“Gates of Mars” by Kathleen McFall and Clark Hays: An SPSFC Semifinalist Review

The inaugural Self-Published Science Fiction Contest is over, but I am reading and reviewing every single semifinalist! Follow along to see what I think of the judges choices for the top 30 out of 300 books!

Gates of Mars by McFall + Hays

Crucial Larson has been summoned to the elitist utopia on Mars to solve a missing persons case. The missing person is his sister, and her capture somehow evaded the all-seeing, all-knowing-ish AI known as Halo. Halo starts interrogating Crucial after he also manages to get off the grid for a little bit on Mars, desperate to know what happened to defeat its monitoring systems. That’s where the story begins in this hard-hitting mystery.

The plot hook is fantastic. I was all in on the story of Gates of Mars from the get-go. Of course, a hook isn’t all that makes a good story, so the question that lingered in my mind was whether it would be able to maintain my interest throughout its 350-ish page length. McFall and Hays add wrinkles throughout the book to keep it going. Many of these are highly successful–such as the lingering thread about what happened with some giraffes on Mars (truly!). Others sometimes read as a bit deus ex machina. The most egregious of these were some of the ways Halo’s detection was avoided, which started to make it feel as if it were the simplest thing rather than an insanely stunning achievement.

When the plot trajectory changes around the 55-65% mark, there are some bigger highs and lows. I found some of it a bit long–possibly in need of editing down. However, at that point my investment in the characters was strong enough to sustain me even in the parts I thought might drag a bit. The conclusion was satisfying, bringing the story to a conclusion that felt like a natural end point despite clearly being ready for the rest of a series.

Gates of Mars is a great noir-sci-fi combination that I would highly recommend to fans of that genre mashup. I found it nearly un-put-down-able at times. The narrative voice, characters, and worldbuilding are quite strong.

All links to Amazon are Affiliates

I received a copy of the book for review.


The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the SPSFC here!

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