First novel from the Mars astronomer and author of textbooks and popularizations. In 2031, biologist Alwyn Stafford, the Grand Old Man of Mars, takes a dune buggy into the desert to examine an artifact that turns out to be an old Russian probe, Mars-2; soon afterward, he disappears. Organizing the search for Stafford is troubleshooter Carter Jahns; also tagging along are artist-in- residence Philippe Brach (he's built a Martian replica Stonehenge) and leggy journalist Annie Pohaku. Carter determines that Stafford must have been picked up and flown to the South Polar Research Station. But why the faked disappearance and cover-up? Well, when Carter, Philippe, and Annie arrive at the pole to inquire, they're stonewalled and held incommunicado by neo-cold-warrior Doug Sturgis. Stafford--he's alive, of course--and company have discovered an alien artifact, 3.2 billion years old, buried at the pole. The artifact activates itself, causing tremors, then firing a projectile into space. Facts and philosophizing by the ton, but tepid dramatics, a wispy plot, and no suspense at all: a ponderous workhorse of a yarn.