Finches of Mars
by Brian W. Aldiss
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
I got a free e-book ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review. I hate to say this, because I'm a long-time Aldiss fan, but Finches of Mars is one of the most disappointing books I've read in a long time. Reportedly this is to be his last novel (he is 90 after all), and while some not as familiar with his work might say that's a good thing, I hope he reconsiders and gives us a better swan song than this. I had already been thinking of re-reading some of my favorites (Helliconia, Greybeard, Earthworks, etc), but now I'm wondering if he just lost touch with his craft or was I wrong about the earlier books? Could an SFWA Grand Master fall this far in quality? I'll admit it's been a while since I've read him, so this might not be a new thing. I've just been looking at customer reviews of some of his other books from the 2000s, and they are rated fairly low.
I can't think of anything positive about this book. The premise of colonizing Mars is not developed or explained as far as the science of the mission. If you want a believable scenario along those lines read Robinson's Mars Trilogy, which still seems realistically possible twenty years later. There is no character development, and worst of all not one sympathetic character. The dialogue is simplistic and non-sensical, and too many incidents are briefly mentioned but then not explored to their fullest extent. I shouldn't worry about spoiling anything since I don't recommend it, so I'll say the aspects most neglected were an explanation of lifeforms discovered in underground water caverns, and then later a visit from "aliens," who claim they are actually evolutionary descendants of the Mars colonists who have traveled back in time. I'm almost inclined to read it as satire, but if so it is very weak and infantile satire. Rather than being organized by a government, or consortium of governments, this colonizing effort is the result of the Union of Universities. Perhaps Aldiss was spoofing the internecine battles found at most colleges, with different departments in conflict with others for funding and recognition, or different professors for tenure. The inhabitants of the six different "tower" residences on Mars don't seem to care about cooperation or supporting the others.
The title is at once a reference to Darwin's observations of the different finch populations in the Galapagos, as well as the fact that one of the tower groups has disobeyed a major restriction...no pets. They are also guilty of another infraction, since it had been decreed that no one with a religious faith would be allowed emigration to Mars. The person most responsible for the organization of the U.U. had said that only the best, the "cream of the crop" from all nations would be allowed into the program, but I have to wonder if another character's speculation was closer to the truth. He felt it likely the colonists were the trouble-makers, the unwanted, instead. Certainly none of them act or talk like you would expect of intelligent scientists. It is a very short book by modern standards, and it's possible the e-book I got from NetGalley is missing several passages, particularly pertaining to the two not-fully-explored scenarios previously mentioned. There were very few minor typos, but I wonder if the official publication contains some major edits. Several times the narrative jumps from present events to flashbacks for inexplicable reasons, plus there are times he switches from past to present verb tense within the same paragraph, if not the same sentence. Very sloppy editing, which may or may not have been corrected by the August 4th publishing date. I'm not going to buy it to find out, and I recommend everyone else steer clear as well.
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