Blighted by the effects of climate change, humanity looks to the stars.
The Rings of Mars, a ‘spy-fi’ thriller, sees mankind begin a mass migration to Mars in an endeavour to preserve the future of the species.
However, not everyone supports the evacuation. The journey aboard the shuttle Sleipnir sees cracks begin to emerge amongst the crew, revealing the fragility of social cohesion in a high pressure environment.
It’s a great concept, though the novel isn’t without its issues. Pacing is a problem, characters feel undeveloped, and frequent grammatical errors threaten to undermine the reading experience.
And yet in spite of this, Rachel Foucar’s debut novel is an undeniably exciting journey with some very good sci-fi elements.
Snakes on Plane Spaceship
The 500 passengers are selected by a combination of fitness exams, job aptitude tests, and then, finally, a ballot. Onboard are botanists, engineers, medics, and all kinds of people necessary for society to function properly. Together, they seek to create Mars’s first ever viable community.
Amongst these spacefarers is Jane Parker, a botanist with a surprisingly diverse skill set (well, she is the protagonist after all) and a strong moral constitution.
Pitted against Jane, and the journey to Mars, is the ‘anti-departure movement’, reminiscent of the modern-day anti-vaxxer. Working tirelessly, they plot against the project to leave Earth.
It’s an effective way to build tension but disappointingly, the movement is never explored in any great depth. This is somewhat reflective of the novel itself – characters, though likeable, lack complexity. And ideas, though potentially exciting, fully underdeveloped.
For example, there are several moments that suggest the antagonist is studying the crew in order to sow discord and use their fears against them. But this never really gets going.
The writing style exhibited in The Rings of Mars is mostly fine. The story is narrated well, and Foucar’s style is very readable. But infrequently, the narrator inserts themselves into the novel. (and not in a meta way). For example:
“Captain Stover cleared her throat and everybody shut the fuck up again”
“History was being made by the world’s most legendary pilot and Patrick Edwards, a mediocre dickhead with the right last name”
These bizarre outbursts just don’t belong in the narrative. If these expressions came from characters, it would make far more sense.
Another more serious issue is with grammatical errors.
Ordinarily, there wouldn’t be a need to mention them, but Sci-fi lives and dies on immersion. And the immersion in The Rings of Mars is constantly undermined by the frequent misuse of apostrophes. There’s a clear confusion between plural and possessive, which really should have been spotted by an editor.
It’s frustrating because despite these more obvious flaws, the novel is a delight to read. But the clumsy narrative voice and frequent grammatical errors will severely impact some readers’ enjoyment of the novel.
The Rings of Mars’ Sci-Fi Goodness
Despite its shortcomings, there’s still a lot to love about The Rings of Mars. And where the novel truly shines is the setting’s attention to detail.
From the shuttle’s external architecture – including the titular rings that hold it together – to the internal mapping, the Sleipnir feels immediately familiar. The bridge, the captain’s compartment, the canteen, the breakout zone, and the sleeping quarters… all of these places feel truly lived in.
This kind of immersion is lightning in a bottle for sci-fi writers, and it’s a genuine delight for the reader. The love that went into The Rings of Mars’ visual imagery is what holds the novel together.
“Being out in space, really out in space, made him feel small. Insignificant. The universe was a vast expanse that humanity had barely begun to explore, and he was just one person. It was cathartic, putting his life into perspective.”
Pat takes a space walk with Kaitlyn
Another notable positive is the inversion of gender roles. Far too often in fiction, a male action man takes control, only to (temporarily) be thwarted by a seductive, window-dressing femme fatale. Foucar plays with these conventions in a smart way and builds upon what is now a dated trope. This leads to some really interesting character moments.
As for the characters; they’re not groundbreaking but they’re strong enough to support the narrative with Alex, Danni, and Pat three of the stronger characters.
The Rings of Mars tells a good story fairly well.
The ending, wrapped up unsatisfactorily over a handful of pages, is undeniably disappointing and the sloppy grammar does let the rest of the novel down.
However, despite these shortcomings, there’s still a lot to love about The Rings of Mars.
The setting aboard the Sleipnir is fantastic and very well-realised. Yes, the characters could have done with more depth, but they’re likeable and mostly relatable. Plus there are some decent narrative twists.
The Rings of Mars is well worth a read if you’re into light sci-fi drama. Especially if a revised edition is issued with corrections made.
The Rings of Mars is available to purchase on Amazon.co.uk
in both eBook and paperback.