Red Thunder is John Varley firmly in his heinleinesque mode. Not so much a homage to Heinlein and his politics, more a novel written as if Heinlein had been a 21st century writer, telling one of his juvenile stories to a crowd of adult readers.
Sometime in the near future space travel has become, if not commonplace, nearly routine. The first Mars missions have just left, slow ships taking months to reach their destinations, and a bunch of space-loving kids are burning down Daytona Beach in a custom truck when they run over a drunk. A drunk who happens to be a retired astronaut with an ex-wife on the Mars trip and an idiot savant inventor brother. It's a meeting that will change the world, when they decide they want to be first to Mars. It's a mission made even more urgent when their calculations indicate the high likelihood of disaster for the official American Mars mission.
Varley turns in a substantially more optimistic work than his most recent novels, capturing the derring do of the Heinlein juvenile and recasting it our more cynical world. There's a certain delight in seeing our main characters blast off in their makeshift spacecraft, built of old oil tank railcars and powerd by spacetime-inverted garbage. And yet, Varley keeps us believing in the plainly impossible, mixing in our 21st century belief in conspiracy theories and cock-up with Heinlein's belief in the power of the "competent man".
An enjoyable and quick read, Red Thunder is Varley back on the exuberant form of his early Eight Worlds short fiction. Well worth reading, and an apt story for this post-Columbia world.
(One slight warning note: It's a pity that whoever wrote the inside jacket description hadn't read the book - as it contains a major spoiler.)