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Martian Sands by Lavie Tidhar
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Martian Sands (2013)

by Lavie Tidhar

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Time travel, Holocaust, classic science fiction worlds and artificial intelligence mixed into one novel can go either really bad or really well. In most cases, it will be predictable and flat, if not outright bad. Tidhar managed to find a way to mix all of those, make them his own and produce a novel that starts fast and speeds up from there.

It opens with an old SF troupe - what will happen if the president of the USA gets a visitor from the past at the start of the WWII that gives them knowledge of what is to happen and the chance to stop it - completed with some help from the future. Bill Glimmung, the guy that makes that trip back in time, even show the Pearl Harbor on fire (because the offer is not to stop what is happening in the war everywhere - Bill is back to try to save the 6 million Jews that died in the camps).

And after this short opening, without being told what the president decides, we in the future - where humanity had colonized Mars, Israel had built its new country on the new planet and pretty much everyone there works for them. And the faces of the new country are the faces of the old one - now recreated back to serve as figure heads and to unite the people. (when all this is shown first, it sounds megalomaniac and arrogant - by the end of the novel it sounds more logical and inevitable). The planet is not closed for anyone though so there is enough enemies, there are people that dream of the old Mars Empire (good old Burroughs' view of the planet), ubiks will show up and if you pay attention, a lot of classical SF world and authors get nods. But not in a way that stops you from reading - if you never read then, you won't see them; if you had, you will recognize and smile at the mention.

And this Mars of the future is also home of the Others (the AIs that are not exactly AI and that had been grown); of intelligent bullets and machines; of culture and vice - a lot like the Earth, except a bit redder on the outside. And one day, a few of those bullets will connect the lives of 3 people and everyone around them. And then time shatters.

Or does it? People get thrown into realities that are not their own (one of the non-Jewish inhabitants of Mars end up in Auschwitz; Miriam finds herself in a world where someone else lives in her house). But the realities bleed into each other, changing the perception and changing what is real. There will be an old ghost who is almost the ghost of a world that we all wish never happened, there is a chance for survival for people that are long gone.

And while the novel is speeding towards its end, you start wondering what of what had been said and done before was real and what was part of a reality. And especially towards the end, things happen in different times and places that somehow collapse together to the point where one wonders if reality even exists. Or if time is as linear as anyone believes.

Somehow, almost impossibly, Tidhar actually ties together all the ends of his story, without it feeling as if you got cheated and without the so standard deus ex machina mechanisms - in a way it is but it is part of the story and it all leads to it - a long time before it actually happens. At the end it all makes sense - in a weird way (even if the prose in some sections is unnecessary abstract - but then I was never a fan of abstract prose). And the question of "is there time travel in this story" has its answer - although it will be way too spoilery to answer it in a review.

Despite all that, it is not a perfect novel - more than once I was ready to scream at a character - some actions felt almost cartoonish, they were needed for the story to succeed. But even then the novel is enjoyable. ( )
  AnnieMod | Feb 8, 2015 |
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Epigraph
Lives come and go like seagulls. On cooling sands the grey sea comes to rest. The eye stalks of sea-weed peer over the crest

Of dying hulls.

Ships dipped in water. Sails crusted in frost.

Grandfather's face rises over the surf

A mast-head blinded by salt.

Now the secret black water drains on the sand-

Lives come swiftly over the breakers,

Dip once, and are gone.

-L.T., The Breakers
Dedication
For my grandparents—the ones I knew, and the ones I didn’t
First words
The President of the United States was sitting alone in the Oval Office when a man he had never seen before came through a door the President had, likewise, never seen before, stopped before the President's desk and said, 'I have a proposition for you.'
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1941: an hour before the attack on Pearl Harbour, a man from the future materialises in President Roosevelt's office. His offer of military aid may cut the War and its pending atrocities short, and alter the course of the future... The future: welcome to Mars, where the lives of three ordinary people become entwined in one dingy smokesbar the moment an assassin opens fire. The target: the mysterious Bill Glimmung. But is Glimmung even real? The truth might just be found in the remote FDR Mountains, an empty place, apparently of no significance, but where digital intelligences may be about to bring to fruition a long-held dream of the stars... Mixing mystery and science fiction, the Holocaust and the Mars of both Edgar Rice Burroughs and Philip K. Dick, Martian Sands is a story of both the past and future, of hope, and love, and of finding meaning - no matter where - or when - you are.… (more)

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