I’ve Got Questions for David Ebenbach

Editor’s Note: This exchange is part of a series of brief interviews with emerging writers of recent or forthcoming books. If you enjoyed it, please visit other interviews in the I’ve Got Questions feature.

How to Mars by David Ebenbach
  • What’s the title of your book? Fiction? Nonfiction? Poetry? Who is the publisher and what’s the publication date?

The novel is called How to Mars—my first venture into science fiction—and Tachyon Publications is publishing the book on May 25th, 2021!

  • In a couple of sentences, what’s the book about?

Well, on one level it’s about six people who for various personal reasons agree to go on a dubious one-way mission to the red planet, all the while being filmed for a reality TV show that’s funding the mission, which is run by an eccentric organization called Destination Mars! On the planet, they end up having to cope with all sorts of issues: the first Martian pregnancy, the first signs of indigenous life on Mars (which may not be totally friendly), and an engineer with anger issues who seems to be losing it. So that’s on one level; on another, How to Mars is really about what it means to be human on any planet (including Earth), trying to figure out how we should best live our complicated lives.

  • What’s the book’s genre (for fiction and nonfiction) or primary style (for poetry)?

The big genre is science fiction, but I think it can best be described as a combination of speculative fiction, literary fiction, and comedic fiction.

  • What’s the nicest thing anyone has said about the book so far?

My wife says “It’s the best book ever, and it should be made into a movie,” but she may not be a perfectly objective reader, so instead I’ll quote Kirkus Reviews: “Six Marsonauts must survive on the red planet after their reality TV show is canceled in this delightfully unconventional novel….A poignant examination of what it means to be human.”

  • What book or books is yours comparable to or a cross between? [Is your book like Moby Dick or maybe it’s more like Frankenstein meets Peter Pan?]

Hm. Maybe a combo of Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles and Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science-Fictional Universe?

  • Why this book? Why now?

The inspiration was the recent Mars One Project, which actually did claim they were going to send a group of people to Mars, and there were all sorts of strange things about their plan. For one thing, there was no possibility of ever coming home again; for another, it was going to be funded by a reality TV show; and for yet another the Marsonauts were not going to be allowed to have sex with each other once they reached Mars. And yet apparently a lot of people applied! So I found that fascinating, and that got me started. As I got deeper in, however, I realized what I was really writing about was us here on Earth, where we all struggle with purpose and getting along with one another and a lot more. (These struggles seem more intense than ever lately.) And yet, as urgent as these questions are, the guidance we get around these issues is spotty, questionable, contradictory. I wrote this book to help me figure out how we’re supposed to live our lives, whatever planet we’re on.

  • Other than writing this book, what’s the best job you’ve ever had?

I love teaching, which is what I do now. Love it. Though my first job—at the Philadelphia Zoo, when I was a teenager—was pretty good, too. Learning how to get an opossum out of a cage without losing a finger—that’s a life skill.

  • What do you want readers to take away from the book?

I hope they leave the book with a greater feeling of tenderness toward themselves and others, and a sense of how to face their demons with wisdom, honesty, and hope.

  • What food and/or music do you associate with the book?

Given that this takes place in outer space, I had to think a lot about the food. Logistically, I mean. And the thing I kept thinking about was that freeze-dried ice cream that they used to give to astronauts and that you can buy for yourself when you visit the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in DC. Not as good as regular ice cream, but appealingly weird. My Marsonauts have a larger range of freeze-dried options, though, including Reuben sandwiches. As for music, Elton John’s “Rocket Man” (which was inspired by Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Rocket Man”) is at the top of my list, because of the line “Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids.” You’ll have to read How to Mars to see if he’s right or wrong about that.

  • What book(s) are you reading currently?

I’ve been devouring a lot of utopian literature—Thomas More’s Utopia, Samuel Butler’s Erewhon, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland, plus more recent explorations of utopian ideas by Octavia Butler (Parable of the Sower) and Elan Mastai (All Our Wrong Todays). I love thinking about it: what would the perfect society be like?

David Ebenbach

Learn more about David on his website.

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Buy the book from Tachyon Publications, Bookshop.org, or Amazon.

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