The United States’ first attempt at colonizing Mars is in big trouble. The lander has been damaged – somehow – and is drifting off course. Worse, sixteen of the seventeen people aboard are dead, leaving only a teenaged girl alive.
Will she land safely? Will she be able to make it to the prefab, pre-landed restaurant/shelter? Will a rescue mission be able to reach her in time? How will the corporate sponsors of the mission be able to profit from this? How will the news network with exclusive coverage of the landing keep people glued to their screens, and keep the merchandise moving? How will the government spin this disaster to their advantage?
Can our intrepid…er, hero, the ace reporter Ray Barker, while stuck in a small lakeside town in Michigan, find a story that’s big enough to keep his name and face on the news?
Mars Girl is an all-too plausible near-future extrapolation of trends in the media and advertising. News “journalism” has gone completely over-the-top tabloid in style. If there isn’t a story to be found, make one! Give the reporters a “commission”, too! Spy on the other networks to beat them to the scoop. And with instant and saturated news coverage, it’s always the next story that’s the most important one. Careful, investigative journalism is yesterday’s news.
With the vulgar mob so overwhelmed with infotainment, the government colludes with the media to get the masses to do what they want – even if the conspirators have to create blatant lies and put people’s lives at risk to get the public to do the right thing anyway.
To his credit, Garrity remembers that there’s a light speed time delay of several minutes between Earth and Mars, so he doesn’t really have any instantaneous communication with Mars. All the corporate branding can be assumed to be added to the signal at this end, and the robotic landers and crawlers could have been preprogrammed with basic responses. There’s plenty of evidence that such minimal AI is available in his fictional world.
It’s fast-paced and action packed, and the scenes shift rapidly from Okinisee, Michigan to the White House to the headquarters of MASSnews, “the USA’s best choice for contemporary news hits.” Garrity manages to keep it all under control; using chapters shorter than those of James Patterson helps with the rapid shifts. The tone is light; he never gets in your face with satire or social commentary. You can, if you choose to do so, read it as a rollicking good sci-fi action yarn instead of biting social satire, and still enjoy the heck out of it.
The ending is a bit weak. Barker, our protagonist, goes unconscious for a while, and while he’s out, pretty much everything gets resolved without him. It’s entirely possible, given all the plot threads, that Garrity wrote himself into a corner and couldn’t figure out how to write a proper ending. At least it’s not a deus ex machina; you can pretty much figure out how it all went down on your own. There’s nothing that needs to be pulled out of thin air.
And hey, it’s free.
Addenda (1/29/15): As per the author’s comment below, the book is going to be available at a number of online retailers, including Smashwords. And it really is worth the price!