An Audio-Book Review: If It Is 1961, We Must Be on Mars.


Rebels of the Red Planet

By Charles L. Fontenay

Published by Librivox

Read by Mark Nelson

 

The Book:

I had never heard of this book or of Charles L. Fontenay before stumbling across it in the Librivox.org catalog. I am not sure why I chose to download it, but the title grabbed me. It was straight out of pulp fiction and so cliché that I had to at least listen to it for a chapter of two. Well, it held me for the entire book.

For the record, I never review a book I could not stand to listen to all the way through. I do not think that would be fair to the author or fair to the readers, theirs or mine, so any audiobook you see me review has been listened to from start to finish.

Anyway, while I had never heard of Mister Fontenay, I did look him up. He was the editor of the Nashville Tennessean and also worked with the Associated press and the Gannett News Service and wrote science fiction and non-fiction until shortly before his death in 2007. Rebels of the Red Planet, published in 1961 may have been his first SF novel, although he had been writing short stories for years before that.

This is a typical bit of space opera for its time. It was written at a time when authors had not entirely given up on finding life on Mars and we had not yet discovered that the Martian atmosphere was nearly 96% carbon dioxide (with a soupçon of argon and nitrogen and a pinch of oxygen and carbon monoxide). However, Mister Fontenay knew enough, even in 1961 to realize that with only one third of Earth’s gravity, there would not be enough air for humans to breathe. Apparently there is not enough for his native Martians to breathe either, but they get their oxygen in another way.

The story follows a character named Dark Kensington (Dark is apparently not a nickname… he could have been named “Darcy,” that means “Dark,” but then Randall Garret was writing his Lord Darcy stories about that time). Dark Kensington had been supposedly dead for twenty years and then suddenly he was back, having not aged a day and ready to be a part of the Order of the Phoenix. This Phoenix could not care less about Lord Voldemorte. Instead it is a rebel organization committed against the tyrannical MarsCorp that rules Mars.

It’s an interesting story for its time and if you enjoy reading obscure works of science fiction from the early 1960’s this one should definitely be on your “to be read” list.

The Audiobook:

This book has been published by Listen2aBook.com, but I have not heard that one yet. However good a edition that one might be, I doubt it is better that the Librivox edition read by Mark Nelson. Once again, Mister Nelson provides us with an excellent narration, delivered with respect to the story, the author and the listener in a fully professional manner that is also enjoyable to just sit back and listen to. No funny voices, no outrageous accents, just a clear and polished reading. Well done!

So to sum it up, this is not great literature, but an enjoyable story if you are looking for something half a step above mindless reading and presented very well by the reader.

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