So, what would you do as the commander of the third manned Mars mission who's discovered, after a back-slappingly successful landing, your ride home is busted and Earth can't send a rescue cab? Wow, talk about the potential for a nasty mood swing!
In MARS CROSSING, this is the dodgy predicament facing John Radkowski and his crew of five (Ryan, Tana, Estrella, Chamlong, and Trevor) in 2028. Their return vehicle, previously landed on Mars to robotically manufacture fuel from the planet's atmosphere for the trip back, didn't function as its instruments indicated. As a matter of fact, it's now just so much scrap metal. The only solution is to travel 4,000 miles to the polar cap and the landing site of the first Mars mission - Brazilian no less! - in 2020 whose crew mysteriously died on the surface. Their return vehicle is presumably still intact and ready to go. Trouble is, it only has room for two pilgrims.
I rarely read space sci-fi because the plots, ETs and technology are so exorbitantly far-fetched. I suspect life will be less fanciful, even in the far future. However, in MARS CROSSING, author Geoffrey Landis, a working NASA scientist, has crafted a solid tale around plausible new technology and the planetary knowledge gained from the Pathfinder and Mars Global Surveyor projects, both of which he was a part. Even the low key villains of the piece, for example the itchy life form that doomed the second Mars manned mission in 2022, are relatively mundane. (At least it wasn't Tinea cruris!)
I especially liked some aspects of the mission's technology, such as the Spectra 10 super-fiber rope, almost as thin as a spider's web, which can hold thousands of pounds, and the super-light Butterfly airplane. Pretty neat stuff!
I did find the composition of the crew slightly improbable. Estrella was the wife of the long-dead Brazilian mission commander. And Trevor's only reason for being there - talk about Dead Weight - was that he won the $1000 per ticket lottery that helped finance the cost of the expedition. Now, really! However, once I got over that credibility hiccup, I enjoyed this book very much and, since it is the author's first novel, much credit is due.