For a fun SF novel that works on several levels, read Email from Mars: Outbound, by Lon Grover. This new release in 2013 earns a Denver Space Industry Examiner rating of 4 out of 5 stars!
Several science fiction authors have written about “first human missions to Mars,” including your Examiner in Shadows of Medusa. Ironically, just as missions to Mars gathered momentum in the real world (several feasible human missions to/near Mars are now planned within the next 22 years), SF authors stopped writing about them. And that’s just sad.
Enter EfM:O, by longtime space enthusiast Lon Grover. This may be the first novel with a fresh new take on a humans-to-Mars mission within the past decade? I’m sure someone will comment about a book or two that I’m overlooking… and that’s fine as long as readers don’t overlook this one. If you like science fiction that could actually happen or you want to educate yourself about the growing humans-to-Mars movement, go out and grab a paper copy for only $8.99 on Amazon.com or a Kindle version for $4.99.
As an entertaining novel for the general public, the book rates a solid 3 of 5 planets. I’d love to rate the entertainment portion higher but it’s a tricky read. Some readers might have trouble following Grover’s unique and highly creative writing style.
I happened to enjoy the writing style immensely because I saw it for years when I directed the Mission Support team for various FMARS or MDRS missions. Between some traditional action scenes and a flashback or two, Grover includes a healthy dose of nonlinear e-mail transmissions to/from the crew. He reproduces real issues with tenses and perspectives in the crew e-mails extremely well, but that’s what might confuse some folks.
Readers wanting flashy artwork or schematics may be disappointed, and some of the technical detail in the book won’t appeal to all readers. For me, these details and rough edges added a refreshing touch of realism to a mission that, by necessity, will have some rough edges.
And that’s also the novel’s greatest strength. The technical level of detail earns 5 of 5 planets. Without getting too bogged down, Grover has crammed a lot of innovative thought into his pages. The book explores important concepts like crew selection, interactions, funding, ship design, and hazards. This embedded information remains quite consistent with real field research at the Mars Society or NASA.
One quick disclaimer: Years ago, I helped Grover develop the Mars trajectory and (therefore) overall timeline used in the novel. This means I can vouch for the authenticity of his approach. Grover’s communication time delays, like mine in Shadows of Medusa, aren’t just a cheap plot device. The to-Mars orbital physics are as real as any fiction author could ever make them.
Among his many innovations, I applaud Grover’s creation of a banking system, FGS&L (First Galactic Savings and Loan) as a way to pay the crew and make the mission immediately profitable. Something like FGS&L could work in the real world because sending human explorers to Mars will almost certainly release vast sums of new money and ideas into the technology markets – on Earth, where all previous fortunes have been earned. Visionaries like Elon Musk know all too well that in any gold rush (figurative or literal), most miners starve while the equipment makers and transportation barons grow wealthy. Space exploration will be no different. There’s gold in them thar’ hills!
Grover explores crew psychology from several angles, with a heavy emphasis on long distance marriages. By sending one spouse to Mars while the other remains on Earth, he creates a powerful, if tenuous, stabilizing link for both. Readers who like some spicy dialogue will not be disappointed… and therefore I wouldn’t recommend this book for younger readers. Grover also explores the dark side of intimate relationships because the folks out in space on this “dangerous mission” might not be the ones in the most danger.
That leads us into the plot of the novel, which I won’t spoil here. When skullduggery happens, it hits the crew and their loved ones swiftly and powerfully. While this novel contains plenty of intrigue – and a good cliffhanger at the end – the main focus remains upon the mission and the crew interactions. For avoiding excesses so common in most SF, the plot also earns a rating of 5 planets out of 5.
Grover will definitely need a sequel, as the novel leaves us hanging at a pivotal point. We are starting to glimpse what is really going on, and I find myself greatly looking forward to turning more pages soon!