Thursday, 10 November 2016

The Worst Man on Mars

by Mark Roman and Corben Duke

No, I didn’t buy this book, I have to confess. I got it for free, a couple of weeks before it was available for sale. Mark Roman sent it to me on strength of my review of his previous book, The Ultimate Inferior Beings. Perhaps he expected (or still expects) that I would write something similarly positive. Perhaps.

But no, no way. And he has only himself to blame. TUIB set such a high standard that it is nigh impossible to beat it, even with TWMOM. So if you really want to enjoy the latter, you’d be better off without reading the former. Which I, sadly, can’t do.

Now, something good about TWMOM. First, it is illustrated. Every single chapter opens with a pic, and there is even a map of the place, complete with a distance to Huddersfield (just in case you were wondering). Second, it is actually quite funny. And rude. At times, very funny and very rude. And very British. Without giving away the story — no more than you’d read in the blurb anyway — the main premise is that Brits are the world leaders at screwing things up. I suspect it was written before the Brexit vote, which was merely a logical conclusion of the said premise. (Now, in the light of the US presidential election, the authors may reconsider it.) Another conclusion would be that, caeteris paribus, Polish robots do a better job than British robots. To fully appreciate some jokes, a smattering of Polish wouldn’t go amiss.

Sometimes the density of cultural and scientific references is so high that it gets in the way of simply enjoying the reading. And some other times, you’d think you’re reading a screenplay rather than a novel. Perhaps The Wurst Men on Mars should indeed be made into an animation series. Just look at those pictures.

A caption identified the man as Jeremy Franklin, Principal Director of NAFA. “Some people exude greatness,” he was saying, “others hide it under a bushel, while there are those who don’t have a scintilla of it in their entire being. Flint Dugdale most definitely belongs to the third category.”

Dugdale, having lost count of the categories, wasn’t sure if this was a compliment or not. Besides, wasn’t a ‘scintilla’ some kind of furry rodent?

A woman, identified as Sarah Wright, NAFA Head of Human Resources, appeared on screen. “No sane or rational recruitment procedure would ever have accepted him. Any job interview, psychometric test, medical examination, or psychological assessment would have filtered him out before he’d even made it through the door; any ranking system would have ranked him bottom of the whole human race – and quite well down a list of orang-utans.”

Now this clearly was an insult. Wasn’t it? Another calming gulp of Stallion was in order.

The programme’s presenter returned. “Of course, it is well known how Flint Dugdale made it onto the mission.” The screen showed archive footage of Dugdale celebrating his win on British reality show Who wants to go to Mars? “The British public, perhaps through an act of collective mischief, voted for him in their millions. NAFA were not so keen.”

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