While this book is a nominal sequel to Red Thunder (and that book really should be read before tackling this one), it can stand on its own. Like Red Thunder, this book is crafted in the Heinlein coming-of-age mold, and those who enjoy those Heinlein works will find much to satisfy them here.
Our Martian hero, seventeen year-old Ray Garcia-Strickland, is a pretty typical teenager, even if his parents are famous (their story is told in Red Thunder). School, girls, taking trips up to Phobos, and trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life occupy most of his attention But when a mysterious object smacks into the Atlantic Ocean traveling at light speed, his focus, and that of all his family, turns to finding out the status of his grandmother, a hotel proprietress in Florida, sure to be hit by the ensuing tsunami. The next hundred pages or so are taken up with the family's trip to Earth and their adventures in a badly damaged Florida once they arrive. This section allows Varley to not only show the current economic and technological background of his future, but to make some telling comments on governments, bureaucracies, privacy rights, and the reactions of different types of people to sudden disaster. He paints a pretty stark picture of American society, a society clearly based on the very visible trends of today where the right to privacy and ability to do as you wish is being swallowed by `security' and government intrusion into every facet of life. He also has one scene straight out of the Heinlein code book, when Ray and his sister revolt against their parent's commands and start making their own decisions.
When the family returns to Mars, though, a whole new layer of story unfolds, where Mars is attacked and the family taken prisoner and very roughly interrogated. Why this happens forms the remainder of the story, where grand science meets power-hungry organizations, with the outcome dependent on the grit and determination of Ray and his family.
The technological point of departure, both for this book and Red Thunder, is the `Squeezer', which effectively allows one to get unlimited energy for nothing. This device does major damage to current known physics, which Varley acknowledges and tries to patch up a little with some techno-babble about super-string theory in this book. Unfortunately, I still think this device falls in the `unbelievable' category. But a more serious fault is the characterization of Jubal, the inventor of this device and several others that are of critical importance to this story. The portrayal of Jubal as socially inept, almost childish, while at the same time knowing enough about how people work to plan and execute his escape from his `prison', and simultaneously not being able to see that sometimes application of force is absolutely necessary, is not well done. This is in marked contrast to Varley's excellent characterization of the other major players in this work
Though realistic, Varley's description of some sexual experiences by the protagonist was, for my money, too detailed and graphic compared to the general tenor of the rest of this book, which is otherwise eminently readable by very young teenagers. While its inclusion certainly adds to the `reality' feeling of this book, I just didn't feel it was really necessary.
The adventure is great, most of the characters are great, there is some excellent social commentary and some decent philosophy, but marred somewhat by the lack of believability of the Squeezer and Jubal.
---Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)