Straight after a story that hinges on number two’s on Mars, we have a story set on Mars with Number Nine in the title (strange forces at work here…).
Here Irvine sets up an Analog-y style story. But only -y in the way it sets up two (initially three) people who find themselves in a very difficult situation, needing to use their wits to survive. Irvine’s characterisation makes the story more than just scientist fiction, as his protagonist Steuby is a rounded character, who has an inner monologue that convinces, although his continuing one-way dialogue with the one of his pair of team-mates who has shuffled off the martian coil is quite worrying to his remaining partner.
The theme of the story is humanity pulling in on itself, a turtle withdrawing it’s head into it’s shell (Irvine’s imagery), and it’s a good read.