Review: The Mars Imperative by Mark Terence Chapman

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Mars Imperative
by Mark Terence Chapman
Shadowmere Publishing, August 2007
$11.95 paperback; $5.00 ebook
276 pages, ISBN: 1890785083

(note -- an electronic edition was reviewed)

The ebook of The Mars Imperative presents as a readable and professional .pdf.  Each chapter begins in Foundation style, with an extract from the 2176 edition of the Encyclopedia Solaris.  This is no broad political tale, however, but rather the more personal story of areologist James McKie and his friends in the "im-crowd"—Daniel Lim and Kimberley Cappelletti.

The novel begins slowly, and not very engagingly, with McKie saying goodbye to people who will never appear in the book again, and then making his long, difficult way to the Space Elevator that will transport him to his new job on Mars.  A lot is made of the obstacles McKie encounters, and the author does a good job of creating a sense of urgency, but there's no real sense of consequences if McKie fails to make any of his many flights.  The fear that his employers may be a bit miffed with him doesn't create the tension the reader's looking for.

Unfortunately, the first seventy pages of the novel are much the same.  Lots of great technical detail—the author clearly loves his subject, and has put in a great deal of research—but no sense of a story arc or of the characters having any particular goal apart from to get where they're going and do their jobs when they arrive.  Then, seventy pages in, the novel picks up, with McKie and Lim going on an insane mission—bickering all the way—to rescue Cappelletti from a mad bomber.  Easily the best part of the novel, this exciting sequence contains all the tension the previous pages lacked.

Up until this point, the story is told mostly from McKie's point of view.  From here on, the story flickers between the heads of various people—some of whom, you've guessed it, never appear again.  Although this enables the generation of further tension during the rescue bid, as it goes on, it has a tendency to diffuse the narrative.  Further, there is a lack of differentiation between the viewpoint characters; they have a distressing tendency to think and sound the same.

Where this head-hopping does the most damage, however, is in identifying the person behind the various bombings.  Coupled with the annoying tendency to have everyone just love the protagonist, and refuse to argue with him, fall out, or ever be unreasonable, this takes the feet from under the novel and leaves it lacking any conflict or tension.  The resolution is exciting enough, but the story then drags on for several pages after it's effectively over, leaving an overall impression of a weak opening, a weak ending, and only a few highlights inbetween.

It's a shame.  The author has put in a lot of work in the research—I only spotted one possible flaw, when the danger of CO2 poisoning is apparently overlooked—and the narrative is competently written.  The protagonist is likeable, and the relationship between him and Lim is generally well balanced between friendship and rivalry.  What this novel lacks is plot.  The only imperative is in the title.

We can hope for better things from this author.
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posted by Debbie

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