Ahh, space opera. Is there nothing better than the melodramatic adventures of strapping young heroes as they explore new worlds, face down alien menaces, and rescue damsels in distress?
Well, actually there’s a lot that could be better, especially when you take into account the science behind interstellar travel and modern gender roles… but that’s beside the point. The real point is that today we’re looking at a space opera novel by Michael D. Smith called The Martian Marauders.
In the year 2033, after the devastation of Earth by Xon bombs and the resettlement on Mars, Captain Jack Commer and his brothers crew the spaceship Typhoon for the USSF. After a strange encounter with an alien craft, the Commers find themselves entangled with native Martians, whose existence had been previously unknown, as they rise up against the human occupants of Mars under the command of a traitor named Hergs. Armed with shatterguns and advanced telepathy, the Martians wreak havoc, with only Jack and his brothers on the front lines. The battles that follow test not only the humans’ resistance, but the bonds between Jack’s own brothers.
On the surface, it’s an interesting premise. You’ve got first contact, a post-Earth human civilization adjusting to life on Mars, and the possibility of a colorful main cast in the form of a spaceship crew of brothers. But it’s in the actual details and writing where it falls apart.
As far as characters go, everyone is pretty two-dimensional. Jack Commer is the heroic archetype, Jim Commer is his loyal lieutenant, and John Commer is supposed to be the plucky comic relief (but really he comes off as less “amusing chatterbox” and more “nonstop loudmouth with an obvious fate”). As for side characters, the Generals in this story are all boisterous hardcases, the media consists of privacy-invading journalists whom the main characters uniformly despise, and the villain Hergs is almost bearable as an over-the-top overlord since most space opera villains usually are just that. The Emperor’s Consort, Amav, was the only character I felt some sympathy for since she wasn’t that bad of a caricature and even got a nice heroic moment in the penultimate chapter.
I can forgive the flat characters, but it’s the actual writing that’s troubling. Nearly every single character’s dialogue–when they’re not being a caricature–is pure exposition. People explain things that they would already know to one another, even sometimes going so far as to liberally use the phrase “As you know…” Major revelations and plot developments are just shouted or explained in the middle of action scenes. Even Jack or Jim’s internal monologues are just that: long monologues already going over plot events and details that were established a chapter ago, only with slightly more emotional weight. There’s no time to savor the atmosphere of the Typhoon or the colony on Mars, nor any chance for genuine dialogue to develop our heroes and their personalities. It’s just exposition to drive this story forward to its inevitable conclusion.
On the whole, The Martian Marauders is still a decent attempt at an action-adventure science fiction story. While it can fall flat on dialogue, comedy, and character development, it at least has a lot of passion and occasionally throws in a bit of well-thought-out science. And who knows? As the start of an ongoing Jack Commer series, it may only get better from here.
Bibliography: Smith, Michael D. The Martian Marauders. Ontario: Double Dragon Publishing, 2012.