Saturday, April 14, 2012

Book Review: Life on Mars: Tales from a New Frontier

Back in January when I was at the library trying to find the tv show Life on Mars I was also hunting around to find a few books which didn't seem to be on the shelves like they were supposed to be. So I decided to check out the new books section as a last resort and, while I didn't find the books I was looking for, I found a book called Life on Mars just staring me in the face. I'm not sure if this was the universe's way of mocking me or an apology for the tv show being out but in any case I decided to check this one out, especially since there were a lot of authors in there I didn't recognize (the only authors who I was familiar with were Nnedi Okorafor and Cory Doctorow*).


Life on Mars: Tales from the New Frontier edited by Jonathan Strahan


Not much to say about this cover, it works well showing what the book is about but honestly with a title like that the cover doesn't need to do much explaining. I did like the color scheme used though, it was a smart move to use that dusty red-color to tie everything together since that is a color people associate with Mars.

Summary: 12 authors and 12 different takes on Mars, our next frontier, and what kinds of lives we’ll live there.

The Good: There were some genuinely interesting stories in this anthology, I liked the few that dealt with the health aspects of living on Mars (“Goodnight Moons” by Ellen Klages and “Martian Heart” by John Barnes, even though those stories were a bit more tragic) and the ones that focused more on the kind of technology in the future (“The Taste of  Promises” by Rachel Swirsky), and one towards the end which was about the very first steps to Mars (“Discovering Life” by Kim Stanley Robinson). In short, I liked the ones that spent a bit more time thinking about their setting and making it the focus of the story instead of, well, the background. There were details in nearly every story that I found cool (like the journal in “The Old Man and the Martian Sea” by Alastair Reynolds, it reminded me a bit of the books in The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson) and it is harder to fill a story with details when it’s only 20-30 pages long but in an anthology it’s the details that separate the okay stories from the great ones.   

The Bad: I know that most, if not all, of the stories would have been written without knowing what the other contributors were doing and that you should therefore view each story separately but I was still surprised (and annoyed) at the sheer number of unlikeable lead characters in the stories. I think I only really liked two or three leads (all from different stories), the rest were simply too ignorant, mean-spirited, or just plain boring and I didn’t care about them. I was also sad that out of all of the stories none of them were set on a fully terraformed Mars far in the future, there’s a limit to how many stories you can read set in the exact same setting before it simply gets tedious (I read these over the course of a week and a half alongside another book so it’s not like this was even the only thing I was reading at the time and they still got tedious).

Not a super strong anthology, honestly I would rather recommend people a whole slew of other science fiction books to read instead but who knows, this could still appeal to some people out there I suppose. And it looks like this might be my last science fiction review for a while, glancing at my to-read list it looks like it's once again dominated by fantasy (with some realistic fiction in there, no clue where that came from), little sad that I'm ending such a long streak of sci-fi reviews with a whimper instead of a bang.



*ironically enough, I think both stories by them fit into the canons they had created in the books of theirs I have read. I can easily see The Martian Chronicles game being a progression of the games in Little Brother and For the Win by Doctorow and Okorafor's young adult books are set in a post-apocalyptic Earth where people have developed magical like powers, the same ones described in her short story (although I didn't realize this until I finished reading the story, her works are also set in a 'verse with alternate worlds, an odd combination with post-apocalyptic and it's been a few years since she had a YA book come out).   
 

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