Latest in a sudden flurry of novels about Mars: a near-future nuts-and-bolts account of humanity's first exploration of the red planet, comparable with Ben Bova's recent Mars. Sam Houston Kelligan, son of a wealthy Texas oil baron, has one ambition: to reach Mars. But he and the other candidates hoping to be selected to crew Ares, the first colony ship, must first race against each other on the moon in a deadly game to test their survival capabilities. Robot landers, however, bringing back samples of Martian dust, have returned contaminated with a sort of pre-life infective molecule--to which humans prove susceptible. And throughout the eventual Mars voyage, problems multiply. Two of the crew vote to do a quick scientific survey, then dash for Earth without landing. Kelligan, meanwhile, along with unrequited love Jayne, crashes on Mars and appears to be lost. The rebellious pair jettison equipment vital to the colony's survival, then callously flee, only to be lost in space. Kelligan and the survivors set up housekeeping on Mars, but two of them succumb to the dust-virus. The only hope is for Kelligan to attempt to reach Earth in the expedition's only remaining spacecraft. As Kelligan takes off, the Mars project back on Earth is deliberately bankrupted and then bought up by Kelligan's boyhood rival, who thus has powerful reasons to conceal the truth when Kelligan, barely alive, makes it back to Earth. Solid plotting, restrained melodrama, persuasive Martian ambience: another winning performance from the grandmasterly author of, most recently, Mazeway (1990).