2015; 360 pages. New Author? : Yes. Genre : Hard Science Fiction; Murder-Mystery; Post-Apocalyptic Sci-Fi; Dystopian Fiction. Overall Rating : 9*/10.
Imagine how thrilling it must’ve been to be one of the first settlers to land on Mars! It’s now the 22nd century, and that first voyage happened sixty years ago!
At the time, the planet had no atmosphere, little water, and absolutely no food sources: plant, animal, or otherwise. But this of course was anticipated, and there were plans to overcome that, via something the technological gurus call “terraforming”.
After that, colonies can be built. Equipment such as land rovers can be brought from Earth. The Martian clouds can be seeded with chemicals to make it rain. Or, more accurately, make it snow, since Mars is rather frigid most of the time. Food can be imported from Earth, at least until Mars can become self-sustaining by the development of indoor greenhouse farms. Or even outside farms, once the Martian atmosphere evolves to duplicate Earthlike conditions. A few decades at the most.
Sure, there will be some snags along the way, but what’s the worst that can happen? A late shipment of supplies from Earth? Bland-tasting artificial food from the Martian greenhouses? Snowdrifts?
How about a terraforming project that fails miserably, making acid rain and snow. Plus Mother Earth wiping itself out in a nuclear holocaust.
What’s To Like...
Snowfall On Mars is kind of a mash-up of Andy Weir’s The Martian and Hugh Howey’s Wool, and a clever combination of several genres. I liked the ‘Hard’ Science Fiction aspect; it’s not quite as rigidly scientific as in The Martian, but you won’t find any phasers or transporters here either. The Murder-Mystery storyline kept my interest and had a couple neat twists to it. But first and foremost, this is a Dystopian Fiction novel, with Branden Frankel examining the mindsets of a dwindling group of marooned colonists, without any hope of rescue.
The book is written in the first-person POV, that of our protagonist, David Adler. He’s somewhat of an anti-hero: fatalistic, but determined to survive as long as he can. He’s a good guy at heart, but more curious than heroic; he’s not a particularly formidable fighter, but he plans ahead well. I found him to be a fascinating character study.
The only setting is the last inhabited spaceport on 22nd-century Mars twenty years after Earth blew itself up, although we do get to travel to a couple other deserted ones. Branden Frankel includes a number of bits of obscure trivia, including one Albert Goring, who is real and is Hermann Goring’s lesser-known brother. Wiki him; he’s worth reading about.
I thought the title was catchy, ditto for the cover art, which, ANAICT, is a depiction of a mansion called “Shiloh” that David encounters at 45%. Geeky engineers play an important part in the story; that resonates with me since I’m a chemist by trade. I chuckled at the products made to keep the colonists alive, and their order of importance, which was: cigarettes first, rotgut booze second, and tasteless pseudo power-bars euphemistically dubbed “sustainability rations” dead last. I also appreciated that even the bad guys were not “totally black”. Proctor, the leader of the religious zealots called “the ghosts” may be manipulative, but his rationale for what he does has a certain logic. And even his torturer, “Muck”, has a modicum of charm.
The ending is good, and despite all odds, manages to end on a hopeful note. All the main threads are tied up, including the murder-mystery, and there’s a window left open for a sequel, although I don’t sense that Branden Frankel is even thinking about writing one. Finally, a nod should be made to whoever did the editing; I was impressed by how few typos and grammar errors were here.
Kewlest New Word...
Brobdingnagian (adj.) : gigantic (not new to me, but definitely way-kewl)
The red dust has always been here. God knows if there was snow before, but the snow I’m watching fall now is the result of a failed project undertaken by a failed people. The first colonists came to Mars sixty years ago. Forty years later, they tried to terraform the planet by pumping chemicals into the air. The intent was to create a breathable atmosphere. All they created was acidic rain and snow that served to break their impressive machines down into the same rust red dust that is the beginning, middle, and end of this place. (loc. 29)
I try to pull my cuffed hands under me, but I’m cuffed to a steam pipe or something behind me. I’m not going anywhere.
“Where are your friends?” he asks, his gaze unwavering. I don’t know if he’s bluffing, but there’s no reason for me to play along.
“What are you talking about? I came alone.”
“You aren’t that stupid,” he responds.
“Oh, I’m pretty stupid,” I say. “My current predicament is proof positive.” (loc. 3380)
Snowfall on Mars sells for $0.99 at Amazon. This seems to be Branden Frankel’s only book offered at Amazon, although he also is one of the authors for a Dystopian Fiction anthology titled Trumpland: An Alternative History of the Future, and which costs $2.99. There are eight authors total for the 174-page Trumpland book, so I presume these fall into the short stories category.
In hindsight, it seems like the Boy Scouts is an end-times preparation service. (loc. 1606)
The quibbles are minor. There’s an awful lot of cussing going on which admittedly fits the character of our narrator. But I found it a bit distracting after a while. There are also a couple of sex references and/or scenes, which weren’t distracting, but which do mean that little Timmy probably shouldn’t be reading this.
Then there’s the innovative twist concerning the Martian snow late in the story, but it doesn’t fit well with the “hard science” tone of the book.
That’s pretty much it, and pretty nitpicky. For me, Snowfall On Mars was a fast-paced, easy read, and a pleasant surprise since it came from an author I’d never heard of before. I recommend it highly for anyone who likes Dystopian and/or Science Fiction.
9 Stars. The failed terra-forming project kindled some old memories for me. Back when I was a kid (when woolly mammoths and dinosaurs roamed the world), cloud-seeding was touted as the next big thing in weather-manipulation. IIRC, they were going to seed clouds with iodine crystals to induce rainstorms in drought-stricken areas. I haven’t heard anything else about this in decades. Sometimes, apparently, science doesn’t have all the answers to our problems.