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Winning Mars Paperback – December 20, 2011
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The hero, Jere Gutierrez, is very much in the mold of Delos Harriman from Heinlein's "The Man Who Sold the Moon", albeit far less confident and somewhat flawed. The idea of funding a very cheap flight to Mars with sponsors and media rights is very C21st. Another homage to Heinlein was the Oversight, a powerful international agency that could stop "unsustainable projects", which updated Heinlein's powerful forces acting against space pioneers.
Stoddard creates a believable near future that is both shiny and grimy, extrapolating trends in technology realistically. I don't think any of the technology was implausible, and I particularly liked the idea that "big data" business intelligence could become a straightjacket.
I do have a few criticisms of the novel. Apart of Jere, many of thy characters are sketches, even the contestants for the reality show game to be played on Mars. The actual game was very anti climactic, almost cursorily done. Stoddard has also written the book as a scenes to be translated into a screenplay, an annoying style that Crichton used. I don't know who the editor was, but the errors rapidly multiplied towards the end of the book. There is also a scene in the Russian space hotel with a "bio terrorist" that adds nothing to the plot or character development (was it left in as a good CG movie scene?)
Having said that, the book is an interesting read, and you are rooting for the success of the project despite the setbacks and obstacles.
A guy like Richard Branson, who embarrasses corporate brahmans daily, would do this in a second. But, today all we have is Jason's vision; a very likely story of taking corporate sponsorship to the next inevitable level. Think Survivor in 2025.
Adding a very touching father-son interaction and you have a great story. Highly recommended.