Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Tobias Cabral is a psychologist, so he knows human nature and behavior. He is not a physicist, an engineer or an astronaut, but he is either very good at research or very good at faking it, because Night Music is convincing in its portrayal of a manned expedition to Mars. I don't recall a date mentioned, but I'd guess it is set between 50-100 years into the future. A previous mission has made a rendezvous with a comet which had threatened a close encounter with Earth. It has effectively been captured, and strategically placed rockets will alter its course so that it can be parked in an orbit around Mars. A forward base has been established to mine the comet for minerals once it is in place.
Tragically, all contact with this base has been cut off, and mysterious phenomena have been witnessed both on the surface and in the atmosphere of Mars. A hastily prepared research and rescue mission is on its way to the red planet, with a crew that has been changed from the one that had been scheduled to make the trip several months later. Here is where Cabral's knowledge of human nature is utilized very well. Even though they have trained together and have the typical astronaut's ability to perform complex tasks in a routine manner, Cabral lets each distinctive personality shine through. It is easy to differentiate them in their actions and speech patterns. The routine on board, as well as the mechanisms of the craft and its propulsion system is well described, convincingly as stated previously. I won't go into any further detail on the plot so as not to diminish the way Cabral introduces each new revelation. His descriptions of the Martian landscape and what is found at the base is exciting and suspenseful, as are the implications for humanity's future.
The author says his inspirations are writers like Arthur C. Clarke and Michael Flynn, and I can easily see that. There are definite echoes of Clarke's The Sands of Mars and "The Sentinel," but you might also sense a little flavor of Poul Anderson or Allen Steele, and even some of the Golden Age authors like Stanley Weinbaum ("A Martian Odyssey") and A. Merritt (The Moon Pool). I make these comparisons not to say Cabral has imitated any of these writers, but rather to state his talent measures up to those standards. As far as I know, this is his first published story, but don't take the fact that it is self-published and only available for the Kindle to be a negative. Periodicals like Analog or Asimov's won't serialize an unknown author and the story was too long to make it into one issue. I suppose an online 'zine could have been persuaded to feature this story, but the Kindle application probably means it can reach a wider audience if only they know it is available.
There's just one negative I'll mention right now, but it is a minor one. The story doesn't really end here, there will probably be others to follow up on the revelations. I just hope we don't have too long a wait for that.
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