by Chris Gerrib, futuristic (2006)
Lulu, $12.93, ISBN 978-1-4116-9973-1
Janet Pilgrim is a young woman who decides to join the crew for a routine business trip to Mars. It's 2071 and Janet, who needs the money to go to college, finds the paycheck offered by the people behind the trip the perfect solution to her current no-money no-college predicament. In case you are wondering, everyone can take up classes on basic astronaut skills in school by 2071 so Janet has all the skills to do her job despite having just graduated from high school. "Astronaut" is the equivalent to "bus driver" in that time.
Well, it isn't far into the story when Janet finds herself the sole surviving crew member after an encounter with pirates and it's all downhill from there. The Mars Run follows about a year of Janet's life as she tries to find her way back to Earth while deftly trying to stay alive as she deals with all kinds of lowlives and various folks of dubious character.
The Mars Run is a contradiction of sort. On one hand, this is an impressive self-published effort because apart from an occasional typographical error, this is a most readable book. The prose is clean and it flows very nicely, giving me this impression that Mr Gerrib definitely knows his craft. It is very easy and enjoyable to read this story. On the other hand, there is a rather dated feel to the story, what with the presence of various cardboard villains. Janet also finds herself having to sleep with a few guys here in order to protect herself. While I find this aspect of the story more realistic than any attempts by an author to avoid placing the heroine in such a situation, I can't help feeling the number of times poor Janet finds herself in this situation causes the story to resemble a 1970s campy science-fiction story at times where the heroine always finds her clothes falling off for various reasons. That lesbian pirate woman character, especially, has me laughing because such a character is almost always featured in the cheesiest T&A straight-to-video movies out there.
But before some of you guys run off to buy this book thinking that The Mars Run is some kind of Barbarella In Space type of story, I should tell you that there isn't any particularly explicit scene here to make you happy.
I like how Mr Gerrib allows Janet to be a tough heroine without forcing Janet to cry or get too emotional over the things she has to do in order to survive. The Mars Run makes an interesting contrast to the urban fantasy style stories I read that are written by women because many of those books try to compensate for the heroine's tough aspects by having her weep or get hysterical over werewolf boyfriends in order to remind me that the heroine has functional ovaries. Mr Gerrib, on the other hand, is pretty much, "Yeah, Janet is tough, deal with it." I like that very much indeed.
Oh, this reminds me. You may want to take note that there is no romance here. Then again, this isn't marketed as romantic science-fiction, so I am not expecting one either. Readers expecting one, however, will be disappointed as this is definitely Janet's story and Janet's alone. And no, no werewolf boyfriends, although there is some getting down to business in a zero gravity environment.
My biggest issue with this story is that, due to the first person narration technique that Mr Gerrib uses, none of the other characters particularly come alive. In fact, I find that Janet's mother ends up being a more memorable character than many of the characters Janet encounters during her time in Mars. Some of the guys Janet encounters, especially, feel interchangeable.
But that's actually a minor complain because I have a pretty fun time reading The Mars Run. While on the whole this is a most well-written story, it is also borderline campy at times, and I mean this in a good way. It can also be unexpectedly funny, the humor catching me by surprise and making me laugh. All in all, this is a most entertaining trip to Mars.
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