Venus

18 books in and Venus is the only body this side of Saturn that the Grand Tour hasn’t explored, so it seems a perfectly fitting place to end (I’ll get back to that). There’s something of a continuation of the The Asteroid Wars, with Martin Humphries and his sons as the focus of the books. One (Alex, his clone ) attempted to be the first to reach the surface of Venus and died in the attempt. The other (Van, actually not his biological son at all, but rather the son of his longtime enemy from the Asteroid Wars: Lars Fuchs (I know, right?) ) decides to take on the task of recovering his remains–a pot sweetened by ten billion dollars of his father’s money.

All that actually makes Venus somewhat interesting and unique among the Grand Tour novels. It’s not really one of the corporate war books, such as the early Moonbase books or the Asteroid Wars, but it’s also not a purely scientific exploration of Venus–although there’s plenty of that. It’s really more an an adventure novel with a sci-fi setting and backing in the hellscape that is Venus. That actually makes it a surprisingly solid book.

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Mars Life

Mars Life continues the story set out in Mars and Return to Mars, with much the same setting and characters (particularly of the latter). Seventeen books in, there’s little particularly surprising about Mars Life, but it’s still a solid enough entry to the series.

For the most part, we’re back to dealing with the New Morality (which makes me wonder about the timeline a bit) and greenhouse flooding on Earth. In particularly how they just want to put their heads in the sand and ignore concrete evidence of intelligent life on Mars and user their oomph to get the Mars project shut down entirely. It’s interesting enough on one hand, but as mentioned, it’s starting to feel like more of the same.

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Mercury

Mercury is one of the better books of the Grand Tour, which is a relief after Saturn and Titan .

It starts feeling like one of the more ‘sciency’ books, with the discovery of life on Mercury–because of course. But that feeling is short lived, as it turns out the life is actually from Mars , leaving Astrobiologist Victor Molina framed and disgraced–although the ‘who’ and ‘why’ are left unclear.

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Titan

On one hand, it’s better than Saturn . At least this time around, we spend the entire book around Saturn and Titan, with a bit more exploration into the rings of the former and on the surface of the latter. There are essentially three plotlines: a robotic probe sent to Titan is refusing to phone home, someone has to go back to rings to verify that they’re alive, and it’s election season again–this time with Zero Population Growth as the main issue.

The first–going into the rings to collect samples to prove that they actually found life– doesn’t make the least bit of sense. There are arguments back and forth about who is going to go and how dangerous it is. But… why? Couldn’t they just use a probe? It honestly fills like filler, although there are some hints of something much bigger going on here, since the life in the rings now seems to be alien nanomachines (which: why? couldn’t they just be different?) After the artifact in the asteroid belt plotline doesn’t seem to have gone anywhere, there are at least hints on more of a story to tell.

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Leviathans of Jupiter

Leviathans of Jupiter takes what made Jupiter so enjoyable (the exploration of the oceans of Jupiter and interactions with the creatures that live there) and takes another visit. This time around, we have even more content from the Leviathan’s perspective and first attempts at actually communicating with them, which is pretty cool.

While the science is cool, the characters and drama isn’t quite as strong as Jupiter. Grant Archer is still around and in charge now, which is an interesting point. We also get more of Dorn, finding his way out after the Asteroid War. He’s been through quite a lot and it’s interesting seeing his point of view, especially since he’s fairly unique in this universe in being a cyborg.

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Saturn

Saturn was something of a bummer, especially coming off Jupiter and the Asteroid Wars, The Aftermath in particular. It might as well have been called ‘adventures of a colony ship’, since it’s only in the last fraction of the book that we actually make it to Saturn. The rest of the book is spent by power hungry religious zealots trying to take over a ship ostensibly populated by ten thousand people trying to escape exactly that sort of behavior.

On top of that, I don’t really care about any of the characters. They’re all either cartoonishly evil or inept or scientists that need concepts they should know cold explained to them. It’s kind of a bummer also that the main character went through the cryogenic freeze/thaw that we’ve seen discussed in other books, leaving her having to rebuild her life from scratch. But it really doesn’t actually go anywhere. A missed opportunity.

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The Aftermath

As a standalone story, The Aftermath would have been pretty good. It’s an interesting story from a sci-fi take: a family on a space ship out in the belt, hauling ore. They’re attacked. One member escapes back to the belt and the rest are sent out on a long orbit with a broken ship, years before they’ll return to civilization.

It’s an interesting story, showing just how big space is and how dangerous a frontier it can be in a science fiction story can be in the near future solar system, where they don’t have magical engines that can go through the system in days (well, they do, but not on a cargo ship like this). And if you don’t have an antenna and can’t aim a laser, then you can’t very well talk to anyone.

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The Silent War

The Silent War feels like a conclusion to the Asteroid Wars ( The Precipice and The Rock Rats ), with the war continuing to escalate to father and father atrocities with even more sides to the conflict than before ( Yamagata is back! If a bit weirdly. ). It’s a bit strange to see what feels like such a conclusion with one book left, but I guess that’s why it’s called The Aftermath ? We’ll just have to see.

Overall, The Silent War is a satisfying enough conclusion to the Asteroid Wars (as a war and as a subseries) building up both the overall conflict and one within the book itself. It’s nice to actually see everything come to a head and I think the conclusion is workable, if a little ridiculous. It really feeds into the idea that behind every powerful corporation is a handful (or one) of powerful men and women really driving things forward.

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The Rock Rats

The Rock Rats continues the story of The Precipice, following the story of humanity’s expansion into the Asteroid Belt and all the atrocities that entails.

Characterwise, this book is all over the place. Pancho is great fun, but we don’t see nearly enough of her. Lars is … kind of crazy and revenge driven, a long descent from liking him well enough in The Precipice. Amanda is pretty great, but only when she’s away from either Lars or Humpries. Of all the marriages in the series thus far, why does this have to be the one to stick beyond a single book? They really don’t make much sense together… Trite as the saying may be, she could do better.

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Jupiter

After the first 8 books in The Grand Tour (Mars in particular), Jupiter feels a bit odd at the start. We’re not building up to the eventual discovery of life–the fact that there’s life on Jupiter is presented fait accompli in the first chapters. And not only life… intelligent life (or so is claimed). Jupiter isn’t really about the discovery of life or even really about the idea of life on a research station around Jupiter.

What Jupiter is really about the conflict between religion and science as humanity continues to expand outwards into the solar system. The New Morality controls the politics of the Earth and is doing everything it can to control the solar system. In doing so, they send Grant Archer–a believer and an astrophysicist–to spy on what in the world is going on far out in the dark reaches of the solar system. There’s conflict between science and religion, both on the large scale with the New Morality and the small scale within Grant himself, especially as he begins to settle in and befriend those living on Jupiter station.

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