First novel from the Mars expert and author of Hugo and Nebula Award–winning shorter fiction. The third Mars expedition, cobbled together on a shoestring budget, reaches Mars, seemingly in good shape as they rendezvous with the fuel module that will power their trip home. Both the first expedition's Brazilian astronauts died mysteriously on Mars; the second, an American effort, ended in disaster on the return leg. But right away one of the six astronauts—Commander John Radkowski, medic Tana Jackson, physicist Ryan Martin, geologist Estrela Conselheiro, engineer Chamlong Limpigomolchai, and young lottery winner Trevor Whitman—dies when a corroded fuel line ruptures. With no hope of rescue, the survivors agree to trek to the North Pole, where the unused Brazilian return module reposes. This will hold only two, possibly three people, but not all the crew know this. Another crewmember dies when a cable snaps as they traverse one of Mars's monumental canyons—but was the cable cut? Yet another wanders off, gets lost, and runs out of oxygen—but was his space suit sabotaged? Their transport breaks down, so the remaining crew agrees to attempt to reach the old American base from the second expedition, which has power, supplies, and even an airplane. Mars itself is frigid, indifferent, and spellbindingly beautiful.
When focused on the planet, the engineering, and the epic trek, Landis writes evocatively and with authority; the melodramatic baggage—dark pasts, evil deeds, sinister plots—just drags along behind, raising the dust.