Have you read this book?
In a perfect world, an editor at a ‘real’ publishing company would have seen the potential in Ronald Reed Jackson’s The Mars Transmission. With some dedicated guidance, what is already an enjoyable read could have been turned into a professional level book that would have had a chance to garner the audience it deserves.
It’s 2002, and a repeating transmission from Mars is discovered in a previously unexplored band of radio waves. Tyler Anderson, a ‘Sanitation Engineer’ and closet computer geek, happens to be in the right place at the right time to get a chance to work on decoding the signal. He deciphers what appears to be a call for help and sends back a reply We are coming. The signal changes and the scientific community goes ape. In response, NASA and other advanced space programs in the world put together a manned Mars mission that heads out to investigate the source of the transmission. In an unlikely scenario (and because of his evidently singular ability to decipher the Mars transmission) Tyler Anderson ends up on the crew.
Once they reach Mars, they uncover some clues about the signal source and its senders, including an apparently abandoned yet still functioning alien complex. What seemed like a haven and treasure house of new technologies proves to be dangerous as the crew attempts to explore the still-functioning alien base.
Having been written (or at least published) in 1999, some of the computer technology here already seems somewhat dated. Too, the experienced reader of science fiction will find nothing new. It’s a familiar story of Martian exploration and challenge. Jackson shows no reluctance when it comes to killing off characters though, an aspect that heightens tensions as the reader keeps wondering just who will end up on the slab next.
For a first novel (especially a self published novel) it’s well done, but is has some problems, primarily pacing and plot. My credibility was strained sometimes as events unfolded and I thought the characters not quite distinct enough. I’m no scientist, but some of the science here seemed a bit voodoo to me. These problems, however, could have been fixed had the author had the benefit of experienced, professional editorial advice.
The publishing field is full of conundrums. Publishing companies maintain the position that they aggressively seek new talent. I believe this is true, but with a caveat: publishing houses want it, but that first book by a new author needs to arrive in 99% publishable condition. If it’s not pretty much ready to go out of the box, there are few companies willing to dedicate the time and resources required to get it ready. A book like The Mars Transmission, which, IMO is about 85 — 90% there, is going to get passed over.
Jaded speculative fiction reader that I am, I still enjoyed Jackson’s offering. I’ve made comparisons in previous reviews about the difference between watching a professional baseball game and a little league game. One is a coldly calculated strategic war of professional level athletes and coaches and one is a bunch of kids going out and having fun. There’s a lot of enthusiasm and energy here, a lot of fun, but it comes at the price of polish. I think this book would appeal most to newer SF authors who haven’t ‘seen it all before’, but I also think it has something to offer experienced readers as well: a chance to share in the obvious pleasure Jackson had in writing it.