The Sunborn (2005) is the second SF novel in the Martian Race series. In the previous novel, Julia and Marc find life in the vented caverns under Gusev crater. The Marsmat is a symbiotic collection of single-celled organisms closely related to archaebacteria. When the ERV tests failed for the second and final time, Julia and Viktor volunteered to remain behind while Marc and Raoul returned in the Airbus nuclear vehicle.
In this novel, Shanna Axelrod is the daughter of John Axelrod, The Man Who Sold Mars and the organizer of the Consortium. Born to Axelrod's second wife, she had conflicts with the two later wives and finally moved back in with her mother.
Shanna had a long standing admiration for Clyde Tombaugh, the man who discovered the planet Pluto. When the ISA announced their intentions to send a ship to investigate strange changes in the Pluto/Charon system, Shanna was determined to become one of the crew members.
She was already a working astronaut in the commercial fleet with biologist/medic training. Although she was well qualified, so were other candidates. She called on her father for aid and he named her as the Consortium selection for the Proserphina crew. When the Captain of the Proserphina was later killed in an accident, Shanna became his replacement.
Julia and Viktor are being continually pressured by the quirks of the Consortium. A new manager is sent from the Moon to coordinate the Martian science effort. She is very abrasive and both Julia and Viktor try to avoid her. They sneak out on an excursion to Vent R, a newly discovered pressure relief vent from the Marsmat caverns beneath the surface.
Shanna discovers intelligent life on Pluto and rides the lander down to establish contact with the creatures. During a long conversation with the Old One, she learns that the zand are being killed off by the Darksiders. After a second landing, she discovers that the Darksiders are machines sent by some things beyond Pluto.
Shanna uses a jury-rigged weapon to repel an assault by the machines, but they still damage the lander and it crashes. The Darksiders force their way aboard the ship, but soon withdraw after repairing the damaged hull. Shanna almost freezes to death.
Axelrod sends a new fusion drive vessel to Mars and arranges for Julia and Viktor to take it to Pluto. Even before they arrive, Shanna has strong aversions to their presence. She is particularly envious of Julia, a fellow biologist with a well established reputation.
This novel incorporates some speculations concerning life within and between the stars. It even ties in the Marsmat with the huge Beings dwelling beyond Pluto. However, conflict results from the mutual ignorance of various lifeforms.
Highly recommended for Benford fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of space exploration, scientific inquiries and strange Beings within the Oort Cloud.
-Arthur W. Jordin