This is another one of the near-future type of sci fi books that really grab my interest. The premise, that it has become universally recognized that the most feasable way for humanity to explore space is to stop relying upon governmental agencies and turn to private enterprise, is a pertinent topic for today's climate. Even as I write, the Virgin Corporation is publicizing their prototype space shuttle.
This book tells of the struggle between two competing groups to win a large amount of prize money by sending a manned vehicle to Mars and performing a variety of research projects before their successful return to Earth. The difficulties involving personnel, technology, financing and the unbending reality of physics are presented in a detailed, yet easy to read manner.
Although the characters come perilously close to being stock stereotypes, it seems that Benton is basically telling the story the way he sees it. After all, we have stereotypes for a reason. Our literary heritage acknowledging the fact that life often does imitate art has been accepted canon from at least the time of Oscar Wilde. So while it is possible for some people to see that as problematic, I personally do not.
Similarly, the resolution to the main difficulties encountered by the Martian travellers might seem obvious to many readers. However, the final decisions made by the book's main characters does ring true to life.
I found this to be an inspiring read and wish that more people who have a concrete role in potential space exploration would read this book as well - drawing perhaps the same conclusions from it that I do. It seems to me even more apparent after reading this book that the main reason we haven't yet sent a team to Mars is that we have limited our expectations of what space exploration and its potential risks truly means.