'Semper Mars' is well researched and quite imaginative
Avon Books, $5.99
by Ian Douglas
Review by Bob Winstead
Web posted on: Wednesday, June 17, 1998 5:26:04 PM EDT
(CNN) -- From the Halls of Montezuma to the sands of Candor Chasma Mars?
In "Semper Mars", a new work of military science fiction, author Ian
Douglas takes some monumental mysteries of the red planet and uses them for
a backdrop, as the Marines of the future find themselves fighting on
another world for their country's freedom and honor.
It's 2039, The Face of Mars, the enigma on the Cydonia Plain of
the red planet, (first captured in a NASA Viking 2 photograph in 1972,
and most recently by the Mars Global Surveyor) in this story at least
has proven not to be a purely natural phenomenon. An archeological dig
is under way on Mars, and international tensions back on Earth are
A contingent of U.S. Marines is sent to the site to protect U.S.
interests there. Protection from ... the United Nations! Yes, the UN!
It would seem that all the fears of the nationalistic,
one-world-government fearing folks have come true. "Rogue" countries
aren't in line with the rest of the world, Russia and the U.S. are no
longer card-carrying members of the UN, and Northern Mexico and the
Southwestern U.S. are threatening to band together and form their own
nation ... Atzlan. Worse yet, it would appear that the Marine
Corps is in danger of being dissolved. Perhaps the protection of
scientists working on the Mars archeological dig will breathe a little
life back into the Corps.
The book follows Major Mark Alan Garroway, communications officer
on the expedition to Mars. International complications run even into
this mission. It seems the UN has demanded that a small group of
observers be sent along for the ride. Not to mention the UN troops on
Mars outnumber the scientists working there.
A second plot line introduces us to the Major's daughter who loves
all things Japanese ... literally. She's having a relationship with a
Japanese ambassador's son, who has recently joined the Japanese Space
Force, allied with the UN. Mr. Douglas (actually a pseudonym for
author William H. Keith Jr.) spends a lot of time setting this story
up, hopefully because it's the first book in "The Heritage Trilogy".
Just when you start to wonder if anything is going to happen, Mr.
Keith gives you a taste of his best suit ... he writes compelling
"A rotary cannon on the lead Bradley howled, its muzzle flash a
flickering beacon on the turret. Both marines hit the deck as brick
and sandbag alike were pulverized by the stream of heavy
metal ... Mexican troops were spilling from the three Bradleys
now ... Gunfire popped and chattered; Bledsoe groped for his ATAR,
dropped when the Abrams had fired, and knocked down three or four
running figures. The smoke was getting thicker now, and it was
difficult to acquire and hold a target. The full-auto fire from the
wrecked front of the building seemed to be making the attackers
"But they would be charging across the lawn and up the steps of the
residence any second now.
"Bledsoe knew he didn't have much time."
Mr. Keith has a lot of experience writing military action novels.
He has written over 50 novels to date under a variety of pseudonyms.
Many of these were military titles. He has also co-written some CD-Rom
game guides, notably "Riven", "Spycraft", "Titanic, a Journey out of
Time" and "Lands of Lore". While Mr. Keith was in the Navy as a
hospital corpsman, it is obvious from "Semper Mars" that he is very
fond of the Marine Corps. Not only does he treat the reader with
interesting and pivotal tidbits of Corps history, but the novel
evokes, even for people who have not been in the service, a sort of
sentimental pride for the USMC.
For non-military buffs, the book does deal with popular mythology: The Face of Mars, Ancient Astronauts, and Ancient Structures
like the Pyramids of Egypt, through the character of the forward
thinking, yet politically naive, archeologist Dr. David Alexander.
These topics, however, only tend to serve as window-dressing for the
novel's military focus.
Alexander finds something on Mars which he wants to publish. The
UN doesn't want it known. A dilemma for any scientist, publish ... and
perish! Will his findings be the catalyst for war?
"Semper Mars" is well researched, and quite imaginative, especially
when it comes to fighting in space and the inherent difficulties of
firing a gun in which the recoil causes an equal and opposite
reaction. It seems that the Gung Ho, Semper Fi group of Marines,
rather than propelling the story, are the story. There are many
creative twists in the battle scenes, but we learn little about the
civilization on Mars the scientists are sent to study. And I kept
waiting for some big reason for the UN's presence, like a new form of
weapon or energy source. Maybe in the sequel.
If you pick up this book for a look into the "alien" culture that
built the Monuments of Mars, you will be disappointed, but if you like
smart military campaigns, grunt level patriotic fervor, and don't care
where the action takes place, there's "Semper Mars".
Bob Winstead edits and produces work for CNN News Features, and performs regularly as a musician and magician.