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Review: Pirates of Mars

Pirates of Mars by Chris Gerrib; Hadley Rille Books; $16.00 trade paperback. $2.99 ebook; © 2012. 

Reviewed by Kent McDaniel

At first, I had trouble getting into Pirates of Mars. Many characters made their appearance in its early pages amidst a lot of action, and I had some difficulty sorting them out. Plus, the scene-setter with which Gerrib begins each chapter threw me off a little: Each gives the day of the week, the day’s date in the “Virgo Year,” the time in Martian Zulu Time, the year and time in GMT--which seems to be some variation of Earth time—and then the scene’s location; in the beginning, I found that all a little confusing as well. 

I persisted, though, and was glad I did. Twenty pages in, I had a handle on the characters and the scene-setters, and Gerrib had me hooked on a roller coaster of a science-fiction thriller: Space pirates have hijacked a cargo ship, killed some of its members, meaning to steal the cargo and hold the remaining crew members for ransom. To complicate matters, the pirates are unable to restart the hijacked ship’s engine, and in desperation send out a Mayday to The Space Rescue  Mission, with whom they end up in a firefight and add two as their hostages. The Space Rescue mission is a cash-strapped organization unwilling to pay ransom for their captured members, so some of its other members organize an “unofficial” rescue-plan. Oh, and did I mention that some of the hijacked ship’s cargo turns out to be mysterious and sinister? 

As I said, the story begins fast-paced, and Gerrib never lets it bog down. He just keeps ratcheting up the suspense and tension as things progress. All the action is complemented by a large cast of well-developed characters and by convincing settings, whether in the various Martian settlements or inside the different space vehicles. Gerrib also relates the microcosm in which his characters play out their drama to the larger political and economic conditions within the solar system in 2074. He obviously devoted much effort to his world building, and it pays off.  I particularly enjoyed the details about everyday life on a space ship and on Mars. In addition, Gerrib, a Navy veteran, had a convincing feel for the culture of a paramilitary group and evinced a good knack for writing the novel’s police procedural aspects. Finally, I congratulate him on managing to refrain from overdoing the rich details of setting. He gives us plenty but never swamps the story with them.

 It all adds up to rollicking good space-opera that hurtles ahead like a starship in warp drive. 

It all adds up to rollicking good space-opera that hurtles ahead like a starship in warp drive. The wild ride carried me past some concerns about a few typos, an over-abundance of coincidences, and occasional questions regarding some characters’ motivation or reasoning. I was having enough fun that I shrugged such matters off. The suspense, action, colorful characters, and exotic setting trumped any minor reservations I had. 

The book calls out for a sequel and for a movie adaptation. I have no doubt that Gerrib intends to provide the former, and should the latter come about, I’ll be in line for a ticket.    

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