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A novel (but not a Dorsai novel) by Gordon R. Dickson, published in 1978 by Dell (some parts appeared in Analog magazine in 1973). The story concerns Earth's first attempt to land humans on Mars, but takes place primarily on the ground near Cape Canaveral in Florida. The main character, Jens Wylie, is the United States Undersecretary for Space and a devoted believer in the space program, particularly the mission to Mars. Six countries (including the USSR and the multi-nation "Pan-Europe") have contributed money, equipment, and personnel to the enterprise. Shortly before launch, Wylie discovers that the six "marsnauts" are concerned about the amount of work they have been assigned while en route to Mars. The American co-captain, Tad Hansard, is especially worried. If the mission fails, few people believe that the people of Earth will make the effort to coordinate another attempt; but Wylie fails to convince anyone that the schedules should be relaxed. For one thing, international politics is extremely fragile, with each of the six contributing nations very anxious to get its fair share of scientific experiments on board.

So the expedition is launched and the two Mars ships (docked together and rotating to provide artificial gravity) begin the journey. Tad Hansard fakes an accidental hand injury to his Russian co-captain, Fedya, in order to buy time for the other marsnauts, but secretly continues to work overtime himself. In a few weeks, he becomes seriously fatigued and Mission Control takes notice. Just then, the ships have to be separated and battened down for a severe solar storm. The storm is worse than anticipated and knocks out some of the communications and other electronic gear on board one of the ships, including the external radiation meter. Tad, his judgement impaired by his overworked condition, goes outside to try to fix the communications problem and instead receives a huge dose of radiation.

Back on Earth, the painful decision is made to abort the mission and bring the marsnauts back. Unfortunately, to make room for so many experiments, many spare parts were not packed on the ships, and some of the systems cannot be repaired. Tad, who thinks he will die of his radiation poisoning, volunteers to remain behind with one ship while the others go home in the second. The first ship has engine malfunctions, but the second has damage to its communications, so they plan to use the first ship's communications to relay information from Earth to the second ship. At the last minute, Fedya takes Tad's place on the stay-behind ship, thereby dooming himself.

Fedya does get to Mars eventually, and Tad makes it back to Earth before he dies, but those things hardly get space in the book. What is more important is the politics on Earth. When Wylie finds out that the six governments are conspiring together to place the blame for the mission's failure on the six marsnauts, he exposes the plot to the press and is arrested. But, after nine months of imprisonment, the political winds change and he is pardoned.

This short description does not do justice to the novel, but to tell more would be to give away the details and possibly harm other readers' enjoyment of the book. The first half of The Far Call moves very slowly and there are a lot of seemingly random characters which makes the plot a little difficult to follow, but readers who stick with it will be rewarded in the end. This is probably one of Dickson's best works. He predicts the status of the early 21st century Earth remarkably well, including the existence of the European Union and something much like the World Wide Web, but misses with hovercraft cars and Federal Therapy Units. As one reviewer wrote, the book presents "a fairly upbeat" vision of the future, unlike many other science fiction stories of the 1970s.1

1. James Nicoll, http://www.ad-astra.demon.nl/esseff/millennial-27.html

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