The Martian meets 1984. Modern young adult literature meets realistic science fiction. But what is The Far Shore by Glenn Damato really about?


The World of The Far Shore

China’s Sesame Credit system comes to America, but it is called the Trust Score. Cristina, the main character, is 17. Her mother has been missing as long as she remembers. Her father is a former physicist. He disappeared when she was a child, but not before he had a chance to teach her some real history and to value the truth. That radical honesty led her to have the lowest possible trust score and sharply curtailed her future.

We see the details of her world in horrifying detail. You don’t have to accept sterilization, but there are incredibly incentives to do so if you’re not a true believer of the Communistic ideology. Words like mother and father are banned, and re-education camps are so bad people often choose suicide over going. The government mandates that everyone have the little pink dispensers in their homes so that they kill themselves any time they like. It is actually illegal to interfere, because the goal is to dramatically reduce the world population.

Cristina’s best friend is Faye, a true believer whose parents disappeared for the sin and crime of an illegal pregnancy they refused to terminate. She tries to convert her friend for the sake of her own score. Cristina is aware of it but puts up with it. The loves of her life are Nathan and Isabel, the children of her roommate Dottie. They can’t say mother, and the rules don’t allow them to live as just a two parent family, either. But Cristina’s defense of the children after the mother’s death isn’t what sends her off into the unknown. It is deaths like these and the executions that make the book PG-13, in my opinion. However, it is suitable reading for older teens and adults.

The Great Leader Marco visits that very day, and her school is ordered to march. Officially, they celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of a Chinse moon landing, what he says is the first one in human history. She corrects the lie that the Chinese were the first on the moon 30 years before. The implanted “Stream”, the combination of recording of everyone’s lives and constant stream of propaganda and idealized life in the Communist Great Society, immediately corrects to show a happy, obedient version of her marching in formation. We realize how this constant feed makes people doubt what they really know or think. And that’s the point.

Cristina is sent to a holding facility with incredible pressure to agree to sterilization and de facto reprogramming. She remembers a moment her father tactfully re-enacted from “1984”. She then deals with the torments and horrors while seeking to find her own way out. She’s saved by someone working within the system to save people like her for a special purpose. They’re to be sent to the far shore, far from oppressive civilization to live and begin again in Freedom. It is a chance to go to Mars.

“If you do this, it won’t be for the usual reasons humans take risks. It won’t be for fame, or power, or glory, or survival. We have another reason. The need to live free and control our own destinies.”

Roughly a third of the book is the journey, while another third is their attempts to deal with many issues and errors (human and otherwise) to literally live on Mars. The brightest and best educated that could be saved were chosen because they are literally beyond help.

“ What to expect. We leave soon and there is no turning back. We will be the first humans on Mars, and there will be no outside assistance of any kind. I will not bullshit you. There is a likelihood you may die. So decide if this is what you want.”

This is where it echoes The Martian and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars novels. There is exploration of the surface and joy at surviving, but they also grieve the loss of the dead and worry about the future. These may be wunderkind sent to save the human race and freedom as a concept, but they’re still human.

Crossing the Sea of Stars to the Far Shore

Have you ever read a book and realized there was several books worth of research required to write that level of detail? The prepping for space and the third of the book dedicated to the voyage rival The Martian in scientific accuracy and detail. It reminds me of Kim Stanley Robinson’s books but without as much time spent teaching you geology.

The final third or so of the book features their arrival. It isn’t happy go lucky teenagers exploring Mars and starting a new society, though they do some exploration. Many things go wrong as you’d expect. They’re on the bleeding edge of survival. And not all of them do.

In this regard, the book is quite realistic. There is drama and failure, but it isn’t the standard young adult trope of the love triangle. When you’re worried about breathing, there’s not nearly as much time to pine over strangers. Instead, it is people who had spent months training resenting the young woman added at the last minute to honor her father and save her from certain reprogramming or death. Fortunately, she knowingly joins others in the flight to Mars on the hope of a better life on the Far Shore of space, Mars.

The ending sees most of them survive, but there is no happy colony shown twenty years later via a time jump. Fortunately, the ending makes this novel stand-alone if nothing else is published in the potential series that could be launched by the book. And I think most readers would appreciate a sequel.

Five stars for The Far Shore.