It's a pity so many people can't see the qualities of this this book. I thought it was a very good read - especially for a debut!! What I especially liked was that it focused on the characters AND on the the very vivid descriptions of Mars. You have lotsa writers, including geniuses like Asimov and Clarke, who tend to focus too much on the technology or the concept (new aliens/ alien worlds, new science, whatever), but only manage to create one or two-dimensional characters. Hartmann's characters aren't too 'deep' either, but he has definitely made them much 'deeper' - and *described* them much better than many of his more esteemed colleagues. And that makes the characters come alive in a very intense way. And it makes the whole book come alive, because the thoughts and doings of the characters are intimately connected to the experience of a lonely, and secretive - but also beautiful - Mars, which Hartmann conveys to the reader with so much vividness that it really feels like you're there! Hartmann expertly describes moods and settings, his language is rich and varied - each sentence filled with metaphors and imagery. Only very few times does he fail to maintain this level of writing. The plot drags sometimes, true, and the you may or may not like the ending, but such things can be forgiven for a debutant. (Besides: I thought it was rather gutsy not to give anything away about the aliens. It also emphasizes that this is not a plot-driven, but rather a character and 'mood-driven' story which I am sure is quite intentional.) Bill Hartmann has very much potential as a new and different writer, and I definitely look forward to future novels. If you long for more contemplative characters in today's scifi (and like the 'melancholic touch' this book has), I think you are in for a very good experience.