[Dylan here performs the useful salvage role, of trying to make the best of a rather dud story. All part of pinning down what makes good stories tick.]
Stone was a Martian born in the shadow of Low-Canal’s massive water tanks. The district had never really been a canal. It had been named by early explorers trying to make sense of the long, straight indentations, now believed to be the foundations of a Martian city. But it was where most of AquaCorps’s water was kept. Water was expensive and had to be shipped in from Venus. Sometimes there would be a leakage, and, with kids like him, he could collect almost a cup before the alarms went. His mother lived however she could in the district. His father had been a space ape on the wild Jupiter runs, carbon rods rotting and twisting as they pulled pure uranium from the Ki Sea. He’d probably died when the red spot erupted, taking twenty u-tankers with it.
When he was seven, his ma sold Mac to a mining company looking for kids small enough to fit into the midget tunnelers working larger asteroids and moons that were able to support a human being for a year or so before they died. His mother hand known that “indentured” was another word for death sentence. She knew that he was doomed to breathe modified methane until his lungs and all his organs and functions gave out.
Only Mac hadn’t died. He’d stolen air and survived and risen, by virtue of his uninhibited savagery, in what passed for Ganymedan society. Kru miners made him a heroic legend. They betrothed him to their daughters...
I want to like The Lost Canal, the 11th link in the otherwise robust chain of tales that make up Old Mars. I included the entirety of the rather lengthy extract above because it really embodies the best this entry has to offer: a backdrop that marries the colorful ramshackle of Edmund Hamilton’s Solar System to the gritty corporate colonization of James S. A. Corey’s The Expanse. It works better than any other part of the story, and I genuinely enjoyed it, enough that it can redeem the story for me if I’m in the right mood.
I’m sorry to say, however, that for the most part it falls flat. While it remains, I think, the most interesting part, the prolonged exposition of the first six pages does little to endear protagonist Mac Stone to the reader. We are provided with his planet-hopping life story, but this summary is impersonal and doesn’t provide any facetime with the character. Once the backstory ends and the adventure takes front-and-center, everything we know about Stone feels secondhand.
There are other fun pieces - the wombots, the John Carter reference, the Lost Canal itself - but these things never really coalesce into a satisfying tale.
There was one thing I appreciated. Mac loves the red planet, and he is permitted at the end to indulge that love in the most extravagant way. It warmed my Marsophiliac heart.
On a different note, you all have probably noticed the slurry of new original works of fiction on the site. It’s been a delight! I'd like to give my official welcome to Jamie Ross, Violet Bertelsen, Joe Guzzo, and R. Olsen - keep ‘em coming. If you ever want to correspond over a story you're working on, I'd be happy to provide notes (as I know how difficult it can be to find beta readers). Just get in touch with Zendexor, and he’ll link us up. The offer also extends to writers who haven't yet appeared on the site.
A story of mine, “Pirates of Titan”, is debuting on the site. It's the lengthiest adventure I’ve ever written, and I hope ya’ll dig it, I slammed my head into a few keyboards as I was working on it.
May your tonanite pistol never run out of tonanite,
Dylan[Comment from Zendexor: I don't know what it is about Michael Moorcock's OSS Mars; I find it disappointing in general (I'm thinking of the Kane of Old Mars series). What went wrong? A puzzling question. It certainly isn't due to lack of writing talent; MM's short story Flux is one of the best sf tales I've ever read, a brilliant piece of inspiration. Perhaps that's it - with Mars he couldn't find the inspiration. Lack of Martian soul, maybe. Unlike my literary hero Edmond Hamilton, Moorcock lacks an instinct for the Red Planet. Which is fair enough; we can't all be Martians. Unfortunately, though, he doesn't seem to realize it.]