Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Marsface by R.M. Pala

When I claimed Marsface by R.M. Pala (published by The Invisible College Press) from Mini Book Expo for Bloggers, I knew it was a science fiction book, and I was willing to take a chance. Since I've started blogging, I've discovered that stepping outside your usual genre is oftentimes rewarding, and I never would have read some of the books I've enjoyed most if I confined myself to one.

There are two things I should say before I begin my review: 1) I'm not a big fan of science fiction, and 2) I really, really wanted to like this book. Actually, I'm still not sure how I feel about it.

Marsface is the story of Maggie Evans, a high school biology teacher who is intrigued by one of her students, Craig, and his obsession with discovering the origins of a tiny (and I mean tiny) piece of an asteroid found in the Antarctic that everyone thinks is from Mars. As a biology teacher, Maggie shifts the discussion to whether analyses of the fragment indicate the presence of life on Mars, and while the discussions are fairly easy to follow, I can't remember much about them now that I've finished the book.

The book spans several years, with Maggie and Craig working to piece together the mystery of the asteroid and determine whether the Mars face is man-made or a natural phenomenon. There is talk about theories of exploding planets and how such a scenario might impact Earth, which leads to a mission to Mars. The attraction between Maggie and Craig grows (despite the fact that Maggie was once Craig's teacher and is married with two children), and they end up on Mars together. For many months. With Maggie's husband and children back on Earth. (I think you get the picture.)

The first half of the book or so is full of scientific discussions about the asteroid and theories about Mars, as well as lengthy descriptions of the shuttles and other equipment that will take them to Mars and enable them to start a colony. These descriptions are told in dialogue, and while they made me feel as though I was sitting in a college lecture hall, they were interesting for the most part. The second half of the book is a soap opera, more or less, that (without giving too much away) deals with the complexity of Maggie and Craig's relationship, their findings on Mars, and the threats to Maggie's life as a result of her discovery (which is pretty interesting, by the way).

Pala must have conducted extensive research to write this book, and I applaud her dedication to detail. She writes in a way that makes all the science stuff accessible to me (meaning someone who changed from a pre-vet major to a double major in English and sociology because I couldn't handle the chemistry...you mean the molecular model was supposed to be 3-D??). However, there were many unnecessary details that could have been cut to make the story shorter and improve the flow. For example, there was an entire (long) paragraph devoted to Maggie trying to decide how much to spend on access to a college's online resources, weighing the length of time working on the project and whether or not her kids would use it for school.

I also could not relate to the character of Maggie at all. She was a women who in one paragraph would recognize that she was sacrificing her marriage and children to pursue her Mars obsession, going as far as accepting a job that would relocate her entire family without consulting her husband, and in another paragraph would recognize how much she hurt her husband and still think he was giving her permission to have her cake and eat it, too. She was just a little too much, in my opinion.

Still, there was something about Marsface that kept me reading until the end. I'll admit that around page 50 or so, I said I'd give it one more day of commuter reading before deciding whether to shut the book for good. But I wanted to know the secret about Mars, and once the mission is launched, the book moves forward quickly. Toward the end of the book, however, tension is built around the crew's return to Earth, and I felt like it ended without really resolving the conflict. Overall, I'm glad I kept reading, but if detailed scientific explanations aren't your thing, you might want to skip this one. (And I feel badly about saying that because there was something that I can't put my finger on that kept me reading.)

Wait I've Got It!! As I was proofreading my review, it came to me. Pala does an excellent job of making the reader feel as though they are on Mars along with Maggie and the rest of the crew. She made Mars come alive for me. Also, the storyline with regard to the scientific theories and the discoveries on Mars wasn't far-fetched, which made it easier for a reader not very interested in science fiction to enjoy the book.

Disclosure:  I received a free copy of Marsface from the publisher for review purposes.


Anonymous said...

A good and honest review. I like your style, it is candid and uncompromising. In lieu of your laudatory observations and despite your several reservations, I think it might be a worthy read.

Marvin D Wilson, author
Blogs at Free Spirit: http://inspiritandtruths.blogspot.com/
Eye Twitter 2 - http://twitter.com/Paize_Fiddler.com

Anonymous said...

A good and honest review. I like your style, it is candid and uncompromising. In lieu of your laudatory observations and despite your several reservations, I think it might be a worthy read.

Marvin D Wilson, author
Blogs at Free Spirit: http://inspiritandtruths.blogspot.com/
Eye Twitter 2 - http://twitter.com/Paize_Fiddler.com

Anonymous said...

oops, posted 2X on the comments. }-:> Hey Anna - I would honor a review of my book Owen Fiddler on your blog - email me with your snail mail addy at: marvwilson2010@gmail.com

Shana said...

Anna, detailed scientific explanations are so not my thing.

I admire you for sticking with this one.

You wrote a great review here, especially given your feelings about the book.

Serena said...

I like this review and that you finally put your finger on why you kept reading...I knew it would come to you eventually.

From our brief discussions outside this review, I think I will skip this one...too much craziness for me.

Anna said...

Marvin: Thanks for your kind words about my review, and thanks for visiting my blog!

Shana: Thanks very much! I'm actually glad I stuck with it. There have been some books I kept reading and I ended up regretting it.

Serena: I'm glad I figured it out, too! It was driving me nuts! And there was a bit of craziness on the soap opera side, I'll give you that.

Dewey said...

I'm not a big sci-fi fan, either. Sometimes I can really enjoy it. I really like Sherri S. Tepper, for example.

Anna said...

Hi Dewey! I've never heard of Tepper, but I'll look up her books. Thanks!

Jeannie said...

My mom loves sci-fi books, but I don't know if she'd be into the detailed scientific explanations part. It may put her off so I'll give it a good look through before I can recommend it to her.

Natasha @ Maw Books said...

I think it's good to step outside your comfort zone every once in a while to test to see if your reading tastes have changed. I see you're reading Tears of the Desert. I hope you have some kleenex handy.

Anna said...

Jeannie: One good thing is that the science explanations last only a page or so at a time, so if you can get through those, it's not so bad.

Natasha: Thanks for stopping by! Tears of the Desert is very powerful. I'm almost at the halfway point, and I can already tell I'll probably cry or get very angry. Or both.

S. Krishna said...

Hmm, this book sounds interesting! I can't decide if it makes me want to read it or not!

Anna said...

S. Krishna: Believe me, this was a difficult book to review. Thanks for stopping by!