A catastrophe of DNFs?
A tragedy of DNFs?
A failure of DNFs?
Hmm. I'll have to think on this one. In the meantime, here are my rambling thoughts on Jonathan Maberry's latest, Mars One.
First of all, can we just all agree that the cover is awful? The typeface is not good, it's too dark, and the boy's face looks like a mid-00s video game avatar.
This is one of those moments where I wonder what I'm missing in an author's work. Most of my friends adore his Benny Imura zombie series, which starts with Rot and Ruin. I couldn't get halfway through. That wasn't so very long ago, and yet even now I couldn't tell you why, exactly, I couldn't finish. I remember feeling bored. And like the story was predictable. And also that the characters weren't anything special. That's enough reasons, right? Anyway, the same issues that plagued Rot and Ruin continue in Mars One.
Coming off of a high-concept, low-execution sci-fi book like Ocean of Storms (review forthcoming), I really wanted a solid space exploration book. A tinge of horror bloodying the narrative would have been a welcome touch. Instead, this was a rah-rah-sis-boom-bah story about an oh-so-privileged boy getting to go to Mars but how hard it is to leave his girlfriend, who is perfect. Plus, horror of horrors, someone is sabotaging their mission to Mars, because evidently not everyone in the world wants a commercialized vessel to be the first to have humans colonize the red planet. Shocking. Just shocking.
Did you know that it is difficult to type error-free when you are rolling your eyes so hard that you can't see the computer screen? Truth. I am running the spellcheck often, and I will proofread this, but I'm invoking Muphry's Law just in case of any missed errors.
Setting: THE FUTURE. Out of nowhere, a company, the titular Mars One, develops space travel technology to rival NASA and (of course) the Chinese, and selects a crew to colonize Mars. I guess this is totally safe to do because they've already landed robots there and stuff. Tristan's parents are total geniuses, and he gets to go to Mars with them because scientists figured out that humans function better in family groups. Tristan's special skills include ... being very tan, so tan that he is darker than his friend Herc, who is Mexican-American.
Wait, why is that comment even in there? Who cares? Is there a tanning contest between white people and brown people? Oh, that's right: white people just like to appropriate parts of brown and black culture and make it "cool." Like being tan.
Anyway, before heading off to Mars, Tristan (nicknamed Tris, which just makes me think of Tris Prior) gives a speech in front of his high school at the "Wednesday Powwow." Right after that, he notes that this is a "culturally insensitive 1950s name," but I question the author's decision to even include it. Why? What purpose does it serve? Perhaps Maberry is implying that Madison, Wisconsin, is a culturally insensitive town because har-har, dem Wisconsin people are so rural, eh? Aind we eet da cheez an drink beer, eh?
I assume Mr. Maberry has not spent any actual time in Madison. Does Wisconsin have a lot of hunters? Yep. People who like to sit on milk crates and fish on the ice? Yep. But cripes, Madison is a super-liberal hangout. I highly doubt that a modern Madison high school would still call a school meeting a "powwow." I did a quick search and the majority of school mascots in the area are either small mammals, birds of prey, or Spartans. Spartans are very popular. I'm not saying that there are no racist high school mascots--but the idea of this "powwow" terminology being used just doesn't make sense to me when I think of the area.
In addition, a big deal is made out of the very strange heat wave in September. Quick meteorology lesson: although Wisconsin is known for snow, it does not automatically start snowing in September. It's very common for it to be hot through September, with temps going into the 80s and staying humid. It's small details like this that yank me out of the story and make me wonder what else was casually tossed into the narrative because why not? Authors do much better to ask "Why?"
Anyway, Tristan is super-sad that he has to leave his One True Love Izzy, but Izzy is dealing with the pain by allowing reality TV to follow her every move and commercialize her pain. Cool! At least it pays for college. But she's also jealous of Sophie, the obviously sexy French girl who gets to go to Mars because her mom was picked, and then withdrew. Sophie has no real skills except making Mars rations taste good (because in addition to being sexy, French girls also cook really well). O-kay.
Finally, there's Luther Mbede, a teen who constantly talks about how he is "all Zulu" but also has "milk chocolate skin." Hello? People's skin colors are not coffee, tea, or food-related. Stop with the food references! Luther is a super-hot genius geologist who makes Tristan feel inadequate. Wah.
As I mentioned, Tristan gets to go to Mars because of his parents. His mom is the chief engineer, but she's so "delicate because she was about a size nothing," but don't worry. That's not *real* size-shaming--"she was made of airline cable and could bench-press one or both of the Dakotas." First of all, do not equate a woman with nothingness. We've spent history being erased. Secondly, why is it so much easier for people to believe that a skinny lady could be super strong, but not a fat character? I'm sure if the adjectives were reversed, we'd be hearing about how smart and nice his mom is, not how strong.
Anyway, the rocket doesn't actually launch until halfway through the book, and at that point I was so tired of the non-events of teen-boy posturing and attempts to create tension that I couldn't finish.
I honestly don't know what readers would find compelling in this book. Tristan just natters on about going to Mars like it's no big deal, but dude does not check his privilege. I wanted to stab my eyeballs with forks. It would be an unpleasant experience, but one with more excitement than this book.
I received an ARC of this title from Edelweiss.