The setting is the 1990s and the book is being published under the Dial/Wade ""Quantum"" imprint, so it is obviously supposed to be science fiction--but all the window dressing in the world can't make it into anything but a big, creaky panoramic novel with an assembly-line cast of thousands. Dozens, anyhow, from barmaids to bugging experts, mostly gathered around Kennedy Space Center watching the progress of an international manned expedition to Mars. About the only people who unselfishly believe in the mission are the six ""marsnauts"" themselves and Jens Wylie, the idealistic young US Undersecretary of Science for Space Development. Otherwise, the whole of Cape Canaveral seems to be a launching pad for all kinds of cynical diplomatic games, secret surveillance, silent ruthlessness, and practiced buck-passing. Aboard Phoenix I and II, a crushing work schedule--the result of nationalistic glory-hogging by higher-ups--imminently endangers the twin vehicles and their crews. Here are the makings of a strong cautionary comment on space-exploration programs and what they may come to, but somehow the makings never get properly assembled. What are we to think of a veteran sci-fi writer who, after telling us that both ships have lost their artificial gravity, has astronauts drinking cups of coffee and glasses of water? Or who is content to portray the political and technological state of a 1990s world with a few limp references to ""Pan-Europe,"" the ""Shared Management System,"" and air-cushion station wagons? At the very least, one must think that he has failed to approach his own moderately promising materials with real thoroughness.