Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Review: The Mars Run

The first of my IPST reviews is for the novel The Mars Run by Chris Gerrib (his website: http://www.privatemarsrocket.net/). At first I thought that this was merely a novella - but having imported it into Word and performed a word count on it, I discovered that with chapter headings, TOC and other miscellanea that it clocked in at around 60K words. Not a long novel by any stretch, but still firmly within the realm of what can be considered a novel - after all Catcher in the Rye is not much longer than 50K words. The author offers the story for sale on LuLu.com and offers this as a blurb:

In 2071, Janet Pilgrim, a recent high school graduate, suddenly finds herself unable to afford college, thanks to her father's financial mismanagement. Faced with the fear of dying of embarrassment if she goes to a junior college, she looks for a way out. After considering joining the Army, she stumbles on the solution to her problems – becoming an astronaut on a commercial space ship. In 2071, “astronaut” is only slightly more glamorous then “truck driver” is today. But the money is good, and one run to Mars - the "armpit of the Solar System" will fund several years of college. Even better, she won’t have to face her friends. Unfortunately, being an astronaut can be dangerous, as she discovers when a friend dies in a training accident, the first of many dangers.

To be honest, if I had read the blurb prior to reading the story I probably would have passed. Even if this was a free offering for IPST. Writing blurbs (whether for dust jackets, back covers or websites) is a hard thing to do. For most writers, that is the only time that they get to sell the book to the reader. Even for the authors that I know and love, I'll still make a decision on buying a novel based on whether or not the blurb draws my attention (part of the reason I never bought Niven's Draco Tavern is that the dust jacket blurb, though it piques my interest, does not do so enough to get me to shell out $25 on a hardcover). The blurb is to tell the reader enough about the story and the character to make them want to read more. And frankly this fails. Unfortunately it does so in ways that would spoil the story if I explained why.

The story itself revolves around a young girl by the name of Janet Pilgrim and the trials she goes through once she has graduated from astronaut training. Which in the year 2071 (the date of the story by the way) is not as glamorous a profession as we consider it today. In fact some astronauts - such as the ones from Mars - are there solely by on the job training. Janet is a tenacious girl who spends the novel struggling to survive its events. She's quick on her feet, smart, able to learn new tasks in an amazingly short time and apparently one of the cuter girls in the universe. Frankly, if this were a fan fiction story, the character would be considered something of a Mary Sue. At best, since it's original fiction, she's wish fulfillment on the part of the author. Frankly, her past is too tragic and she's too likable to characters in universe. Unfortunately, even though the story is told in first person, we get into her head far too little. We often don't know what she's feeling or thinking, and there are obvious skips in her record of events, that are not revealed until the plot needs to reveal it.

Plot wise we're not dealing with anything spectacular. It's a simple, straight forward adventure story.

Well, let me rephrase that. It's a straight-forward adventure story, involving sex and slavery. Our young heroine spends an odd amount of time in various states of undress, her only decoration a steel collar around her neck. The BDSM connotations can only be there on purpose - and I have to truly wonder about the author's intentions when he gave this a rating of TEEN on LuLu.com . And on that note - just the sheer amount of cursing, violence and sex, quite often via rape, makes me wonder why this is classified as a TEEN novel. When I think of teen books, I honestly think of stories aimed at the 10-15 year old set, as any older there should be no reason not to read fiction aimed at adults. Yet the things that happen to our heroine here are not things I would want my boys to read when they're in that age bracket. The only reason for the TEEN rating I can even hazard a guess at is because of its length. It's about the same length as the original Harry Potter novel or any of the Young Jedi Knights novels.

The story itself is crafted fine, but with a slight reliance on a scenario of unlikely events happening. It's not hideous in its execution of the chosen plot, but it's not done brilliantly either. The first part does remind me of a TEEN story - about a young girl beginning her first job. Yet when you're about two-thirds through the book and the bad things start to pile up on her, well that is where the novel hits its stride, and also loses the possibility for the TEEN rating to be valid. It shifts from the teen stuff into a harder, maturer story (conversely this is where the rape starts as well).

The author did do a decent job on settings - as it was not that often that I found myself having to picture where the characters were at during the events of the story. That said, I could have used more. We could have been given some beautiful vistas when they leave or arrive at planets. They have a observation room where the character spends some time watching space and the stars - yet even though the story is told in first person, we never get to feel how she views those things. They're a background painting as far as the character is concerned even though they could make a great analogy for what the girl is thinking/feeling during the novel. That said, the descriptions/settings were still really done well, and thankfully not overly graphic - especially when some of the subject matter is explosive decompression.

This was a self-published novel and their was a sprinkling of typos throughout. To be fair, I wouldn't be that upset about it when purchasing the e-book, as e-books are cheap, but shelling out the $13 or so for a paperback (that's according to Amazon.com and I can only hope they mean softback there as $13 for a mass-market paperback is way overkill That $13 is for the softback) I would not be as forgiving of the errors. Do they need fixing? Yes. Does it distract from the story? Only marginally - and only in the first third. After that, there were either no typos or I skimmed over them while reading.

Likewise, I must applaud Mr. Gerrib for having the guts to self-publish. Of course, I have to wonder if more people did do self-publishing, if we wouldn't get more and better science-fiction out there.

Back on topic, overall, The Mars Run was a fun, but quick, read. With the story clocking in at around 60K words, that means I was able to finish it over two lunch breaks. But I don't always need a novel that's going to take me 12 or more hours to finish. That said, I could use more. I could use more of what the girl was feeling, and her thoughts above and beyond the almost clinical descriptions given through the narrative. I could use more of the events that lead up to her joining Midwest Ships Operators. Conversely, I would occasionally get the odd feeling that the narrator was talking to me - an early 21st century reader - rather than to her audience (i.e. whoever found her record of events in universe). Likewise, I could use more in the fact that there's still more story to tell.

Like I said. It's a quick fun read, and one with no glaring errors nor anything particularly bad about it. And even the minor issues can't shake apart the book. I don't see myself purchasing this novel, but if I saw another Christ Gerrib book in the library I wouldn't hesitate to check it out to read.

I give it a 2.3 out of 4.

EDIT: Mr. Gerrib was kind enough to stop by and post in the comments a few notes. First, the TEEN rating given the story at LuLu.com is more akin to a PG-13 rating than an indication that it is a story for young adult readers. A bad decision from a publisher, IMO, but one that Mr. Gerrib has no control over. I might have none this had their ratings system been displayed prominently on the site.

6 comments:

RJ Peters said...

Hmm, sounds mildly interesting, but not terribly so. I agree that the blurb is all-important and must be difficult to write. The blurb for this one would not have pulled me in.

Good review. I like your writing and reviewing style. Keep 'em coming!

Stephen Wrighton said...

and "mildly interesting, but not terribly" so is basically how I felt after finishing the story.

Thanks for the kind words, and a whole lot of thanks for stopping by to read them.

Chris Gerrib said...

Thanks for the review - and yes self-publishing is not for the faint of heart.

Regarding Lulu's "Teen" rating. In the Lulu world, "teen" is the equivalent of "PG-13," not as in the literary world, a recommendation for young adults. (I don't like how they do that but I have no control over it.)

Lastly, $13 is for a trade paperback.

Stephen Wrighton said...

Hey Mr. Gerrib! Thanks for stopping by my little hole here.

As for the "Teen" rating, I can understand that, and it is a tad confusing, since LuLu (being publishers) should know the connotation of TEEN in the literary market place.

Chris Gerrib said...

The folks who are running Lulu aren't really publishing types. They're dot-com computer people.

Stephen Wrighton said...

Ah, I see. Of course that's not really a valid reason - as I'm one of those dot-com computer people. ;)

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