"Mars" by Ben Bova (1992)
"'Yes! Because we have to. The human race has to. We're explorers, Tony. All of us. Even you; it's what brought you here. It's built into our blood, into our brains. That's what science is all about. Human beings have to learn, have to search and seek and explore. We need to, just like a flower needs water and sunlight. It's what made our ancestors move out of Africa and spread all across the Earth. Now we'll spread all across the solar system and someday we'll start to move out to the stars. You can't stop that, Tony. Nobody can. It's what makes us human.'"
Mars is part of Bova's "Grand Tour" series. Mercury, a later entry in this same series, was also reviewed here. SPOILER ALERT: don't read (or read about) Mercury if you want to be surprised by Mars. Many of the plot points in Mars are described or alluded to by characters in Mercury.
So without revealing too much, I can say that Mars details the first manned mission to that planet. A multinational crew of astronauts is sent there for a period of two months, during which - you guessed it - they make a startling discovery.
Much of the action in this novel revolves around Jamie Waterman, a half "white," half Navajo member of the crew. The earliest chapters in this book flash between his arrival on Mars and his pre-flight training on Earth, with particular attention paid to the politics behind their mission. During later chapters the author moves on to both the interpersonal struggles of the crew members, and - you guessed it - that startling discovery.
In many ways this book is like the mirror image of Bova's Mercury. Mars features a large cast of characters where Mercury only features a few. Mars is a long novel where Mercury is short. Mars focuses on scientific accuracy where Mercury focuses on characters. And while Mars is far from bad, I think the facets of Mercury listed above make for a much stronger book. Mercury is a lot more focused than its earlier counterpart, and a lot of the story in Mars is smothered beneath unimportant details. Most of the characters in Mars also remain ciphers, with many of their "flaws" seemingly added on as an afterthought.
Mars also features a very ridiculous subplot concerning the Vice President. Her actions - both public and private - are implausible in the extreme, and the novel concludes without really tying up her particular plot thread. I get that she was included to flesh out the political dimensions of the Mars mission, but her machinations add little to the story.
So will I be continuing my "grand tour?" Not in the near future, though at some point I may seek out Ben Bova again. I think he's a very competent writer, though his misfires may cancel out his successes. As said elsewhere, he's written a ton of books, and many of them are probably very good.