The Martian Conspiracy by John Read (Audiobook Review + Bonus Author Interview)

The Martian Conspiracy - John Read, Chris Abell, John A Read
A rousing near future SF adventure reminiscent of classic favorites from my youth.

The year is 2071. Devastated by the loss of his wife and son, NASA engineer John Orville signs up for a new life on Mars, implementing Project Bakersfield, a plan to combat deadly Martian storms. After a military unit lands on Mars, supposedly for a training exercise, Orville discovers the true purpose of Project Bakersfield. With the military unit going rogue, and a massive superstorm threatening imminent destruction, John Orville must fight to save the colony.

Disclosure: Hovering over the cover and purchasing may give me a small commission (yippee, book $).


SERIES INFO: This is Book #1 in a planned trilogy. According to the author, Book #2 - The Callisto Deception - will be published in Summer 2016 and #3 (tentatively titled The War of Storms) will be out “8-12 months later.”

Although the protagonist is an adult, this book reminded me of an updated version of some of my favorite Robert Heinlein juveniles. You take a bright but unexceptional individual and throw them into space, then watch what happens. The book is packed with excellent characters, including:

Our Hero (John) - NASA nerd turned driven survivor turned action hero, not afraid to think outside the box, willing to do what’s right in difficult situations.

The Comic Relief (Leeth) - an adventurous sort of everyday hero, he’s a nurse who chooses to use his skills in disaster relief areas and other difficult situations. And he’s Aussie, mate.

The Girl (No spoilers = no name) - being a woman myself, I was happy when Mr. Read added one to the mix (although it came fairly late in the book). Unlike me, she is a kick butt military officer who can hold her own with the men. Like John, she stands up for what’s right despite the possible consequences. And she represents an opportunity for a dash of romance. (Not with John, thankfully. I’m still holding out hope that he will eventually reunite with his wife.)

I am not a scientist myself, but the technology in the book seemed realistic. There was a good balance of including advanced technology but not dwelling on the details to the point of tedium. A few things that stood out for me were: the way the internet was used to track/connect individuals following the disaster (this is already happening now in a less organized form) / the fact that few people know how to drive their own cars (we’re taking the first steps towards this) / and the great VR exercise machines (just because they’re cool).

The story starts with a great big bang. Mr. Read manages to introduce John and create an emotional connection with his wife and son in a very short time, before everything hits the fan (i.e. California). After that, the first 25%, before we head for Mars, seemed a bit drawn out. I’m not sure what could be removed (maybe Eddie, but I’m thinking he might make a reappearance in a later book). I think the decision to jump forward a year once he arrives on Mars was a good one. It eliminates any additional dragging before we get to the “conspiracy,” and allows John to be confident/skilled in his job.

The latter part of the story is one action scene after another with barely any time to breathe in between (in a good way). And that last action scene was craaazy. The ending satisfactorily concludes the main “conspiracy” plot but leaves our crew with some serious issues to deal with in the next book.

NARRATOR: Great job. Good accents and character distinction. The production was smooth; and female voices (although not very womanly) were acceptable.  I listened on 1.25 speed (my usual).

FAVORITE PART(S): I appreciated that, while it was made clear that John is severely emotionally impacted by the loss of his family, the book didn’t wallow in the fact. / Fav scene - John trying to put his pants on in zero-g.

I COULD HAVE DONE WITHOUT: Swearing (esp the 6 F words), although it is MUCH less than another recent Martian story we’ve all heard about. / humorous use of GOD as an acronym / Leeth’s attachment to alcohol.

--Enjoyment: HIGH
--Re-readability: HIGH, I will probably skip straight to the point where he boards the ship for Mars.
--Narrator Impact: HIGH - When I first started the book, Mr Abell sounded a lot like the narrator of one of my Heinlein audiobooks (I was surprised when I checked and it wasn’t him). This increased my enjoyment of the book, since it instantly put me in the right mood.

I received this book free in return for an honest review, courtesy of Audiobook Blast dot com.

The Martian Conspiracy by John Read; read by Chris Abell; produced independently in 2015 / Length: 7 hrs 32 min (Unabr) / Available through Audible & Amazon plus iTunes


Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character(s)?

I picture John's Orville's character as played by Edward Norton. In the story, John's character goes through a radical transformation. He starts as a lowly engineer, someone who gave up on several dreams to work a stable job and support his family. His decision to leave Earth is a transformation, he leaves his old self behind, becoming the hero who helps save the Martian colony. Norton's ability to play a character who goes through this level of growth is demonstrated in several roles, from Fight Club to American History X.


What motivated you to sit down and write your first book?

My whole life I've had short stories floating around in my head. One involved a virtual reality program that inadvertently changes the past, another was about humanity needing to evacuate the Earth. These stories never went very far, a few pages at most. Then I did a presentation on reusable rockets, a hot topic in the space community today. I realized that if rapid reusability of spaceships becomes as commonplace as the reusability of airplanes, then the solar system is going to be a very different place within our lifetimes. I started writing as if this was true. I asked myself, where would we go first? Well, Mars of course! So I started writing about a day in the life of an engineer on Mars. Before I knew it, I had thirty pages, I had a backstory and even a villain!


Turning this into a book was a different thing altogether. When writing fiction, you can't explain your world, you need to show it to the reader. So I started deleting all the explanations and adding more plot. This continued for some time, deleting explanations and adding plot. It was addictive! I couldn't stop! When I thought I was done, I hired an editor. He read the manuscript and basically said, "Rewrite the whole thing, add more violence and drama and remove more of the explanations." So I did. What was left was an extremely fast paced book with loveable characters.


What is the hardest thing about writing? The easiest? (You heard it here first)

The hardest thing about writing for me is changing the plot. Once something is written, even if it's a draft, it becomes a canon of sorts in my mind. But it's not canon. Until it's published, everything can change. When a beta reader or editor says that something doesn't work, I trust them, but actually making the change is very difficult, especially if what I'm deleting is a thread that weaves its way throughout the novel.


The easiest part for me is editing. Editing is time consuming, but turning a first draft into a second or third draft is pretty straightforward (unless there are major plot changes).


I'll add something to this question, and that is: "What is the most fun thing about writing?" Its driving down the road listening to punk rock when an idea hits you so hard you have to pull the car over. It's waking up from a nap and realizing you've figured out how to get the characters out of their latest trap. It's sitting in a boring meeting at work and realizing some deep truth about your main character. Its times like this you shout "Eureka!" At the top of your lungs as you realize the book is going work, that people are going to be at the edge of their seats as they read it, that all your hard work is going to pay off, and that your short time on Earth will all be worth it because you've brought joy to a segment of humanity using nothing but words on a page. [GMB: Isn't this a wonderful sentiment, I love it.]