When I got some distance into The Mars Run, I realised I was reading something that belonged to that rare sub-genre known as “mundane science fiction.” If you think that’s me putting it down, you would be wrong. Let me educate you. Mundane SF is a tricky beast to write, and something that I, as an author, have not attempted. Mundane SF is all about what’s really likely. You are not allowed to feature time-travel, interstellar space travel, teleportation; even aliens are frowned upon. Mundane SF takes what technology we already have and theorises realistically about what seems genuinely possible in the future. Doesn’t that make for rather dull sci-fi? Depends on what you’re looking for in a story. For me, I like to sink my teeth into a good human drama. That’s what The Mars Run is. If anything, I found the mundane SF aspects of the novel fascinating. When Gerrib tells me about a spacecraft that has a spinning central section creating an area of the ship with artificial gravity, it excites the scientist in me, in a way that the phrase “Kirk to transporter room” won’t.
The novel is set in the 2070s, told in the first person by Janet Pilgrim, a young astronaut in her late teens. In order to raise money for college, Janet agrees to become a crew member on a cargo haul from Earth to Mars, a vocation no more exciting than a present-day truck driver. A mining colony has been established on Mars, and there is regular traffic between the red and blue planets. There is also the danger of pirates; outer space is the new ocean. Janet’s ship gets attacked and the whole crew murdered – except her. Janet is given the opportunity to join the pirate crew. It’s that, or death. From there on, the trip to Mars turns out to be much more dangerous and difficult that she ever expected.
On the author’s website, Gerrib writes, “Warning – explicit sex and language!” I’m a Christian, so you know right off the bat that I’m going to be tolerating rather than appreciating those two things. In actuality, the sex is not very explicit at all. It’s almost written as summary. Which is no bad thing, considering that there’s a lot of raping going on – or at least something very close to rape, as Janet spends a good portion of the novel forced to play the role of sex slave, and using her feminine wiles to get the upper hand. The exception is a consensual and rather pointless lesbian relationship. I can imagine what a movie of the novel would be like (Kleenex to the ready) but as a book, with Gerrib holding back on the eroticism, the lesbian relationship seems superfluous and is ultimately swallowed up by the larger story.
The Mars Run is a self-published novel. Gerrib’s writing style is clear and streamlined, respecting the reader’s intelligence. When Gerrib writes about an astronaut placing his helmet against a closed door in a vaccuum, he expects the reader to figure out on his own that this is a little trick you can play to hear what’s going on inside the room. Too many author write timidly and slow their work down with pointless qualifications. Not Gerrib. I spotted some grammar and punctuation errors, but not a lot. It wouldn’t take a great deal of work to lick this into truly professional shape.
The novel is a character drama, and on the characters it succeeds. Everyone was well defined, their actions believable, and the reader really feels for Janet’s plight. The only part of the story that I disliked was an overly long section near the end where Janet seems to be carried along by events over which she has no control, and everyone around her is merely talking politics. Thankfully, this section is not characteristic of the story as a whole.
This was an enjoyable read, and one I’ll remember. Reminded me of Robert Holdstock’s space trader novella Elite: The Dark Wheel. I had qualms about some of Janet Pilgrim’s moral decisions in the story, but the ending was surprisingly refreshing on that score.