The Caves of Mars is the flip side of my doublesided ‘Ace Double,’ which also includes The Space Mercenaries. Look, I’m just going put it out there: The Space Mercenaries is better. The Caves of Mars moves slowly, but interestingly through some world building and character/relationship background and building, but then speeds towards… I don’t know. An irritating and unconvincing deus ex machina style ending.

It begins with a trip to Mars that goes awry, with the hero, Ric, a space pilot and man of action, losing his arm checking out something in an ice cave for his friend, the nervous nelly scientist, Alan. They both used to be in a sort of love triangle with the improbably named scientist, Candi.

But they had happened upon some super awesome fungi that cure all your ills. But it is the clearly nefarious Doctor Krill who takes the lead on this stuff. Marketed as something called Martian Panacea or ‘M-P,’ the Law (capitalized) outlaws it out. As they say, when M-P is outlawed, only outlaws will have M-P. So there’s this plot where the disconsolate and suicidal Ric gets a secret message from Alan and sneaks into a secret M-P hideout in Mexico. Around this time, he figures out it’s a sort of cult and…

Well, let’s skip past all the bits where Doctor Krill, despite catching Ric and Candi en flagrante declicto – and I don’t mean the sexy kind, but the obviously seditious kind. But Krill basically says, ‘I’ve got my eye on you!’ and lets them go. Kind of.

Anyway, there is an alien intelligence left by a long forgotten race and Ric cunningly stops Krill’s plot to clone a race of martians to serve him by – and here’s where I’m not totally sure what actually happened – implanting his own DNA into the test tubes so that the reborn martians will now worship Ric as a god, which is, don’t get me wrong, better than Doctor Krill being worshipped as a god, but I’m not convinced this in an unalloyed good.

It had the hope of being a decent, second-rate space opera, but devolved into a not so decent, third rate space opera.

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