Note: this is a review of a novel about going to Mars set in the near future. If you think that this would interest you at all, I recommend not reading this at all, as the near future in which this story occurs is wonderfully surprising and worth entering into blind.
Winning Mars is a reality television show which takes place within the book of the same name. At times, this book came across as a business proposal. Which on one level, it most certainly is. I was not at all surprised to learn that the author, Jason Stoddard, also owns a tech consulting company.
The book is set in a near future that is as familiar as it is strange. There's a female US president. A market predictions firm provide businesses with consultations which are taken as commandments. Virtual currencies of online games (and that of one religion) surpassed those of countries. Gaming companies outcompete film studios. Google fell from grace. Homeland Security has been replaced with a worldwide OverSight Agency. And on the downside, there have been two Great Recessions, one "Three Day Fever." "Springeresque" is a word and Bill Clinton is largely forgotten.
Humanity has adapted to all these changes in stride by thriving rather well. The wealthy use modern miracles to stay healthy and young, the mobile web has moved onto eyesets, smart fabrics are de rigueur, new media companies launch from Youtube channels, MMOG player characters can become real world celebrities, and commercial space flight has maxed out at hotels orbiting the moon. Oh yeah, and cold fusion powers cars.
One man, by name of Evan, possesses the vision to expand the limits of human exploration by going to Mars. Naturally, Evan's motive is purely personal. Being an old, washed-up Hollywood producer, Evan lacks the means to make his dream a reality. So he approaches Jere (CEO of Neteno—a bold, new media company known for its nonlinear entertainments) with his idea for a reality tv show that turns landing on Mars into an extreme sports event. Even though reality television's long dead and space exploration still hasn't made it past the moon. Even though it would be way cheaper and safer to do the whole thing in CGI.
Against the better judgements of himself and the critics, Jere decides to work with Evan. And thus Winning Mars is born.
This is a fast-paced, exciting novel with many, many moments of humor and brilliance. The sheer amount of new information (or simply new configurations of old ideas) can be bewildering at times. There's a fairly large cast of characters; depending upon how quickly you read and how well you retain information, you may have trouble keeping up with them all. There are two love stories: one involving main characters and the other minor ones. There's a fair bit of corporate drama, involving sponsorships and renumeration and other such necessary evils.
There are also a number of typos. This reader counted at least eighteen. None of them serious enough to make the book unreadable, but enough to jar the narrative flow.
There's a lot of details in the story that are left to the reader's imagination. Many of the characters are not fleshed out fully and many made few appearances. Given the grand scope of the drama unfolding across a relatively short number of pages, some of the main characters do at times fall to the background. More descriptions of the transhumanist religion would have been really neat. This book could use an index or some charts describing the projected space flight and landing procedures. The cover art is really cool: it includes a portion of the contract given to the participants of the show. Irrititatingly, only scant sentences of said contract are reproduced in the text. In the author's defense, the entire contract is said to be over a dozen pages, so the omission is somewhat understandable. Even so, just a few bits would have fit well at the end of the book, maybe.
In many ways, this book felt rushed. Which perhaps it was, since the publication date was late last year. I just hope that the sequel is more carefully laid out.
spiregrain has informed me of a Dutch company called Mars One which has plans on using a reality tv show to fund a Mars colony.
Author: Jason Stoddard
Publisher: Prime Books