My favorite of The Grand Tour books so far, by a decent margin.
It’s closer to ‘pure’ science fiction than the previous three, with the exploration of Mars and the science of getting there and exploring taking the front seat, with a lesser focus on politics and character than the previous books (although there still a decent amount of both).
I think one reason I liked Mars far more than the other books was that I just really don’t care much for Dan Randolph. Jamie Waterman is far more likeable, even if the novel paints him as hero-to-a-fault, with the story bending to make things happen for him (granted, it would be a strange story if it didn’t). I find it hard to believe that even with all the mad political and other situations going on that they would have rewritten the entire mission plan they’d spent years and billions on for little more than a hunch.
Otherwise, the characters are Bova’s fairly standard mix of borderline (if not crossing over) stereotypes, dashing men, and women described by their looks first (and jobs second). I have some doubts that real scientists would be so petty and ridiculous, but it makes for a better read, so I’ll take it.
Plotwise, the ‘big bad’ sickness doesn’t make terribly much sense timelinewise, but it’s a neat enough twist. It’s a bummer that after everything we don't actually get to go see if Jamie was write about the structures . At least they find life! It makes me wish that in the quarter century since Mars was published, we’d actually have made it to Mars in real life…
As an aside, I think the reading order on Goodreads I was using is questionable. Mars appears to take place before Privateers at least (if you ignore the Soviet Union). Doesn’t really impact that story overly much (especially since there’s a bit of history rewriting going on between books anyways), just something to keep in mind.