Return to Mars

Return to Mars frustrated me on so many levels that I nearly yanked it from the tape player and hurled it from the window in an attempt to spare other library visitors the agony of listening to it. That would have been a shame, because there is finally a bit of interesting payoff at the end of the work, but it was a challenge to get that far. First, the stuff that was Ben Bova’s fault: the ethnically diverse crew has been a staple of science fiction since Star Trek, but it’s not enough to be ethnically diverse; the characters need personality other than “Russian” or “Navajo”. (Look to Hillerman for how to do this right.) The team had constant issues with authority that got very tiresome. And the story really lacked a central issue to pull it along, which made it difficult to stick with. Now, the things that were the fault of the audiobook producers: Harlan Ellison is a great author, but a lousy reader. His thick ethnic accents compounded Bova’s sins of cardboard characters. His vocal levels varied so wildly that it was impossible to set a level on the tape player that wasn’t either annoyingly soft or gratingly loud at times. A bit of compression would have gone a long way toward making this production easier to listen to. All in all, probably better to watch reruns of The Simpsons than to spend the time on this one (unless you’re driving).