Another Girl, Another Planet
by Lou Antonelli (Word Fire Press)
Good Lord, Lou Antonelli did something I thought was impossible. He made me like an alternative history story, and usually I hate those.
The story starts and ends with three aluminum crosses under a Martian sky. In between we are treated to a world where the West and the Eastern Bloc have a space race, instead of an arms race, and the moon is an old colony: Mars is the new frontier. As with any alternative history piece there are names and events you will recognize, but in new contexts. In this world Asimov and a team make real robots, then androids, and the androids cause that world’s equivalent of the Cuban missile crisis. This gets robots, and androids, exiled to the moon, and then Mars.
Dave Schuster gets sent to Mars as a political appointee. The head of the government there is dead and the second in command dies when he is enroute: he is the Martian government, for now. Dave finds out that the old governor got less and less done as he got ill, and the second in command did nothing but party. He has his work cut out for him, catching up on the backlog. As Dave tackles the work a number of things do not add up until he sees hidden danger amid the charm of the techie frontier and the threat grows so out-of-control it reminded me of the sort of situation Miles Vorkosigan would get into. I am not going to spoil the ride by telling you more than the plot touches on the concept of self-aware robots in surprising ways.
Larry Niven blurbed the book. He loved it, and said it was great ideas, well told. He was right.