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There are a lot of themed anthologies around these days. They can vary from loose collections of variable quality to excellent books like Peter Crowther's earlier anthology Moon Shots. Moon Shots only link was the idea of the Moon, but it was one that gave his group of writers plenty to explore. The followup collection, Mars Probes, has just been released, and it's another set of fine works.

Crowther's colection of authors is a mix of the old and the new, with contributions from old masters like Ray Bradbury and Brian Aldiss, and from young turks like James Lovegrove and Alastair Reynolds. Two stories take us back to familiar Marses, Ray Bradbury's dying world of golden eyed martians watching the arriving humans, and Ian McDonald's world of ROTECH and giant trains ploughing across the terraformed deserts. Crowther's editorial skills are strong, and his choices good. It's hard to find a story here that doesn't both challenge and entertain.

LIke the Moon, Mars is virgin territory, red dirt waiting for the touch of man. It's a dead world that could be brought to life with just a kiss of technology, a fairy story in the heavens just a few months from home. The stories in this book take their inspiration from this theme, whether it is the far future brought to us by Eric Brown, or the homage to the pulps of old written by a joyous Michael Moorcock - and it is this dream that permeates even the Earth-bound stories. The stories mix the Marses of old with the Mars of today, dancing between fantasies and rock hard science, in and out of the characters heads, and on and off the frozen red desert of our sister world.

A superb collection of original short fiction, well worth reading, even if just for the return to much loved worlds.