Before I begin this review, there are two main things you should be aware of. A: I have received a copy of the book from an unnamed Alienist and did not have to purchase it for my own hard-earned cash (so my impression is a little skewed right from the beginning). B: While reading MLSDE, I decided to treat is as science fiction first and whatever the F else it might be second (so don’t expect this to be a thorough analysis of the book, just its most evident genre in the eyes of this reviewer).
MLSDE is a fragmented piece of fiction where almost every page feels like a new scene or even story arc. After a few pages, you start to understand that once you turn a page, you shift to different characters, scenes, landscapes and themes. This type of storytelling is welcome when the scene you just read didn’t feel like anything special (so you can look forward to something more interesting almost immediately), but it really hurts when you have to say goodbye to some amazing scenes because the structure of the whole book is governed by this cruel law of flux (so you don’t get to learn what that one character did next and so on). After a few pages, you’ll have to accept that you’re not gonna get a straightforward science fiction story out of this.
So what keeps MLSDE together as a science fiction book if the characters and scenes change with every page? I have to say it’s the setting of the weird-futuristic Mars itself, built on pillars of geography, technosocial systems and culture that stay consistent throughout. The book does such a good job of defining its Mars that it induced what I call “the pull” – a feeling that I would really like to read more or even revisit this Mars through different media and artforms. I am aware this may be a case of acute franchisitis, where everything cool immediately gets comic book and video game tie-ins, but not every piece triggers this malaise and I still think it is a good sign when you just can’t get enough of something.
The main conflict of this Mars is not against a specific nation or culture, but against a mutated and evolved version of the corporate structure itself. The colonial culture of Mars gets infected by this corporate plague and the resulting chaos is the first defining feature of Assman’s vision – a faceless, blind force that serves as a chilling reminder that we have no idea where our own corporatocratic systems are headed. The next thread that ties the “every page is different” style together is the discussion (and introduction) of technologies through explorations of their scale and impact. From infrastructure, vehicles and habitats to biotech and neurotech, the technologies of MLSDE act like another unfeeling and inhuman force to deal with, on par with the brutality of the corporation. The result is a very cruel technoir-survivalist world, with some hefty doses of biopunk and splatterpunk, psychedelic explosions, lost expeditions and fully automated Martian gulags.
The lack of an overarching narrative unfortunately means that the characters are usually introduced in high-intensity or high-confusion moments, with nothing much in between. I had a sense of the whole of Mars being this shocked and chaotic continuously, with world-shattering forces arriving and spreading relentlessly over the face of the planet again and again. In this sense, MLSDE reached a point where continually discovering and losing characters and micro-plots became an interesting experience in itself – like something that fits the overall planetary situation as described in-universe. At a few unique moments, I think the reader does get a chance to construct some “mini-arcs” between these fragmented scenes, but I personally never got what I wanted from these connections. I was even a bit disappointed when I reached the middle of the book and there still wasn’t any “meaty” fragment, like a sudden twenty pages of continuous story or some other trick that would scratch the continuity itch.
On top of this wild ride, you can sometimes feel what I would call a “cold-blooded technospirituality” seep into your brain, something I would ascribe to the author’s connections with the Alienist Manifesto and their wider conceptual landscape. Here and there, the text morphs into what can only be described as psychological breakdowns or mystical experiences that serve as refreshing “deep dives” into some hidden meaning behind it all. This strange layer of MLSDE is where I personally found some refuge from the lack of a single meaty narrative thread and where the book goes outside of expected science fiction territory, bringing in themes and methods from… elsewhere.
Overall, I believe that I would enjoy the book even if I had to pay for it. It is short and effective in its goal of taking you to as many interesting and intense places as possible, inducing a state of confusion and shock that is missing from a lot of conventionally structured science fiction. If you stick with it, I think it can serve as a nice example of what can be done in the genre when an author approaches it with fresh eyes.
OVERALL SCORE: 4/5
– CRUNCH: 4/5
– FEELS: 3/5
– SUBSTANCE: 5/5
– STRUCTURE: 4/5
Further reading for more context:
- Martian LSD Experiments entry on Alienist Manifesto site: https://alienistmanifesto.wordpress.com/2019/03/11/the-martian-lsd-experiments/
- Interview with an anonymous “committee representative” of the Interior Ministry of The Republic of Žižkov, a cell of Alienist activity in Prague (by Diffractions Collective member Vit Van Camp): https://diffractionscollective.org/im-bett-mit-alienisten-interview/
- For the contextual definition of Alienism used in this review, see https://alienistmanifesto.wordpress.com/about/
- “Alienist Manifesto” entry on Alienist Manifesto site: https://alienistmanifesto.wordpress.com/2017/03/28/alienist-manifesto/