Ace, April 2003, 23.95, 416 pp.
In the not too distant future, NASA has invented space technology used by Ares Seven to travel to Mars, but it will land two weeks after the Chinese make the first red planet landing with people aboard. Manny and Dak, two college students, want to become astronauts more than anything else and they get to meet former astronaut Travis Bussard when they almost run over him in their jeep. Travis was drummed out of NASA because he was an alcoholic and he doesn't intend to change that condition until four young men and women give him a reason to remain sober.
Travis's cousin Jubal, an idiot savante, invents a new form of energy that when inserted onto a spaceship, can take the crew to Mars in under a week. Jubal wants America to be the first country to walk on Mars. Manny, his girlfriend Kelly, Dak and his girlfriend Alicia agree with him. Travis thinks they are all crazy but helps them build a ship that will take them to Mars when Jubal informs him that there is a fault in Ares Seven that destroy the ship before it lands. Travis doesn't want that to happen because his ex-wife, the custodial parent of his children, is on board the Ares Seven.
John Varley has written a first rate science fiction novel starring five unlikely heroes who end up doing the country proud. Jubal, the creator of the space drive, takes pleasure in simple things even though his patents are making him billions of dollars. RED THUNDER would make a great movie because it has plenty of action, romance and suspense. This work will appeal to fans of Robert Heinlein's more sophisticated works.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner