Champion of Mars
Published: June, 2012
Page count: 318
In the far future, Mars dies a second time. The Final War between man and the spirits is beginning. In a last bid for peace, disgraced champion Yoechakenon Val Mora and his spirit lover Cybele are set free to find the long-missing Librarian of Mars, the only hope to save the remnants of mankind.
In the near-future Dr Holland, a scientist running from a painful past, joins the Mars colonisation effort, cataloguing the remnants of Mars’ biosphere before it is swept away by the terraformation programme. When an artefact is discovered deep in the caverns of the red planet the actions of Holland and his team lead to tragedy, with profound consequences that ripple throughout time. This tragedy affects not only Holland’s present, but the distant days of Yoechakenon, and all the eras that bridge the aeons between them.
Kim Stanley Robinson meets Edgar Rice Burroughs.
That’s how Guy Haley’s jam-packed sugar-rush of a novel reads, as you dive into its two alternating Martian timelines: one a gritty near-future Mars, reminiscent of Robinson’s mighty Red Mars trilogy, where pioneers seek out native life and struggle with the noble goal of terraforming, and the other a very-far-future Mars so advanced it’s come out the other side and turned into a bronze-age-ish hero society not unlike Burroughs’ Barsoom. The champion of the title is called Yoechakanon, and with his spirit-lover Kaibeli he is trying to save the remnants of mankind from a strange pan-dimensional invasion. But it gradually becomes clear that in fact the champion’s far future is intimately connected to the near future, both through an interweaving of very imaginative era-by-era interpolating episodes, and through mysterious deeper linkages, such as the presence on the young Mars of an enigmatic artificial woman called Cybele …
The whole thing is a marvellous planetary romance which crams in what feels like every Martian trope SF writers have ever dreamed up – and maybe that’s timely, in the year of the Barsoom movie John Carter. In places it strains at the seams, the final wrapping-up is a little rushed, and sometimes Haley’s prose is a touch pulpish, though it’s a tone that actually fits the subject matter very well. But all in all this is a novel with an ambition on the scale of Olympus Mons itself, and it delivers. Recommended. — Stephen Baxter