Stoddard’s debut is an overextended meditation on a near future much like our present, where humans have only explored as far as the moon and entertainment is dominated by immersive multiplayer games. Jere Gutierrez is so desperate to save Neteno, his ailing media network, that he gambles on broadcasting a reality show set on Mars, even though “someone is going to die.” Episodic chapters jump dizzyingly in and out of the heads of a sprawling cast, including Jere’s girlfriend and hard-to-please father, the woman behind the world’s most famous MMO persona, and 11 contestants with wildly disparate motivations. Stoddard ambitiously attempts to ricochet among a wide variety of political topics, including America’s neglect of space exploration, social media vs. oppressive government, the ethics of genetic engineering, and the proliferation of virtual worlds and wives. The result is as superficial as the pop culture it mocks. (Jan.)
In a future where the art of "linear entertainment"—better known as TV shows—is giving way to interactive, massive multiuser online gaming (MMOs), producer Jere Gutierrez conceives of a "reality show" set on yet-to-be-colonized Mars. Eleven players, divided into teams that are each assigned a different goal, travel to the Red Planet to compete in a $50 million contest while the world watches on a five-minute time delay. The risk: a high probability of death. VERDICT Stoddard's highly original story draws on the latest trends in reality TV and tension over U.S. vs. Chinese control of space travel. Powerful storytelling, a minimalist prose style that does not diminish the three-dimensional characters, and a keen ear for dialog add to this novel's many pleasures.