White Mars

Brian W. Aldiss, Author, Roger Penrose, Author
Brian W. Aldiss, Author, Roger Penrose, Author St. Martin's Press $23.95 (323p) ISBN 978-0-312-25473-5
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Aldiss (Hothouse; the Helliconia Trilogy) is one of the most important SF writers of the 20th century and a noted mainstream novelist and literary critic as well, but this largely unsuccessful excursion into utopian narrative is unlikely to win him many new admirers. Written in collaboration with the distinguished physicist Sir Roger Penrose, with the noted authority on international law Laurence Lustgarten bylined as ""legal advisor,"" the book is less a novel than a series of long-winded debates on the nature of what might best constitute a utopian society on Mars. Interspersed with these discussions are unwieldy lectures on particle physics, presumably the work of Penrose, and the adequately handled occasional action sequence. The basic premise: a thriving Mars colony finds itself marooned after Earth's economy collapses in the mid-21st century. Led by the philosopher Tom Jefferies, the citizens of the colony, rather than concentrating on survival, seem to devote their time to debating ethical and political theory at enormous length. Their discussions cover a wide range of controversial issues, from abortion to the imposition of mandatory therapy, from the legitimacy of the death penalty to the morality of terraforming. Such a narrative has some innate interest--More's Utopia and Bellamy's Looking Backwards are still read today, after all--but Aldiss, generally a masterful stylist, seems here to lack any sense of what the human voice really sounds like in debate. His language is clotted and artificial, his characters are scarcely human. Kim Stanley Robinson handled much of the same material with enormously greater dexterity in his Mars trilogy. (Apr.)
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