Review of Joseph Hunter's Back Door To Mars
Author: Joseph Hunter
Publisher: Outskirts Press
Planet Mars is our closest neighbour and hence it has become the least difficult truly alien place to imagine ourselves living on or for that matter other creatures. This has not been lost on hundreds of authors that have woven all kinds of fantasies concerning Mars including Joseph Hunter with his debut novel, Back Door to Mars.
This intensely convoluted thriller is filled with nonstop action where we have an expedition to Mars involving a complex, multi-layered world that includes a more advanced Martian civilization with its super-advanced technology as well as its revolutionary thought that conflicts with the orthodox ideology of Earth.
And there is more, lots more. What really piqued my interest was the way Hunter intertwines another theme, the possibility of the existence of other realities and dimensions besides our own, which bump up against us and even overlap us. This latter concept involves the belief that it is possible to travel between them which in itself can quite be intriguing, scary and even weird. You have to admit that these getaways provoke thought and capture our imaginations while making us ponder whether in fact these alternate realities actually exist?
The novel's unpredictable plot intricately involves itself in the various character's experiences and immediately hooks you in when first introduced to Professor John Cayman, head of the Archaeology Department at Crainsville University where he teaches a graduate course in Interplanetary Archaeology and his wife Winona, who is a veterinarian.
As the story takes off, Cayman is quite disappointed when he has just learned that his planned Mars expedition has been cancelled. To brush away this personal blow, Cayman and his wife decide to go on a one week skiing vacation in the North Carolina Mountains. It is here where they spot an alien spaceship which they suspect to be Martian in origin.
On returning home, Cayman invites Dr. Henry Crane 111, head of the Chemistry Department at Crainsville University and his wife Betty to join Winona and himself on a camping trip in the mountains to explore an interesting cavern he had discussed with Crane a few weeks ago. And as we find out, their undercover cave adventure proves to be quite chilling as they come across a deep opening in the cave, a partially uncovered skeleton of unknown origin, a lake and light-emitting rocks.
Cayman's dream of leading a human expedition to Mars eventually becomes a reality and Hunter inserts several other characters that become part of the plot and play important roles in cementing the go ahead from the government and the university. These include Dr. Cynthia Murphy, a forensic anthropologist, Colonel Ernest “Ted” Mulahan, an ex-military space pilot who was the senior test pilot for the National Space Service (NSS), Eric Rudman, a very wealthy and snarky businessman with a great deal of political clout, and General Harold Carley, a savvy politician and a personal friend of the President of the USA.
As fun as it is clever, Back Door to Mars is speculative fiction that you will not soon forget incorporating themes that are concealed beneath the surface of the wild elements of the narrative and creating moments of revelation all the more potent that add a haunting quality to the book. And although I would have liked to have seen better tightening of the plot as well as a more fully development of the characters, Hunter has nonetheless earned the trust of his readers even though the story may seem a trifle outlandish-but isn't that what sci-fiction is all about where readers can suspend their disbelief to buy into the rules of the fictional world?