The Road to Mars

Posted by : atcampbell | On : April 3, 2001

The Road to Mars by Eric Idle

We had a wide variety of participation in this meeting. Ten people showed up at Adventures in Crime & Space to attend the discussion. One regular member of the group submitted comments by e-mail. Another person telephoned the bookstore and gave Willie comments to pass on. And finally, one person visited the store earlier in the day and gave Lori a handwritten note to be read aloud at the meeting. Seven of us had finished the book, four had read half or less, and two had not read the book at all but were just present to socialize.

The topic of discussion was The Road to Mars, a first SF novel by Eric Idle of Monty Python fame. The book is a fast-paced futuristic space adventure involving a comedy team, Alex and Lewis. Alex and Lewis have a few robot servants including Carlton, who’s trying to understand the nature of humor and use it as a topic for his Ph.D. dissertation. The comedians and robots get wrapped up in a complicated plot involving divas, retirees, long-lost relatives, space cruises, and cross-dressing.

We found this book to be a welcome change of pace, since we hadn’t read a space adventure in a while. The robot servants were a lot of fun, and we liked reading about Alex and Lewis’s fully decked-out spaceship. Idle’s insights into comedy and comedians were interesting, and we particularly enjoyed his comments on specific 20th century comics – including himself. We appreciated that the author had apparently done research on space travel, since we didn’t notice any physical laws being broken in the book.

While about half the group really liked The Road to Mars, the rest found it had serious flaws. Despite its being about comedians, many of us felt that the book wasn’t all that funny. The academic jargon used by the narrator (a far future scholar who is attempting intellectual thievery of Carlton’s work) caused the book to start slowly and distanced us too much from the characters. And, while this probably isn’t fair, the basic plot kept reminding of the space-traveling acting troupe in John Varley’s The Golden Globe, which many of us felt was a much better book.

Two people who disagreed strongly about the merits of The Road to Mars were a married couple, who’d been taking turns reading a shared copy of the book. The man had generally been enjoying the book, but the woman had so disliked it that she’d taken the book to sell back to Adventures in Crime & Space before the man had finished reading it. When this was revealed at the meeting, it turned out that the woman hadn’t known the man wanted to finish the book. Fortunately the book hadn’t been fully received into the bookstore’s inventory, so the guy got his book back without having to buy it twice and later finished it within a couple of days.

One member of the group suggested that we attempt to cast the book as if it were a movie. Our casting choices include Eric Idle as the Narrator, Steve Martin as Lewis, Robin Williams as Alex, Glenn Close as Brenda, Jennifer Love Hewitt as Molly, John Cleese as John Brown, Chris Rock as Boo, Jennifer Lopez as Katy, Johnny Depp as Carlton, Kevin Bacon as Mr. Rogers, Charlton Heston as Emil, and Sean Connery as Katy’s father.

Overall we found this to be an interesting but flawed novel that provided for a fun discussion. If it’s ever turned into a movie, I’ll forward our cast list to the producers.

After the meeting several of us went out to dinner, which turned into quite an adventure. Our first choice restaurant, Ay Chiwawa, turned out to have recently closed for good. The next place we tried, Chuy’s, had an hour wait. We finally met success and had a good dinner at Henry’s, a new Mexican food place on Barton Springs.

–A. T. Campbell, III