In the near future, the population of the Earth has lumbered past the ten billion mark. Most of the planet's natural resources are dwindling or gone. The only thing keeping the ever-increasing masses of Earth alive are the vast food vats of Mars and the mining operations of the asteroid belts. But, the promised rewards for those who thirty years previous went to the stars to save humanity have never materialized. Instead of a new world to homestead, the colonists have been turned into virtual slaves by Red Planet, Inc., the corporation granted the charter to develop Mars.
Now, cheated, lied to, with no hope in sight, the Martian colony has begun to boil with talk of strikes and revolution. A stop in production would mean riots and chaos on Earth, billions dead in a matter of weeks. It would mean war, plague and famine at levels never before known. Into this most explosive political situation is thrust Benton Hawkes, the most trusted diplomatic negotiator alive. All sides agree, he the only man to be trusted to avert a catastrophe which could bring destruction to the entire solar system.
But, bitter reasons of his own, Hawkes wants nothing to do with Mars. And, on top of that, there are those who don't want to see the situation calmed, and who will do nothing to stop Hawkes from interfering with their plans.