Book review: How to Mars

How to Mars

How to Mars,
by David Ebenbach
Tachyon Publications
To be published on 5/25/2021
256 pages
Science Fiction


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Not all novels about Mars are born equal. I thoroughly enjoyed The Martian Chronicles. Ray Bradbury managed to awe me, even though the short story genre is not my favorite. More recently, Andy Weir both informed and entertained me with The Martian. So reading the synopsis of How To Mars, I thought I was going to enjoy my third trip to Mars. Things didn’t turn out as expected.

Sometimes, the synopsis reveals too much information about the book. In the case of How to Mars, why not mention the major element of the book, which is actually announced as early as the first line? If I had known this was going to be the main focus of the book, I would probably not have requested it for review.

So in the very first line, we learn that Jenny is pregnant. The problem is, Jenny is one of the six scientists sent on a one-way ticket to Mars. Because of many reasons (explained ad nauseam further in the book), this was not supposed to happen. The team was not even allowed to have sex.

Most of the book happens during the pregnancy, with the various reactions from the other members. This was a potentially good idea to illustrate the idea of restarting the world from scratch.

Some of these people are really odd. Stefan may be symbolic of some special social choice. To me, he just seemed to behave like a three year old.
The big revelation by Jenny near the end of the book about the dimension connecting them all was not that revolutionary. It didn’t seem then logical that Stefan, given his previous behavior, would have accepted this basic explanation to the point of transforming him.

The members of this group sent to Mars were not chosen mostly because of their scientific skills. Rather, the selection was based on viewers’ opinion, as the whole thing started as a TV reality show – and it still is, with everything the Martian crew is going through watchable on Earth. I do not own a TV, on purpose, and dislike the idea of reality show, so I really didn’t find much interest in this aspect of voyeurism.

The structure of the book was weird too. The narrative alternates between the daily life of the crew and excerpts from the Destination Mars! Handbook. It could have worked, but it seemed to break the narrative too much, and also to be too repetitive and boring.

And then you have the Patterns. Originally, I thought this too was a good idea, and showing up at 24% of the book, I thought things were going to go somewhere. But by the end of the book, I’m still perplexed about them. For a book featuring a team of scientists, some scientific details/inventions about these odd things/creatures (?) would have been welcome. Especially that suddenly we no longer hear about them, without any explanation! Were they actually just mental phenomena?
And the virus? Disappearing as easily as it appeared?

The book accelerates in the last 7% of the book, but without enough data on the years passed and their content to really make sense. Originally for instance, we are told that scientists on Earth knew to send people to Mars, but not how to bring them back. But before the end of the book, the small team on Mars has managed that feat. It sounded like coming out of nowhere.

I kind of get that the author was trying to reimagine a new beginning, with a newborn in a brand new world, where everything needs to be started from scratch, including social laws. And in case you don’t understand, the last lines clearly state the big questions:

What will you do with this day, as a free person in a free universe where nobody but you has the power to make that decision for you?

…You will make meaning where and how you can. We have been told that this is what it means to be alive.”

This is not very subtle, and the whole thing ended up rather flat to me. 

Actually, lots of things started making sense when I read the Afterword. In it, the author explains that he originally wrote short stories, then intertwined them to make this book. Unfortunately, they do not remain as short stories like in The Martian Chronicles. The author tried to arrange everything together, but for me the sewing needs refinement. A real collection of short stories might have worked better.

VERDICT: Potentially good ideas, but too many repetitions and structural problems.


Any good book on Mars, besides the two mentioned at the beginning?

In full compliance with FTC Guidelines, I received this ebook free of charge through Edelweiss Plus, for review. I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.


15 thoughts on “Book review: How to Mars

  1. Oh I thought this looked good when I saw it! Although it might have been the cover. 🙂 Sorry to hear this was disappointing. I think from your review that I’ll probably pass too, it doesn’t really sound like I’d love it?

    I’m not a fan of reality shows either, so if they ever did Mars this way (instead of being a scientific based expedition) I would not be happy ha ha! And yes sometimes a short story collection works as just that- a short story collection and not so much as a bunch of stories linked together afterwards.


  2. Hmm, this books comes across as waaaay too technical. In last week’s Top 10 Tuesday, this had come up as one of those more “colorful” book covers — and I totally agree on that score. But I think ultimately, the story doesn’t seem very interesting, or very “new” at any rate.


  3. I too enjoyed Andy Weir’s novel The Martian …. but from your review I will pass on this one! I’ll wait for another good space story.


  4. Pingback: 2021: April wrap-up | Words And Peace

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