Pirates of Mars doesn’t just hit the ground running; it’s at a dead sprint for the first few chapters. The reader is bombarded with rapid character introductions, a variety of aviation and military terminology, and a quickly evolving narrative that does not make a whole lot of sense until later. Oh, and there are pirates, not the swashbuckling kind, more like the Somali kind.
The story is actually pretty straight forward: a Space Rescue craft, something similar to an underfunded Coast Guard, responds to a mysterious distress call, and comes under assault by pirates. The pirates take several space rescue servicemen hostage, and commandeer a mysterious cargo ship. The remainder of the story focuses on the competing efforts of the pirates to sell the hostages, and a vigilante attempt to retrieve the hostages and cargo ship.
The early chapters of Pirates can be a little challenging to follow. There is a lot of action happening at a very quick pace, and the reader has little incentive to care about any of the characters. It is clear Gerrib was more interested in telling a narrative than character development, at least in the beginning. This is not entirely a negative, because many fans of sci-fi are far more interested in the world and the flow of the story than the actual characters themselves.
The style of the book is somewhat hard to pin down. The story itself takes place on and above Mars in the not so distant future, planting Pirates squarely in the sci-fi genre. However, the dialogue and internal asides are much more reminiscent of a film noire detective story, or perhaps a western. Every character has their own agenda, an attitude, and a chip on their shoulder. This makes for an entertaining story, but it leaves one wondering if things had been more interesting with at least a few vanilla characters for the Hans Solo-esque main cast to play off.
One thing is for certain, Gerrib has done a great deal of research for Pirates. This becomes obvious early on as various military and aviation jargon pops up all over the place. Terms and phrases such as: mike foxtrot, delta v, five by five, and RTB can be found liberally sprinkled throughout. Sometimes the reader is given an explanation, such as when a character is teaching another, but often these terms are just thrown out there and the reader has to rely on pre-existing knowledge to make sense of it. This is not necessarily a negative, as many readers do not likes having their hand held, but it could definitely be off-putting to those not as well versed in military/aviation terms.
The story of Pirates is interesting, because the events do not focus on a forced struggle of epic proportions. Rather, the characters are fairly average people who just happen to live on Mars, and the mysterious cargo at the heart of the conflict is surprisingly average as far as these things go. For some, the lowered stakes might make the story less interesting, but it is refreshing to see a story which puts much of its focus on the task of simply living in an alien environment.
Pirates of Mars is Gerrib’s premier work, and while it is clear that he is still developing his own style and voice, it stands as an entertaining first effort. Pirates is recommended to hardcore fans of sci-fi looking to explore a relatively familiar imagining of society on Mars in the near future with a decidedly old fashioned frontier feel. Fans of hardboiled characters with chips on their shoulder, and fierce independent streaks, will definitely enjoy this one.