Okay, so this hiatus of mine was unexpected and very long—but I’m back and catching up on the books I promised to review for the year. This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned that I have a fascination with space and space travel, so any fiction about people living on Mars, training to be astronauts, spending time in space, etc., I gravitate (no pun intended!) toward picking up. How To Mars even had a reality TV angle to it, which meant I absolutely had to get my hands on a copy!
For the six lucky scientists selected by the Destination Mars! corporation, a one-way ticket to Mars—in exchange for a lifetime of research—was an absolute no-brainer. The incredible opportunity was clearly worth even the most absurdly tedious screening process. Perhaps worth following the strange protocols in a nonsensical handbook written by an eccentric billionaire. Possibly even worth their constant surveillance, the video of which is carefully edited into a ratings-bonanza back on Earth.
But it turns out that after a while even scientists can get bored of science. Tempers begin to fray; unsanctioned affairs blossom. When perfectly good equipment begins to fail, the Marsonauts are faced with a possibility that their training just cannot explain.
It’s been a while since I’d read anything at all—never mind with the intention of reviewing—so I will admit that I didn’t always have my critical-thinking hat on reading this one. But I think even despite that, I can promise that this book didn’t really deliver what I was promising. The tag line was: What happens when your dream mission to Mars is a reality television nightmare? And the reality television part was barely mentioned at all. We had maybe one chapter on the selection process for casting these people more than halfway through the story—and it was a pretty mundane scene about digging up a fossil—and when the book starts, they’ve already been on Mars for two years and the reality show has more or less been cancelled, so it doesn’t really affect the plot at all. Without spoiling anything, the main plotline is a pretty interesting thing to be thinking about in term of it taking place on Mars, but I’m not sure I would have been drawn to this book if I knew that was the central point. I don’t think this was marketed to the right people.
About a third of the novel is a manifesto, of sorts, of this unnamed founder of Destination Mars! and his unofficial guide that was given to the astronauts—sorry, Marsonauts—but it seems to me that it’s mostly the ramblings of a person with a lot of money who liked the idea of sending these people up to space forever but without really thinking about what he was realistically asking of them. And it repeated itself fairly often.
I did enjoy the cast of characters that were stranded together on Mars, but I wished we would have learned a little bit more about them. I feel like I knew a bit about three of the six, but no one in-depth and some barely at all. Of course, it’s difficult to live with the same six people for the rest of your life, on a planet where you can’t really escape without planning it out since you can’t breathe the air—but the conflict between them seemed pretty surface level. And I will admit that after getting as far as I did in the story, I was happy with how it wrapped up in the end—it was pretty satisfying—so at least there’s that.
I’m sure there are people out there who will love this story—readers who like stories about everyday people doing everyday things (but in space), will probably appreciate it. But if you’re looking for Big Brother on Mars… this isn’t the book for you.
“You wouldn’t think a group of six people would make a planet crowded, but it did, particularly if they all lived in one fairly compact set of domes together, which were surrounded by open land that you couldn’t live on and air that you couldn’t breathe.” —David Ebenbach, How To Mars
Thank you to NetGalley and Tachyon Publications for the advanced copy, and to Daniele Colucci on Unsplash for the featured photo.