What happens when your dream mission to Mars is a reality TV nightmare? When perfectly good equipment begins to fail, the Marsonauts are faced with a possibility that their training just cannot explain.
A raucous joyride across the red planet. It discombobulates for the fun of it, and is sly in raising issues of voyeurism, consumerism, and the unholy combination of moneyed interests with science. Sweetness and melancholy wend into otherwise dire situations. A geologist learns to knit booties while the Martians try to make first contact; a technical engineer flirts with anarchy ... The combination is irresistible fun. Through its heartbreaks and surprises, How to Mars is an interplanetary delight.
The novel is told through revolving points of view, including that of the Patterns, the not quite corporeal definitely sentient beings that already inhabit Mars ... there’s the Patterns. As a plotline, it seems tacked on, as though perhaps Jenny’s pregnancy wasn’t enough and an editor or beta reader suggested throwing in some sort of pre-existing life on Mars. The Patterns are a compelling concept, but the storyline comes off as more of an afterthought than a revelation How to Mars has a lot going for it. It’s aggressively charming—the kind of book one thinks one ought to like, even a book one truly wants to like. Ultimately the novel doesn’t quite equal the sum of its parts. Once key plot lines begin to be resolved, the book feels a bit rushed, making the ending less than satisfying. Ebenbach has some worthwhile musings on the idea of what makes us human, but these musings don’t stick. It’s a relatively enjoyable summer read, not the kind of book that lingers.
Told from the perspectives of various characters—even ethereal Martian life-forms that refer to themselves as the Patterns—and complemented with excerpts from the Destination Mars! handbook and Jenny's humorous research notes, the story has a strong sense of whimsy, but Ebenbach also creates depth by exploring issues like engineer Stefan's feelings of estrangement and violence and Jenny’s guilt over her sister's suicide years earlier. A poignant examination of what it means to be human.