“Hundreds of yards above us, the Martian sky beckoned.”
If a multi-billionaire approached you and offered to whisk you away to Mars on a top-secret rescue mission, would you accept his offer? Gabriel Southern, an Indiana journalist, does, and thus begins Skylights, a mission to Mars book by my friend Luther M. Siler. When the first manned ship to Mars goes missing under mysterious circumstances, Ezekiel “Zub” ben Zahav plans to use the technology of his father’s company to build his own ship and go looking for them, and he wants to bring Gabe along as a scribe, to record the events, as he’d already gained a wee bit of notoriety for his work on other spaceship disasters. He’s whisked away to Zub’s private island, where he is introduced to the rigors of being an astronaut, as well as the other members of the rescue crew: Zub’s uncle Zvi, engineer Celeste Flye, and Dr. Kathryn Rosansky. And then it’s lift-off, and a straight shot into space until they reach the Red Planet, and that’s when things start to get a bit…strange.
Saying much more about what happens once the crew reaches Mars feels like a violation; any details would surely give something away, but I wouldn’t want to do that. I will say that, while I definitely liked Skylights, I didn’t love it. I’ve read a decent handful of Mars exploration books (my favorite being Boundary by Eric Flint and Ryk E. Spoor, because, I mean, come on, aliens killed off the dinosaurs), most of them with a fair bit of crazy, so I think I may have been expecting a little bit more. There are a few really great passages when Gabe first gets into space where I felt the same kind of awe and wonder he did, but he acclimated fairly quickly, and some of the sense of wonder and surprise fades. Siler can also construct some incredibly tense scenes that kept me bug-eyed eager, but the conclusion usually fell kind of flat for me. Only in a few spots did I feel the text getting really deep below the surface of just telling a story, which was kind of ironic, considering they’re exploring deep within the surface of Mars.
Overall, then, for me, it’s kind of a “light” read, a sort of “beach read” of the mission to Mars genre. Enjoyable, but not necessarily substantial. The characters were interesting, but I wanted more of them. They had the starts of complexity, but it never got below the surface for me. I couldn’t related to Gabe, even as an author from his neck of the woods, because I never felt as though his presence on the crew served a real purpose. No one mentions his being their for posterity for the good latter chunk of the book, and there’s no epilogue to emphasize this. Of course, it ends on a cliff-hanger for the possibility for more, so I can see why that might have wanted to be avoided. I related a little bit to Celeste, because Michigan, represent!, but, see, just a superficial thing. They get introduced, have a few traits that pop up to establish character, but that’s about it. The only character I really felt a connection to was cantankerous old Zvi, which is either a reflection of him being the most developed beyond his introduction or me being a cantankerous old soul myself.
And I still wanted so much more for Mars itself. Again, I can’t say much without giving things away, but there’s promise to have my hopes met more sufficiently in future volumes, so I’ll keep the faith. There are still a few cool things that do happen (again, won’t ruin any surprises), but it just didn’t have enough oomph to really satisfy my Mars mission cravings. Also, I felt that humor was quite often used in place of substance. It’s not bad humor, but it’s ill-placed and too frequent. When there’s a sarcastic comment or a wry joke about nearly everything, it sometimes loses its effect. I can see it translating exceptionally well as a film, though. It had that pacing and that sort of tongue-in-cheek regard to events that would make for a really entertaining movie. As a book, though, I just wanted more, and I felt way too much time was spent explaining things instead of things actually happening.
The good news, though, if you’re reading this review on Wednesday, February 4th, you have until the end of the day to pick up the Skylights ebook for only 99 cents. I think it goes back to regular price tomorrow, so this review wound up being pretty durn timely.
Books read: 002/100.