This is a book which I first read when I was in my late teens and I absolutely loved it. I have read it since, but not for a long time.
It is the story of Amanda Jaworski, a brilliant physicist who is an astronaut at NASA. Amanda is a free spirit. She pays attention to her instincts, hunches and 'feelings', which unnerves her military superiors. She has a messy private life, being in love with two men, which also unnerves her superiors. At the beginning of the story Amanda is preparing to command the first manned mission to Mars. But strange phenomena are occurring; a red choking mist which appears around the space centre, Amanda is hearing voices which no-one else can hear, and her colleague Hooper has come back from a mission having seen some unknown thing which has sent him mad.
There is a surreal element to this book which I love. Amanda has a cat, Schrodinger, who spends twenty three hours out of twenty four so soundly asleep that most people think he's dead. When he's awake he draws perfectly accurate pictures of Amanda's feet. At one point Amanda becomes Mary Shelley. Ten thousand Native Americans disappear and then reappear in the basement of the Pentagon.
Amanda goes on her mission - but she doesn't go to Mars. She goes to rescue Schrodinger who has been kidnapped. She finds herself in a place where robot armies fight for the future of the Earth (it was published in the mid 80s and does have a bit of a Cold War feel about it), and the second half of the book is taken up with Amanda trying to stay alive and get Schrodinger back.
There is a marvelous cast of supporting characters. My favourite is Eberly, a Texas sheriff. Eberly doesn't know much about science but he knows things aren't right;
Eberly knew he didn't like it. In fact Eberly was one hundred percent totally dissatisfied with the way things were going. It was getting too hot, the wind was getting peculiar, the Indians were going up and not down, girls were going up in rockets, geniuses were making mothers out of robots, and the very air seemed seeded with something altogether disturbing. He didn't know when exactly it had started happening, but he was beginning to get scared. Eberly never'd been scared before.
There's a lot going on in this book and some of it goes over my head. I much prefer the first half of the book to the second half with the robot wars and I think I've felt the same each time I've read it. The main theme of the book is that technology will only take us so far, and we need love to take us the rest of the way.
I can see why I loved this book so much as a teenager, and though I don't love it quite so much now, I still think it's a very good read.