Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Beyond Mars

Beyond Mars:
Crimson Fleet

by R. G. Risch

(Dog Ear Publishing / 1-598-58614-9 / 978-1-598-58614-5 / May 2008 / 224 pages / $15.95)

Reviewed by Celia Hayes for PODBRAM

Beyond Mars is a fast-moving read with an old-fashioned pulp adventure-in-space aesthetic about it. It is of that sub-genre classified as military science fiction, with lots of blazing broadsides updated to the twenty-second century. There is of course the dashing main hero and his stalwart sidekick, some interesting secondary heroes and heroines, assorted love interests, lashings of political treachery, a collection of eminently hissable and malign villains – military, bureaucratic, and political, as well as a barely seen entity both creepily alien and inimical to Earth and its inhabitants. The story arc seems to promise continuing installments in the best pulp tradition. Beyond Mars is set in a dystopic future, in which the colonists of Mars are the brave holdouts for political and intellectual freedom. As the story opens, they are decamping under fire for another part of the galaxy, far, far away from grasp of an Earth that has become a nightmare combining all the very worst features of Imperial Rome, the Third Reich and the European Union. That this earth government is described as being headquartered in Brussels can only be deliberate.
The writer has thoroughly visualized the technological aspects of this world – a couple of which are truly stomach-churning, so it is a mercy that they are not described too lavishly. He has also drawn many of the battle scenarios from historical naval battles, although again, the brevity of the book ensures that only the high points are touched upon. As I read Beyond Mars, I had the odd feeling that I was actually reading a graphic novel without the graphic element! Further Beyond Mars episodes would work very well as such, if the author could work with an illustrator similarly immersed in the pulp adventure tradition.

According to the author’s biography, he has long experience in technical writing and this is his first novel. This is good, insofar as it ensures that his style is, spare, workmanlike and unambiguous when it comes to relaying information. However, he is rather clunky in his use of adjectives and some of his descriptive phrases struck me as gigglingly inept. (“bloated eyes”?) I kept mentally rewriting some of his conversational interludes, and he depends overmuch on exposition – of telling us what is happening, instead of showing us. It makes for a livelier and more involving story, for example, when a character explains in dialogue what has happened, rather than have the same information dryly interjected by the writer. An editor or some critical feedback by other writers and friends might have been able to help the author polish to a more professional finish. Overall, Beyond Mars is an interesting adventure for fans of military adventure in space; the story fits well within that particular genre and the author knows his tech and history, but his narrative writing is still a little rough around the edges.
See Also: Celia's BNN Review
The Author's Website

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