Publisher: Dylan James Quarles (2013)
Length: 232 pages
Series: Book 1 The Ruins of Mars
Set in a not too distant future, mankind is running out of resources. Mars is starting to look like a better and better bet for terraforming and the future of mankind. Two AIs, Romulus and Remus, are sent out to scan and map Mars from orbit. However, they make an unexpected discovery, one that fires the need to send a manned mission to Mars sooner rather than later.
This was a really enjoyable scifi adventure. Even though it has a few issues, I just thoroughly reveled in it. The pacing is really great, keeping the plot moving forward at all times. There’s a ton of interesting characters, and from so many walks of life (different ethnicities, sexual orientation, etc.). The major plot points were riveting – exploration on Mars, humanity’s dwindling resources at home, the huge, big mystery found on Mars. Then there is all the awesome tech. Yeah, you heard me. The author does a most excellent job of integrating futuristic tech into the story seamlessly.
So let’s get my few criticisms out of the way to make run for me to gush over how much I enjoyed this novel. First, the ladies. None are major characters and none are plot central for more than a glancing moment at a time. The men get to make all the decisions and have all the adventures. In fact, for the first third of the book, the only female characters are an AI named Alexandria and someone’s mum on vidphone conversation. Finally, about halfway through, there’s several more ladies tossed in and they are all highly qualified folks, so I had high hopes that some of them would have plot-central roles in the second half of the book. Alas, they all quickly fall into the background and are there to provide comfort and care as needed. So, obviously, that was my biggest disappointment with the book especially since they each held potential – each has their own personality and background. Honestly, the author knows how to write female characters, so I’m not sure why he underutilized them so extremely in this first book.
The rest of my criticisms are all minor and can be lumped together. There appeared to be little to no cross training among the personnel heading off to Mars, which struck me as odd. Apparently the Mars astronaut suits don’t have built in safety systems and become completely useless if the suit loses contact with the governing AI – again this seemed odd. Redundancy equals safety in outer space, after all. There’s a few other minor things like that, but you get the point.
Now, even with those flaws, this was a hell of a ride. The constant sense of anticipation and mystery were excellent. I was never bored with this book, never rushing ahead because I found this character or that scene boring. The timeline starts in 2044 and then jumps ahead to 2048 and then back and forth a little, showing how the manned mission got pulled together. I thought this was well done and I didn’t find it confusing at all. The chapters and subchapters are nicely time stamped to keep you all straight.
The tech is awesome. I love all the 3D imaging and various surfaces that can be used as touch sensitive computer screens. Then there’s the AIs. Oh yeah. Nicely done indeed! I really liked that there were various types of AIs created for different purposes and having different limitations and skill sets. This of course gave them individual personalities. First, there are the brothers Remus and Romulus who are each embodied in their own unmanned space satellite. They were created to go out and scan Mars, looking for and analyzing water and mineral sources. Alexandria is a kind of chatty world-wide info AI that can be accessed by most humans. Copernicus works with the Mars Project and the related agencies, like NASA. Donovan is the AI for the CIA (and he is just a tad spooky). The author also added in genetically modified food crops to be grown on Mars and also gene manipulation for the Mars astronauts to give them greater tolerances to extreme conditions. I felt that all the tech was plausible and well used in the story.
The caste is large but not unwieldy. It was great to see that the mission to Mars was a world effort. Tatyana Vodevski, Harrison Raheem Assad, Xao-Xong Liu, YiJay, Aguilar, Ralph Marshall, Vivianna Calise, Elizabeth Kubba, James Floyd, Julian Thomas, etc. As you can see, lots of personalities to mix it up with. If this ever goes to audiobook, the narrator will have to be skilled in numerous accents.
Then there is the big mystery on Mars discovered by Romulus and Remus. From the title of the book, you might have already guessed that something was found on Mars that no one was expecting. Folks back on Earth have a variety of responses to this. It’s not all flowers and swaying in a large circle. It was great to see such a realistic response from the mass of humanity to this discovery. So after this big discovery is made, the Mars manned mission gets additional funding and is rushed into being. Further discoveries are made and one was beyond what I expected but was excellently executed. Now, I can’t wait to jump into Book 2 to see what else our Mars astronauts stumble across!
What I Liked: Plenty of cool, plausible tech; the AIs in all their varieties; never a dull moment; folks from lots of different backgrounds; the big mystery on Mars; yet more mysteries to unravel.
What I Disliked: The ladies are highly underutilized, especially since they were set up so well; a few techy kind of things like why no cross training among the Mars astronauts and the lack of redundant safety systems.
What Others Think: