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How To Mars by David Ebenbach #BookReview

What happens when your dream mission to Mars is a reality television nightmare? This debut science-fiction romp with heart follows the tradition of Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, with a dash of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and a hint of The Real World.

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.

How to Mars by David Ebenbach book cover

Title: How To Mars | Author: David Ebenbach | Publisher: Tachyon Publications | Pub. Date: 2021-May-25 | Pages: 256 | ISBN13: 978-1616963569 | Genre(s): Science Fiction, Satire | Language: English | Source: Purchased | Starred Review

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How To Mars Review

It’s hard not to compare ‘How To Mars’ to ‘The Martian’ because, well, it’s set on Mars, and because it’s very funny at times. There are enough differences though that the comparison isn’t really fair. Whereas the Andy Weir book is very much ‘Robinson Crusoe on Mars’, ‘How To Mars’ is subtler and more satirical. 

The plot is very simple. An Elon Musk style eccentric genius has set up a Mars programme with a linked reality TV show. Six scientists are now on Mars as a result, in the knowledge that it’s a one way ticket with no way for them to get home.  And one of them has got pregnant. 

The story is laid out through both narrative chapters about what is happening to the scientists and  sections from the guidebook provided to prepare them for their mission. As the story progresses it becomes very much about the impact of the pregnancy on the group and on the viewing public back on Earth. It’s these parts of the book that are its heart and which pull the reader in. Meanwhile the guidebook sections provide the humour. Written by the Musk character they are very funny indeed, gloriously nuts but also quite believable in their content. 

It’s that mix of believability and humour that really makes the book a winner. It doesn’t go deep on detail,  but there is enough to make the story convincing. Where the book really lives is in its characters and the relationships between them. For that reason it reminded me of Becky Chambers more than Andy Weir. It’s definitely sci fi, but rather than focussing on the minutiae of the tech and the Martian environment it’s about the impact of these things on human beings. That makes it more engaging than a lot of similar books. The experience of isolation on another planet feels very real, and despite the frequent comedy there is real tension in the book.

The mix of excitement, emotion and satires makes ‘How To Mars’ a richer experience than it’s relatively short length might suggest. It’s immersive and believable and also, in its vision of humanity believing in the possibility of something new and better, hopeful and moving. 

You can purchase a copy of this book via your normal retailer, but please consider purchasing it from a local indie bookshop instead. It can be found here at Indiebound or at Bookshop. Please note the Bookshop link is an affiliate link and each purchase you make through it helps to support Sci-Fi & Scary and keep the site running.

Published inScience Fiction Book ReviewsStarred Reviews

One Comment

  1. Sounds good. I’m a fan of the emotional issues in space 🙂

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