We’re now in the round of semi-finalists for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and I’m reading and reviewing all of the semi-finalists! Check out my SPSFC Hub for all my posts and reviews for the contest.
Shadow of Mars by I.O. Adler
Carmen is starting a new job and just trying to make things work when she gets a message from her mom. The only problem is her mom was on a space mission and died. Almost immediately after this, Carmen is visited by government agents, which in this near-future setting include some kind of theocratic peace patrol type folks. Carmen is eventually captured by a weird alien spider thing and the plot gets going from there as she discovers what happened to her mother, and what else is going on in the universe.
I’ve got to say it, I thought this book was very strange. At times, I wasn’t sure if it was trying to be a lighthearted space adventure, a sci-fi horror story, or a kind of extended coming-of-age metaphor. Something just felt kind of off throughout the book. Is it supposed to be a comedic romp? Or am I supposed to be horrified by some of the really weird stuff happening? It was kind of disorienting. (SPOILERS the rest of this paragraph) One scene, in particular, stood out to me: Carmen and her mother are talking with each other shortly after Carmen has had her consciousness transferred to one of the spindly spider robots with TV heads, and I just sat there as a reader thinking “What the heck is going on?” At this point, I think the goal was to grab readers with a very odd, body horror-inspired mystery that would keep them going but it felt so off from the feel of the story to that point that I was just confused. (/SPOILERS)
There are significant elements of first contact here, as well. Adler does a fine job subverting some of the themes of alien contact and certainly making it feel more baffling and off-putting than many authors have done. There are almost elements of cosmic horror mixed in here, but going into that might be too spoiler-y. Suffice to say, these are some of the strongest elements in the book, but they come a bit too late into the story.
The questions about what’s going on back and Earth were the most interesting to me, but very little by way of answers were provided. Why are things so different when the tech base seems not that much into the future? What’s going on with the nigh-theocratic “police force”? Maybe this is just my own reflected biases in what I find interesting, but on the flip side I like first contact novels. It’s just that the introduction to the book (the first 10% or so) felt like there was some huge Earthside mystery happening, and then we completely leave that for the overwhelming majority of the novel. It made it feel a bit of whiplash about where the plot was going.
Shadow of Mars is the first in a series, and it feels like its just getting its legs under it by the end. Resolutions aren’t really provided here, as readers must wait for later books in the series to find out what is going on.
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