SPSFC 1: Gates of Mars by Kathleen McFall and Clark Hays

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This is a dystopian mystery-novel of sorts. The MC, Crucial (odd name, I know) still lives on Earth, which is a big bummer since it’s essentially a wasteland. The year is 2187 IIRC, and the Earth has been described as devoid of forests, most wildlife, and is so hot that people have become nocturnal and changed their architecture. It’s so inhospitable that people without shielding will die. It’s a bleak dismal place and honestly it was almost too damaged to be believable. With no forests wouldn’t the atmosphere become considerably less oxygenated? If the Earth is so far gone, wouldn’t the other oxygen producers also have suffered and died off, like the algae? If the Earth is this hot, wouldn’t the ice caps have melted and transformed the oceans into more brackish like water than oceanic water we have now and severely impact tides and oceanic life and… everything? Some of these issues I felt were addressed and others aren’t. I think if you’re going to absolutely trash the Earth to where it’s almost uninhabitable, you’ll need to back it up with world building that’s thorough and believable. I felt like this got halfway there for the amount of damage the Earth has sustained. On the opposite end of the human experience, are the Martians. Mars has been colonized and is starting to be terraformed to resemble Earth. There are forests, and wildlife like giraffes like you see on the cover etc. It’s still in the beginning stages though, glitches have only recently been fixed and sometimes accidents still happen. The system itself can be fragile and susceptible to sabotage/attack. The Martians are a genetically enhanced near-perfect god like humans who live a life of luxury, while what’s left of humanity on Earth ekes out a miserable existence, many not making it past 30 years old.

To complicate all of this, Halo is an ever-present AI system that’s run/organized by the Five Families on Mars — the ruling elite class who are constantly in a power struggle dynamic. Halo can see everything, hears everything and is a system of oppression. There are also bots, androids, cyborgs, medical enhancements etc.

Okay, so that sets the stage… Crucial is down on Earth, he’s a law enforcement officer and his sister has been accepted to Mars (there are lotteries, and others can be picked based on beauty or skill set) and she’s disappeared. He goes up there to find her and he ends up tangled in a big ole mess involving the Five Families and a rebellion. His sister was initially pulled to Mars for something other than sex work (I’m honestly blanking what it was) but she was so pretty she was put into H-ward. Sex work in this world is not treated with disgust, not on Mars anyway. They are treated well, people respect them, they earn good money etc. It’s not thought to be unusual or uncommon to have LGBTQ+ representation in the book, either. There was a moderate amount of sexual content in the book itself, and sometimes it caught me a little off-guard. Like a dude who masturbates on Thursdays and holidays? Unless they’ve got a pill that regulates your libido, which I don’t think was mentioned, that doesn’t make a ton of sense, lol.

I found the prose to be pretty good all things considered. There were a few awkwardly phrased descriptions, particularly when it came to sex, (juicy breasts and waggling erections) but there wasn’t anything so jarring or off-putting that I wanted to put it down. I did however take off some points for some melodramatic dialogue at the end which was odd because up until that point I would say the dialogue was very natural, fluid, and believable. Really good dialogue, for me anyway, fades into the background because it sounds so natural. When I hit something that makes me think, “no one says that”, that’s when I start docking points. There wasn’t a large info dump until the last third of the book — and this is where I’m much more forgiving of literal history lessons. If an author tries to build the world early on with history lessons I get super bored. There’s nowhere for that information to stick to, if that make sense, so it all gets washed away and I don’t remember. If it comes later in the book after I’ve established why I care about this world, the people, and have a general understanding of it, then I can tolerate a few paragraphs of straight-up world building info dumping via history lesson. It’s still not my preferred method, but I didn’t take points off for it in this instance.

The pacing was also pretty good, things happened frequently enough to keep my interest, but there was enough breathing room in between to let the reader process and not make it feel super rushed. There was a pivotal plot moment that came about 60% through, and that really is where things picked up for me.


  • Plot: 10/15
  • Characters: 10/15
  • World Building: 10/15
  • Writing: 11/15
  • Pacing: 11/15
  • Originality: 10/15
  • Enjoyment: 5/10

Final Score: 67/100

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