SPSFC Quarterfinalist Review: Gates of Mars by Kathleen McFall and Clark Hays

As our SPSFC team finishes reading our ten quarterfinalists out of our first round allotment, I will be posting review roundups and official scores. As you read our thoughts on these ten books, keep in mind that we have a variety of tastes on this team, and a low score does not necessarily indicate a bad book. One or two (or even all four!) judges bouncing hard off a book can tank a score and keep it from advancing in this competition, but that doesn’t mean the same book might not be perfect for another reader.

Today, we’re looking at Gates of Mars, a thriller by Kathleen McFall and Clark Hays that takes the reader back-and-forth between a dystopian Earth and a paradise for the wealthy created on Mars.

Jay’s Review and Rating

Gates of Mars strikes me as a totally competent sci-fi thriller, with solid-but-unremarkable prose and worldbuilding supporting a plot that features one man on the run from a dystopian oligarchy, chasing down a secret they will kill to protect, and leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. But the secret knowledge didn’t provide a compelling mystery, and I made it halfway through the book without being able to muster an ounce of investment in the trail of bodies. This book will work for plenty of others, but it isn’t the sort of story that appeals to me at all, and I’m not doing myself or the authors any favors by trying to push through.

Jay has rated Gates of Mars as a DNF (52% read).

Esme’s Review and Rating

The pacing was pretty good, things happened frequently enough to keep my interest, but there was enough breathing room in between to let the reader process and not make it feel super rushed. There was a pivotal plot moment that came about 60% through, and that really is where things picked up for me.

Esme has rated Gates of Mars 7/10. For more detail, check out her full review.

Lilyn’s Review and Rating

Gates of Mars is not without its issues; however, it is a fine example of the base story being good enough that I can shuffle the issues off to one side and just enjoy the story. I think the main thing I liked about the story was the world-building. On the base idea level, it was very easy to believe that things could go in the direction that the authors laid out. Especially considering where we are right now with a small percentage of the population controlling so much of the wealth and corporations’ inevitable need to grow larger without regard for anything other than their bottom line, no matter what. The leveraging of generational debt was horrifying. On a practical level, the OCD implants with inescapable ads, the Earth that’s been thoroughly destroyed by human greed and stupidity, and the slight evolution of turns of phrases and gestures were all the types of things that helped bring the story to life. Regarding the main character, the authors did a fantastic job of giving readers a character that they did not like but couldn’t help but root for.

Lilyn has rated Gates of Mars 9/10. For more detail, check out their forthcoming review at Leviathan Libraries.

Bill’s Review and Rating

On its surface, Gates of Mars strikes me as a classical sci-fi story that could have been written, with stylistic adjustments, back in the 50s or 60s. Rocket ships move the characters quickly between Earth and Mars while jet-packs are used to fly individuals within cities. There is intrigue and adventure and high-tech needle guns. It bothers me that I can’t recall the first time I read about that idea, Niven maybe? But the story is more than that, it’s also a polemic directed at current climate change, capitalism, and wealth inequality. In that way, it is also reminiscent of many of those older works.
Earth has gone to hell due to climate change. The five families have taken over control of just about everything and escaped off to Mars, which is heaven compared to what’s left back at home. And they’ve created an all-seeing AI that watches over literally everybody on both planets. Except for members of the five families when they want privacy. The description of life on Earth reminded me of Blade Runner.
The surface story is a nice action-packed piece involving Crucial Larson, his sister Essential, and a few other regular secondary characters. Essential goes to Mars and then goes missing. Crucial, being a cop, is brought in to find her. Crucial never wanted to go to Mars in the first place and is struck by its beauty and privilege compared to the rotting earth, but not won over to the idea of staying. He goes back to Earth. He goes back to Mars. His sister dies. He dies. Does anybody really die? And credible advanced tech is used to explain away all of what cannot be done today. The only sciency thing that bothered me is the notion that without special equipment a person walking on Mars would “bound” away with the reduced gravity–it’s not that much reduced!

Bill has rated Gates of Mars 7/10.

Official Scores

Esme 7
Lilyn 9*
Bill 7
Team 6.57

*indicates judge’s highest score of the first round (including ties)


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