For the past few months, we’ve been reading six more semi-finalists from the inaugural SPSFC. Today we’ve got the fourth full review of these six, which is of I. O. Adler’s Shadows of Mars. This book has an SPSFC rating of 6.50 out of 10, and is reviewed here by my co-judge Ryan.
It was honestly a surprise that, after all the books I read for the SPSFC, it took this long to get a full on science fiction horror novel. The two genres go together for numerous reasons, whether we’re dealing with cosmic horrors beyond our comprehension, aliens that think we’re tasty, or the fact that without functioning technology space itself would kill you. It’s a genre I love, so I looked forward to this one.
A few scenes felt distinctly horrific (two of them have stuck with me in the months since I read it), but even the ones that didn’t, once the story really started, always had an air of unease and tension.
Carmen Vincent is working a water treatment plant, not because she cares about water treatment, but because it gets better internet than anywhere else. A lot of electronics have slowed down since the Big Wipe, Black Wednesday and Darker Thursday, which were also the day Carmen’s mother, an astronaut, died in space. Supposedly.
Black Wednesday involved the worldwide electrical grid going down, and it took a year for everything to start being repaired. Meanwhile, no one at NASA will tell Carmen anything about her mother’s death, and now she’s getting messages claiming to be from her.
The opening section of this book felt unlike the rest of the book. There were large dynamics being set up in the early section that simply vanished as soon as the book moved from its preliminary section to the rest of it. It’s possible they’re being set up for sequels, but it felt odd to spend so much time with the various characters only for them to vanish for the rest of the book.
We get the dynamic of Carmen’s creepy would-be militia ex-brother-in-law, who felt like he was being set up for a large villainous role, we get Carmen’s ill father, and her co-worker, all of whom disappear after the opening section. When the book moves into space, as Carmen and her sister Jenna go after their mother, the book takes on a creepy, uncanny tone that felt significantly more interesting. I don’t want to delve too deeply into the aliens in this review, because I don’t know if I can do it justice. But they’re certainly unique and compelling, and the highlight of the book.
The tangled relationships of the Vincent women were a solid human backdrop to what would otherwise be a lot of bizarre attempts at alien communication. When dealing with the gulf between alien culture and our own, and making that a crux of the entire book, putting forth normal but difficult relationships is even more key.
“I’m going to Mars.”
That was it, end of discussion period the likelihood she would set foot on board the launch vehicle was slim. But she would enter the training program and participate in every facet of prep leading up to the mission just like the primary crew.
Her mom letter to sharp breath. ”How could I not, Carmen? It’s what I raised you to believe you could be anything, you and your sister. Nothing can stop any of us. I cared for you and you were never without.”
“We needed our mom.”
“And I didn’t stop being your mother by signing on to the mission. We talked every day when you were around. And I came home every chance I got. I’m sorry about your father. But I couldn’t put my life on hold for him and you shouldn’t have either.”
Shadows of Mars had some scenes of fantastic dread, with solid interpersonal stakes. If you like creepy science fiction, you may want to give this one a shot.