(2001) Paul McAuley, Voyager, £16.99, hrdbk, pp391, ISBN 0-00-225904-4
A Chinese mission to Mars discovers life but keeps the discovery a secret. However when an accident releases the Martian bugs into the ocean it starts gobbling everything up, and this is a bit of a give-away. So the US mounts its own mission to Mars with the covert aim of getting its own sample and find out what the Chinese have really been up to. Microbiologist Mariella Anders joins the NASA team despite (or because of) political machinations, and its a race to Mars against a second Chinese mission. However the politics of industry, NASA, the US government and others results in internecine complications, as if the hassle of an interplanetary mission were not enough...
I have to say that I have had mixed views about McAuley's earlier work even though much of it showed promise. However with The Secret of Life he has penned a solid work of hard and new wave SF that grabs your attention. Much of the hardness of the SF no doubt comes from McAuley being a former research biologist and he certainly handles the science well. For me The Secret of Life is his best novel to date. The paperback is bound to be out in 2002 and I have no qualms about recommending it. If McAuley keeps up this standard then he may well end up rivalling the likes of Benford and Bear.
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