I was introduced to Jeff Garrity’s Mars Girl years ago, when it could be said that the age of independent science fiction authors producing ebooks was still in its pre-Amazon renaissance. In my recent search for more budding Sf authors, whom I hope to see much more of in the future, I came across this book again and decided to give it a second read. I’m so glad I did. (It’s easy for you to read it too, because it’s free.)
Mars Girl is that rare breed of science fiction dark satire, mostly a scathing and hilarious look at the future of the media news industry. The story revolves around the big news item of the moment, in this case, a young girl on the first manned mission to Mars; and in the process, the story shows us a news media system addicted to ratings, fighting for commercial dollars, not afraid to stoop to sensationalism and stabbing its own people in the back, and eager to package its news as whatever kind of reality-show drama will win them the eyeballs that night.
Mars Girl starts with the girl, Mirellen Garasovic, as her malfunctioning spacecraft plummets into Mars’ atmosphere, her fate uncertain at the very beginning of the story. From there, the story periodically returns to Mirellen and her struggle for survival, but it’s quickly relegated to background noise as the news media gears up to make a ratings kill out of it. This story is actually about Ray Barker, a nice but somewhat seedy field reporter who is forced to leave a family funeral to be part of the ongoing story of the Mars mission; and in the process, ends up becoming major news himself.
As Barker tries to get the story, and we discover he’s not averse to making things up as he goes, we watch his news bosses match Barker’s mildly-underhanded way of working with underhandedness of their own; this has become standard operating procedure in news, even to the extent of filming him in a private tryst without him knowing, and getting him in hot water with the local authorities and a jealous ex-husband. Soon, the plight of Mars Girl (as the media labels her) is quickly overshadowed by the adventures of Barker and the quirky people he meets in the town of Okinisee. As Barker connives, loves and struggles, it seems even the people he most closely interacts with are watching him more through a TV lens than in person, or missing what’s going on right under their noses as they obsess over the Mars Girl newscasts; it’s like watching a Benny Hill chase scene going on behind the armchairs of the oblivious TV viewers. And just as it looks like Barker may get out by the skin of his teeth, it appears there’s something funny about the Mars landing, and when Barker gets wind of it, suddenly ex-husbands and local cops are the least of his worries.
Garrity does a great job of painting a world “20 minutes into the future,” very similar to ours but also so hyped up on constant news and sensationalist media so as to hold a very large mirror up to our present media cycles. This mirror is clearly showing us a parody of our news media… but as the story continues, it’s easy to find yourself wondering just how much of a parody this is.
Although most of this world is very familiar to the reader, the technology is ahead of us, particularly in the area of communications tech: Reporters and other executives have phones in their heads. Wireless cameras are embedded in contact lenses, and remote-piloted flying drones act as on-the-scene cameras, taking the action right to the people’s living rooms. Televisions and tablet devices are voice-controlled, and many vehicles are electric. And oh, yeah: We can apparently fly people to Mars now; but in the midst of everything else going on, that’s almost unimportant.
I like Garrity’s style, very immediate and chopped into appropriately bite-sized fast-food pieces, much like the bits of television we get between the everpresent commercials. Like the media he satirizes, his text is tight and descriptive, not verbose; his action happens fast and doesn’t dwell on extemporaneous matter. His climax is fast-paced, like the best of television shows, with some delightful twists and turns along the way. His characters are just what the story needs to move the narrative along at a brisk pace. I can easily see this book on TV or in the movies, and I think it would be a huge hit. But whatever the media, it’s a great yarn, and wonderfully told.
Most importantly, Mars Girl stands out as the highest quality literature that many people would have you believe independent authors are incapable of creating, without the help of a battery of editors and a major publishing house: It’s proof-of-concept for the modern independent novel. It’s a great story, meticulously written and as funny as anything you’re going to get from major publishers or bestselling authors. Mars Girl the book is as much a must-read story as Mars Girl is must-see TV.