THE QUEEN’S MARTIAN RIFLES by M.E. Brines, self-published, Kindle, $2.99, http://www.mebrines.com/
Reviewed by David Brzeski
This was a very interesting one to read. Had I realised going in that the author’s book contained a fairly heavy Christian, Creationist message, I might not have bothered. Having already started the book, I decided that, since I was quite happy to read horror novels in which Christianity played a great part in rallying the forces of good against the supernatural evil, it would hardly be fair of me to let my personal atheist biases prevent me from giving this book a fair chance. I’m quite glad I did.
M.E. Brines is by no means a bad writer. He creates an interesting steampunk scenario, in which Earth sent colonies to Mars in the late 19th century. It has to be said that, while there are indeed several Earth nations competing for whatever benefits they might glean from this situation, the integration with the primitive Martian population is a lot more diplomatic and respectful than real history suggests would have been likely.
The hero, David McLaughlin, is a likeable character. He joined the Queen’s Martian Rifles regiment, rather than follow his parents wishes to enter the clergy, out of a need to do more good than he could see himself achieving from a pulpit. Refreshingly, he’s not the typical square-jawed, athletic hero, in fact he’s quite “portly”, as the author puts it. He soon finds that the rest of his regiment is in a sad state, having been allowed to fall into slovenly ways, due to their snobbish, drunken officers not doing their job. McLaughlin runs into a lot of class-based prejudice from his superiors. Brines does a reasonable job of arguing against this sort of social bigotry, along with sexism and racism. One suspects that he felt a need to show his reasonable, non-bigoted side, before he attempted to portray the “evidence” for his religious standpoint. McLaughlin is very much the everyman of the book, in that he believes in God, but doesn’t really see any problem with rationalising this with evolution and extraterrestrial life. He represents the reader who Brines possibly hopes to influence with the rationalisation of Creationism that lies at the heart of this story.
The first part of the book starts in the middle and lands our hero and heroine in deep trouble. Part two is a flashback, where McLaughlin muses on his first meeting with the feisty heroine en route to Mars. Lady Rebecca “B” Bryce is a militant suffragette and archeologist, who also happens to be an atheist, who is out to find evidence to prove her Von Danikenesque theories on the extraterrestrial origins of the human race. Brines is a little heavy-handed in the way he depicts her constant assumptions that anything the hero does to help is based on the belief that a mere woman is incapable of doing anything for herself. He is to be commended, however, for not automatically making all the non-believers in the book villains.
The villain of the piece is none other than “the wickedest man in the world”, Aleister Crowley. Sadly, Crowley never really manages to be the major villain he should be, in that he has a few conversations with the other characters, turns up at a sacrifice in a Martian temple, then runs away. To be honest, the book would have survived quite well without Aleister, who was really only there to put forward the pro-Lucifer viewpoint.
There’s a certain amount of religious discussion in this part, which is helped along by the inclusion of a Christian missionary, who plans on converting the indigenous Martians. Brines does a reasonable job of putting forward the beliefs of all sides in a fair manner.
The third part starts out well enough. Brines writes good, exciting action scenes. I found the Christian bent of the book didn’t hinder my enjoyment of a rollicking good, pulpy steampunk yarn too much at all. There are places where the author’s evident enjoyment in the fast-paced action makes him forget the period and McLaughlin starts to sound very modern, almost American in places.
After the battle on Mars is over, it all starts to fall apart a bit. The hero suddenly comes to realise how the evil, Lucifer-worshipping Martians have set into motion the intended destruction of Earth. Frankly their method was a real knockout blow to my suspension of disbelief. One hardly expects steampunk to be a hundred per cent scientifically feasible, but this was as silly as a 1950s Superman comic book. I suppose, on reflection, that is wasn’t any sillier than the ideas found in the proto science fiction tales of the 19th century, but I feel we tend to expect more in the twenty-first century, even when the book is set over a hundred years in the past.
It’s not much of a spoiler to reveal that the hero does indeed save the day and the world. The absolute silliest moment in the entire book, is when “B” suddenly accepts all the evidence that there is a Devil, therefore there is a God and the Creationists were right all along. And isn’t this wonderful? And she can’t wait to get home and help spread the word.
The thing is, it’s not the Christian bent of the book that will put people off. We’ve all read many, many books in which the heroes believe in God. I’ve never found that particularly off-putting as a non-believer. After all, I have good friends who believe. The problem for most people, and I include most of the Christian readers here, is in the Creationist concept, that evolution is nonsense and God created the World, including mankind, in just six days.
Still, I did enjoy the book for the most part.