The Road to Mars, A Post Modem Novel
by Eric Idle
Review by Larry Ivkovich
As a corny joke and bad pun lover, I couldn't resist a book with lines like "How long is a piece of string theory?" and "I have a book, The Joy of Gravity-Free Sex, but I fell off the bed reading it," and "Oh dear, what can the dark matter be?" Still, I expected the novel itself to only be better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick (the novel's two protagonists would love that criticism!). Honestly, I bought The Road to Mars, published in 1999, out of sheer curiosity (being an old Monty Python fan myself). Imagine my surprise to find it a very well written and extremely fun read.
Alex Muscroft and Lewis Ashby, along with their human-looking robot servant, Carlton, are working the galactic comedy circuit known as the Road to Mars in the far, far future. Carlton, as a non-human, has no sense of humor or understanding of the concept. Yet he studies his two masters' routines diligently and researches all comedy and comedians from the late 20th century. He eventually (according to the narrator, the mysterious micropaleontologist, Bill Reynolds) writes a serious tome on the subject called De Rerum Comoedia. This includes a section describing the "very weird" and "stupid" comedy troupe, Monty Python's Flying Circus and the mechanical author's breakthrough theory that "levity" is the fourth guiding principle of the universe right behind gravity.
Alex and Lewis, in the meantime, just try to make ends meet as Alex avoids his various ex-girlfriends (all the while making new ones) while Lewis tries to see more of his daughter from an early marriage.
The two comics attempt to make a living doing standup (Lewis is the straight man or "white face comic" and Alex is the jokester or "red face comic," according to Carlton's observations) at clubs in space stations or in colonies in the asteroid belt. As a result, through a series of mishaps, they manage to get swept up in a mysterious conspiracy inspired by the centuries old (to them) British Gunpowder Plot (of Guy Fawkes fame).
Running afoul of Emil Keppler, a rich businessman up to no good, and his henchmen (one of whom is a rival comedian) the two comics and their robot run, hide, run some more, get captured, escape, help damsels in distress and finally save the day. Whoops, I hope I haven't given too much away here!
Idle has written a sharp commentary on comedy with some satirical jabs at society in general by tying it up neatly in a witty future adventure. His writing style is tight and descriptive--his describing a space station having the atmosphere sucked out of it due to a structural failure is actually pretty vivid and gripping. His dialog and jokes (and there are a lot of those, including quotes by "ancient" comedians like Woody Allen and Lenny Bruce) are well done and the characters, though not completely three dimensional, are, dare I say it yet again, funny.
The narrative is interspersed with brief observations by Reynolds which tend to add to the general wackiness and/or confusion of the story. All in all, while Idle is no Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams, his style is unique and humorous in its own right and quite enjoyable. I recommend this one, but if you don't want to read it, you can just go ahead and poke yourself in the eye with a sharp stick instead.
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