL ON MARS by Branden Frankel

“Although the terrain is a rusted red-orange, it is gashed at random internals with outcroppings of faded grey rock.  In the distance are snow-topped hills.  There are no plants.  There are no animals.  Just soil and rock and the train track, exploding out from beneath the train and into the hazy distance as though the track was as desperate to return to civilization as the outcasts transported upon it.

Out of the steel grey and cloudless sky, snowflakes drift gently to the ground…The snow I’m watching fall now is the result of a failed project undertaken by a failed people.  The first colonists came to Mars sixty years ago.  Forty years later, they tried dto terraform the planet by pumping chemicals into the air.  The intent was to create a breathable atmosphere.  All they created was acidic rain and toxic snow that served to break their impressive machines down into the same rust red dust that is the beginning, middle, and end of this place.”

Yep, Gentle Readers, it is that time again.  Time for another Mars book, because I AM the most Mars obsessed person you know. And let me say right from Jump Street that I loved this book.  It doesn’t have the detailed and imaginative science or the painfully serious politics of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy, the fun goofiness of Kage Baker, the woo-woo factor of finding ruins on Mars of Dylan James Quarles, or the ultra reality of Mars in Andy Weir’s The Martian.  This book about Mars, my darlings, has SNOW!  Hot damn!

From the hundreds of thousands of colonists who came to Mars and procreated there, spread over a number of settlements, the population is down to about 500, huddled together in one section of New Houston, and they are barely keeping body and soul together, because you need high tech folks to keep things running, food growing and processing, etc.  They are down to only a handful who seem to be using my basic toolbox – hammer, screwdriver and duct tape.  Twenty years ago, Earth blew itself up —  mid-sentence during a broadcast.  This triggered nuclear winter on Earth, and whelp,  there goes your fallback position if you didn’t like life on Mars, and there goes your grocery delivery.  This event on Earth triggered on Mars mass suicides, and days of unspeakable violence and killings.  Those who were left were left to make do with damaged infrastructure and facilities.  The terreforming project after being seen to be a total failure, was shut down.  Life became constricted and bleak.

As we live through the days with our first person narrator, I am reminded of scenes of Soviet-era Russia, grim, bleak, sad.  One day after another, one foot after another, until one day he is awakened by a friend to tell him that the head engineer has been murdered in his lab over night.  The game is on to find the killer, and the reason for the murder.  In that process, we find there is an even larger problem.  A self-proclaimed cult leader has plans to blow up what remains of the planet’s population because of his own overheated sense of guilt and doom, and it is up to our narrator and friends to track him down and foil the dastardly plot.

Fun fact:  the food for the planet is manufactured in an underground facility.  At one time, this ‘substance’ was known as “sustainability rations”.  It was to hold colonists over in the event that a shipment from Earth was delayed.  It was never mean to be eaten as breakfast, lunch and dinner for a lifetime.  These rations are created by distilling the byproduct of a genetically engineered fungus brought from Earth years ago.  The fungus metabolizes Martian soil and creates a substance that can support human life.  In other words, they feed dirt to fungus and eat its shit.

A quote or two, to whet your appetite:

About a scammer,

You are aware that you can’t trust Wang, right?  You are aware that Wang has no scruples?  That he’d sell his own mother into slavery?  Assuming, of course, that he was born rather than spontaneously generated out of ambient spite.

About his dream for a life where there might be real food:

It doesn’t have to be the Land of Milk and Honey.  The Land of Beer and Cheeseburgers would suit me just fine.

So we have a mystery and a thriller all rolled up together, but the most interesting thing about this was the way we are forced to examine the ideas of identity, place, and I suppose grit and intrepidness.  Our narrator, who was brought to the planet by his parents at age 6, and thus has memories of Earth,and plans for returning there, views his future much differently than those young people who were born on Mars, for whom Earth is just a word, and for whom its destruction is essentially meaningless.  Our narrator views the future as ‘less than’, while the young people, having nothing to compare it to, simply view it as ‘future’.

Snow on Mars.  It just doesn’t get any better than this.


Sci Fi with an emphasis on the fi, with a lot of the sci  glossed over.  That’s fine by me.  I  don’t really need a course in astrophysics or quantum physics to enjoy a story about the final frontier.

The first third of the book concerns young Cornell, whose mother, we learn, was abducted by aliens when he was four and the family was out in the woods on a picnic.  I mean, think about it.  How many people do you personally know …. or have even heard about …. whose parent was abducted by aliens and never returned?   I thought so …. zero.  So right off the bat we know that weirdness will probably be the norm.

We meet Cornell and his father, and their neighbor and bff Pete as they are traveling to a site where a strange slick of glass had appeared overnight.  Cornell’s dad is a UFO buff.  He is obsessed with them, and some family money has enabled him to make it his life’s work, and the three travel around interviewing people and taking samples of the glass, and so forth, as one does if one is a UFO nut fixated person.  These glass ‘puddles’ have appeared all over the world, much like crop circles, and no one knows where they come from, or what they mean.  They are not some special material … they are just glass.

And so life goes for, as I said, the first third of the book, as we learn more about Cornell and his dad and then one night ……. BAM!!  the sky becomes inverted.  Like a mirror.  You look up at the sky and instead of seeing stars, you see a mirror image of say, Antarctica.  Well, talk about panic and terror in the streets!  For a while.  But nothing happened from then on.  Nothing.  No aliens arriving, no doomsday, no apocalypse.  Nothing but life as usual.

And if you thought that was weird, the remainder of the book was even weirder.  Cornell becomes estranged from his whack-o father, and eventually is recruited by a secretive company to …    you are so going to love this ……  go through a ‘portal’ or what they call an ‘intrusion’ which dumps them into other worlds.  Turns out there are a bunch of these anomalies all over, each one going to a different world, some very dangerous, some where the explorers never returned, and some similar enough to earth that the explorers can spend some time there trying to find advanced species so they can make first contact.

Cornell goes through an intrusion to a place where he becomes a sort of kind of humanoid insect-y thing which has a huge head housing the brain (the mind), and six bodies.  Think of having six hands to do your brain’s bidding.  The mind uses these bodies out in the world while it remains somewhere nearby in safety.  And, yeah, he does actually meet an alien …. I love it when there is an alien in the book.  This one is huge, powerful, and frankly, not all that bright.

I am not going to tell you any more about this plot in case you are a sci fi fan and want to read this.   But I will give you a spoiler hint about his mother……  oh, phooey, no I am not.   Read the book.

This whole premise of ‘intrusions’ calls to mind the idea of the trash chute in apartment buildings.  If these intrusions become well known, at least by governments or powerful groups, what’s to prevent them from tossing all the unwanted human riffraff into the intrusions where nobody returns?   Could be a nifty method for population control.   Egad.  Unintended consequences, and all that.  Here we naive readers are approaching it like a fun ride at the amusement park, what with us popping through  to look around at the weirdees, but hey, unwanted visitors could be using them to show up on earth and take a peek at us, too, not to mention that using it like an airlock thing.

I love sci fi, even bad sci fi, for the creative and unusual ideas that people have.  I really admire imaginations that go beyond aliens that all look like humans, humanoids or bacteria.   Really, think about it.  Think of all the strange and unusual creatures in our own oceans.  What makes us think that every life form is human?

NEMESIS GAMES by James S. A. Corey

The fifth in the hopefully never ending series The Expanse, by those two guy who write under one name.  For what has gone before, just put the author’s name in the search box here.

This series is space opera and character development and epic story telling and some nifty imagined futuristic science, and all those good things wrapped up in a hard sci fi package set in the future future, where we have technology to reach the stars via the ‘Epstein Drive’,  which is a modified fusion drive invented by [the fictional] Solomon Epstein and which enabled humanity to travel beyond Earth and the inner planets and colonize the Asteroid Belt and outer planets.

The drive utilizes magnetic coil exhaust acceleration to increase drive efficiency, which enables spaceships to sustain thrust throughout the entire voyage. A ship fitted with the efficient Epstein drive is able to run the drive continuously for acceleration to its goal and then after flipping at about the halfway point is able to run the drive continuously during deceleration. Previous engine designs used propellant less efficiently and could not be run long enough to achieve the high velocities that the Epstein drive permitted.

Since its invention and up until the discovery of the Ring network, the Epstein drive remained the most advanced transportation technology humanity had access to.


In Cibola Burn, the protomolocule’s gate has opened the doors to innumerable worlds for humanity, and a movement to colonize new planets is underway. But, it’s not all good news for the solar system’s power struggle: Mars’ terraforming project is threatened by the mass exodus, and the Belt is seeing its own sources of supplies and resources dwindling.

At the start of Nemesis Games, the worst case scenario unfolds: Ships have begun to disappear across the solar system, and a brazen attack against Earth and Mars plunges the solar system into chaos. Each of the crew of the Rocinante are caught up in the action as the solar system is torn apart.  Nemesis Games turns into a complicated solar-political story: radicalized Belters declare war on the rest of the system, attempting to kill the political leaders of Earth and Mars, and worse. The undercurrents of racism and economic inequality that have shaped Corey’s world come up front and center.   We see a couple of serious points emerging out of the space opera story — that radical actions and movements don’t come out of thin air: they’re born out of inequality and racism, often at the hands of those who are willing to overlook the human cost of their actions. In the Belt, each day is survival, and there’s some clear parallels between the War on Terror and the actions of the OPA’s Free Navy (the radicals’ organization) movement.

And secondly, the violent actions of terrorists rarely speak for the entirety of a people: Rather, they’re conducted by individuals looking to expand their own power, latching on to whatever is convenient to get people to follow them and act in their name.

This was a humdinger, a page turned from beginning to end.  LOVE LOVE LOVE this series.


– the inescapable agent of someone’s or something’s downfall,  archrival, adversary, foe, opponent, arch enemy

  • a long-standing rival; an archenemy.

-a downfall caused by an inescapable agent.


CIBOLA BURN by James S. A. Corey

This is the fourth in The Expanse sci fi series.  This novel describes the flood of humanity now pouring out into the galaxy and the race for the newly accessible resources on the various planets and asteroids, using the ring gates that the aliens have left behind something like a kabillion years ago.

I absolutely love love love this series.  Each is a stand alone book, loosely hooked to characters and situations from the previous volumes,with the four crew members of the Rocinante being the centerpiece of the series,  so if you have read any or all of the previous, you recognize some principles from the other books, and if you have not read them, there is enough back story to keep you in the loop without being b.o.r.i.n.g.

This series is about the Belters, people from the outer planets, most of whom have never been to Earth or Mars,  and about Earth and the UN which has started the process of methodically cataloging and investigating the new planets on the other side of the mysterious ring,  and trying to regulate who can settle and mine which planet, and about the OPA, the Outer Planet Association, which represents the Belters’ interests against the Earth UN.

Mars gets a nod here, and it is becoming clear that Mars will eventually be a lost civilization because the terraforming is slow going, and frankly, now with the rings opening up the universe to planets with Earth-like atmosphere, who wants to live their entire life underground while waiting for breathable air and the radiation to go away?  Mars will become a ghost planet, yesterday’s news, old hat, or should I say old space helmet?

In this volume, refugees from the Ganymede disaster end up on a ship that finally locates a remote uninhabited planet with atmosphere, which they name Ilus.  After landing, and looking around, they discover it has a great quantity of lithium, a highly salable alkali metal, and begin mining it.  Turns out the planet also has some weird wildlife, some of which is not exactly life, if you catch my drift.

A research ship sent by the UN shows up to take possession because they have a charter from the UN, but some Ilus activists blow up the landing site, and unfortunately, catching a shuttle as it was about to land, killing some of the scientists on board.  Thus starts a war between the two, led by a psychopathic head of security on the research vessel and a hotheaded activist on the planet.  James Holden, the captain of the Rocinante, a Mars  war ship, awarded to him for his services, and his crew, are sent by the UN head, the indomitable Chrisjen Avasarala, to act as mediator.  Accompanied by the ghost of the detective killed in an earlier volume, Holden finds a mess, and the ghost Miller is a construct of some vast alien being who is The Investigator looking for the thing that killed off the protomolecular and to disarm it.

A little confusing, but definitely different in scope.

A nuclear explosion in the ocean on the other side of the world from the colony sets off a vast tsumani which totally destroys the planet.  Fortunately there were ancient ruins of the alien to shelter in, but the days and weeks of the subsequent rains bring down an organism which finds the human eye just a dandy habitat, and everyone is slowing going blind, even while both sides are still trying to kill each other.  Such a fine testament to the basic nature of humanity.

Lots of exciting stuff goes on, and although some reviewers were not happy with the book, I — having much lower standards — thought it was great.

The title…. all the titles in this series seem to refer to some — often obscure — sci fi title or theme.  Cibola is a mythical area somewhere in the American southwest, thought to contain 7 cities flowing with gold and treasures.  The Spaniard Coronado tried to find it and all he could locate were some very poor settlements.   In this book, I think the reference is to the idea that the planet Ilus has a treasure — an abundance of lithium, which now all the big three (Earth, Mars and the OPA) want and will do what they can to obtain it.  Since the myth talks about seven cities, maybe it suggests there are six more planets, or maybe it refers to the quest for the treasure.  In addition, the noted sci fi author Connie Willis wrote a book about a journalist who meets a woman who claims to be the great granddaughter of Coronado, but that would make her 300 years old, and also claims she knows where Cibola is, so the journalist and the woman set off on a quest to find it.


THE RED: FIRST LIGHT by Linda Nagata

Official plot:  Lieutenant James Shelley commands a high-tech squad of soldiers in a rural district within the African Sahel. They hunt insurgents each night on a harrowing patrol, guided by three simple goals: protect civilians, kill the enemy, and stay alive—because in a for-profit war manufactured by the defense industry there can be no cause worth dying for. To keep his soldiers safe, Shelley uses every high-tech asset available to him—but his best weapon is a flawless sense of imminent danger…as if God is with him, whispering warnings in his ear.

OK, folks, this is a military sci-fi story set in something like today, and …. you ladies will love this … it is written by a woman.  It was originally an indie-published book but has been re-released by a major publisher. Does my heart good to see women sci fi writers get the notice they deserve.

So, like I said, not just a sci-fi, but a military sci-fi, and what the heck was I doing reading this?  My Dearly Beloved downloaded it and since we share an Amazon account, whatever he downloads shows up on my Kindle, too.  So I started reading it thinking it was …. well, I don’t know, I just started reading it, and found it kinda hard to put down, frankly.

It is kind of cyberpunkish, I guess, because Lt. Shelley has implants in his head, and their suits are like exoskeleton things, and they have all these nifty weapons.   They get caught in a surprise attack, and Lt. Shelley gets his legs blown off, but not to fret, Gentle Readers, they have a new experimental deal where they attach prosthetic  legs right to the bone and muscle!!!,  (which my amputee Dearly Beloved would truly prefer, since his above-the-knee prosthesis weighs a friggin’ ton.)   So after getting his cyborg attachments, back he goes into a secret and very dangerous mission.

Because, here’s the thing, it is getting known that he gets these feelings,  that warn him of coming bad stuff, and one of his team calls him King David, (you know, how God spoke to King David and helped him win battles? Not the part where King D. sent his best friend into combat to die so he, King D., could have the wife.  Not that part.)  That he has these warnings is starting to get around, and rather than think it is God or some alien, it is suspected that it is a computer programming hack, that possibly arose on its own out of a collection of marketing and inventory programs.  An emergent program, if you will.  However, others think it is  defense-contractor designed program, because as we all know, if there are no wars, DCs don’t make any money.

One interesting aspect of the storyline, interesting because I keep trying to ignore it here in R. L., is that the defense contracting industry went from supporting government declaring war, to figuring out they would do better by buying the congress so that the congress would find new places to hold a war, and then….. it occurred to them they could bypass the middleman Congress altogether and start wars all by themselves.

It was just a great read, and I am glad I stumbled onto it.  There is a sequel, but as the storyline gets more into conspiracy theory and farther away from It Was Aliens, I am less interested.

Oh, and the title comes from a major player who believes Satan is behind all the problems, and says that the Devil is everywhere.  He is the red stain bleeding through into all the affairs of Men.   People have started referring to the hacking as the red stain, or simply, the red.  I found that interesting, because the Spanish word for network is red.   Synchronicity.

I still hope its aliens.

ANCHOR LEG by Jack Croxall

This little sci fi YA was almost good.  Almost.  Fell a bit short as the ending drew near because the actions became more and more improbable and the plot more predictable.

Official blurb:  Humanity has spilled out into the Solar System, into a succession of giant space stations known as the Relay. Seren Temples is a security apprentice running the Relay’s remote Anchor Leg. When sabotage strands her vessel near another damaged ship, Seren and her team are sent across to investigate. The second ship is a zero-G graveyard. Inside its vast hold, nothing but a single vial of frozen blood.

Seren is 17 years old. Her boss, the head of security, is injured during a riot control, and during that riot, a man steps in and shoots one of the security team, killing him.  Another member of the team goes after the shooter, and kills him.  He is taken into custody and thrown in the brig. The head of security is in a coma in the hospital, leaving only two members of the team still available and functioning — the former pirate turned good guy, and the 17-year-old trainee.  So.  Who does  the captain of the ship make acting head of security?   Sigh.  Yes.  The 17-year-old trainee, because, duh the other one used to be a pirate.   [Insert eye roll here.]

So right there, I am trying to decide whether to just abandon the book at this point, or slog forward.  I slog forward, because it is actually a space mystery/thriller and I usually finish a mystery, no matter how less-than-excellent they are.

The mystery itself wasn’t bad, but really, the star of the show being a 17-year-old?  That wasn’t really working for me.  However, I did like the world building — very creative.  The sci part of the fi was a smidge lame,  but the author wasn’t going for competition with Miéville or Kim Stanley Robinson, so we readers just went along for the ride.

I think I just discovered a new genre:  cozy sci fi YA mystery/thriller.    🙂



ABADDON’S GATE by James S. A. Corey

I love literary allusions.  Some of them I have to look up, like this one.  This one I believe is a reference to a questing game, where Abaddon’s Gate is the entrance to the third and final layer of the prison built by the five gods of this game’s world. Beyond this gate lies the Heart of Abaddon, where the dark god, twisted by centuries of torment, strains against his prison. It lies at the bottom of the Realm of Madness, surrounded by constantly flowing falls, which carry the entire realm’s torment down upon the imprisoned god.

Abaddon’s Gate the novel picks up a year after the events of Caliban’s War, (and in case you have forgotten the gist of that episode of our space opera, you can refresh your memory here)   For generations, the solar system — Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt — was humanity’s great frontier. Until now. The alien artifact working through its program under the clouds of Venus has appeared in Uranus’s orbit, where it has built a massive gate that leads to a starless dark.

Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are part of a vast flotilla of scientific and military ships going out to examine the artifact. But behind the scenes, a complex plot is unfolding, with the destruction of Holden at its core. As the emissaries of the human race try to find whether the gate is an opportunity or a threat, the greatest danger is the one they brought with them.

A young Belter, the space opera counterpart to our teenagers,  tries to thread the ring with his spaceship, and it sets into motion a major interplanetary incident that brings each of the major Solar System factions (Earth, Mars and the Outer Planets Alliance) to the Ring, where they begin to study the construct, and keep tabs on one another.

We lose many of the secondary characters from the previous books, but Miller the detective who died in the first book, shows up again,  a phantasm constantly reminding Holden to check the doors and corners.  A ghost?  Have we gone paranormal?   Holden manages to get the Rocinante through the gate thing without being pulverized by keeping the speed slow.  He then EVAs out to what looks like  a guardhouse, or something, where he meets Miller again, and learns that Miller is just a visual of the entity that is the protomolecule created to communicate with him.  Insert eye roll here … why him especially?  Oh, well.  It’s fiction.  Move on.

Meanwhile, some chick, the daughter of a bad guy who was finally brought to justice and is languishing in jail, is out for revenge on Holden, so that plot thread twists around the investigating the protomolecule thing/ring plot thread, and all in all, it is all good fun.

Several more books to go in this series.  I’ll keep you posted.