This is the first indie-author novel I’ve reviewed for this web site. When Joseph Robert Lewis sent me Heirs of Mars to read, I have to admit I was a bit skeptical because I had read two prior indie-author novels that I refused to review because the quality level just wasn’t there. Luckily I really enjoyed this one.
Caveat: Before reading Heirs of Mars, I strongly suggest you read Heirs of Mars: Preludes. It’s a brief anthology of character-study short stories that provides essential back story information needed to fully understand Heirs of Mars. Bottom line: Without those stories, it will be much more difficult to follow the various 6 story lines in Heirs of Mars.
The three stories in Heirs of Mars: Preludes are as follows:
1) In Reign in Heaven (19 years before Heirs of Mars), India and Wolfram are fully aware AI – a synthetic woman and synthetic man who love each other and work with their siblings who are in orbit around Venus. When problems arise with their Mother, India has to make some tough decisions.
2) In To Walk the Earth (18 years before Heirs of Mars), Victoria wants to move away from Earth’s highly computerized society to something more remote and real but still on Earth; however, her lover, Asher, has dreams of going to Mars.
3) In To Serve in Hell (1 day before Heirs of Mars), we get an all too real picture of what it could be like to live on Mars through the eyes of Neil Cohen, a collective wind farm maintenance worker. Neil blames his family’s hardships on cloners and wants revenge.
Again, all three stories provide critical information for Heirs of Mars so I believe they should have been part of the novel; however, they work as a stand-alone anthology as well in case you’re more interested in futuristic short stories.
A lot of authors have envisioned what it could be like when man eventually colonizes Mars. Some of those visions are utopian fantasies. Heirs of Mars is not one of those visions. Joseph Robert Lewis takes a hard, gritty look at how colonization might realistically look given Mars’ harsh environment, given how governments like to cut corners, and given how humans tend to react to both environment and unknowns.
Although Heirs of Mars is told by 6 different voices, the threads running through it come from four different perspectives:
1) Ordinary everyday people living on Mars, 2nd or 3rd generation residents in some cases;
2) AI mechs/robots sent by Mother to fight on Mars;
3) Synthetic clones;
4) Cloners living on Mars.
The combination of these threads gives a complete picture of life struggles on the red planet.
Humans have already colonized the moon with mixed success and have gone on to colonize Mars.
1) Life for ordinary people living on Mars is extremely harsh. Their resentments about that, their feeling of being stuck with nowhere to escape, and the way things continue to deteriorate instead of improving only exacerbates any innate mental instability or heroism in their personalities. The overall diaspora and discontent is also exacerbated by feeds from Earth, showing what they can never have or be.
“Asher stretched his bruised shoulder as the pounding in his chest faded. The wind farmers had all drawn knives but none of them had even nicked his jacket, let alone drawn blood. Thank God there were only three this time.”
2) AI Mechs/robots, a.k.a. Cartesians, had been sent by Mother and the Cradle to Mars to ensure an AI destroyer weapon is never created. They are entrenched in labyrinths and caverns as they wage battles against all humans and clones. Some of the original mechs, like Holm, retain their sanity and some, like Niobi, were strong enough to break away from their siblings to defect to the colonists. Those defectors now work with clones and humans in various capacities, sometimes performing heroically and selflessly against their own family members.
“’You’re damn right we lost!’ Rhodi flicked a pebble at Holm, but it only thumped harmlessly against his arm. ‘We lost Stann and Caesi and all the others. We kept the faith after the humans waved the Jericho Accord at us. We fought for eighteen years, eighteen years without maintenance or upgrades, eighteen years cut off from the Cradle, and for what?’”
3) Clones, like Selene, work with humans in almost every capacity, using the skills and strengths of their past human life to teach, engineer, nurse, maintain, secure and improve life in the Mars colony.
“Monobikes. Selene sometimes wondered if the Cartesians were really just a pack of feral teenagers playing with big guns and fast rides in the wilderness to avoid cleaning their rooms.”
4) Cloners like Asher Radescu, the last man to immigrate to Mars, search throughout the Mars farms and cities for people who are dying and are willing to have their complete set of memories and personalities transferred to synthetic clones, so they can live on in another form and continue to be of service to the planet. Fear and ignorance about clones and resentment toward the cloners result in danger to the small group of dedicated scientists and engineers who make up the cloners as well as the clones who work with them.
“’Then why do it?’ [Lien asked] ‘Cloning?’ Asher shrugged. ‘Because life on Mars was a terrible idea. A city full of scientists and engineers sounds great until they start having kids, or don’t, to be more accurate. The population is already peaking and it’s all downhill from here. If Mars is going to survive, then we need more people, and we’re obviously not getting them from Earth anymore.”
People always fear what they don’t understand. Those biases and prejudices often lead to inhumane behaviors. That is likely to be just as true on a colonized planet as it is on Earth, and Heirs on Mars demonstrates that all too realistically for at least three of the four population segments I mentioned. In addition to other issues this novel addresses, for me the big question that has to be examined in a world that includes such clones and AIs is, “What is humanity and what defines someone as human?”
This novel kept me riveted from the beginning. It’s as much a fast-paced action/adventure as it is science fiction and it is likely to appeal to both kinds of readers. I became as invested in the lives of clones, like Selene, and “good” AI mech/robots, like Holm, as I did humans like Asher and Claudia Cruz.
A note for non-science oriented readers: The technology is not heavy-handed in this novel, and is very easy to follow. The novel is about personalities, relationships and plot, not scientific theory; however, it has enough technology in it to also please AI/tech junkies – a very nice balance!
Heirs of Mars is an e-book and a bargain at only $2.99 at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
And, bonus, Heirs of Mars: Preludes, also an e-book, is only 99 cents at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
You can order both by clicking on our Barnes & Noble link in the upper right column.
If you’ve read Heirs of Mars or its Preludes, or anything by Joseph Robert Lewis, we’d love to get your comments. We’d also love to hear your comments about this review.
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