After releasing my first book The Road Ahead, a political satire, many were surprised that my next book was a science fiction story. Loved Mars Hated The Food is a story about Dix Jenner, a self-proclaimed slacker, who is the first chef to live-and maybe die-on Mars. After an explosion kills his colony companions and leaves him with nothing but his spacesuit, his time on Mars is about to expire. But before that happens, he is rescued by two friendly Martians. He also attracts the attention of the corrupt and narcissistic Martian Grand Leader Cheyhto.
Why did you decide to write a science fiction story?
I wanted to do something completely different for my second book. In my youth, I had read a lot of science fiction book, so it was a genre that I was familiar with. But to be honest, I didn’t stray to far from my roots. Loved Mars is not just a science fiction story but also a satire. It pokes fun at pop culture, sports, government, race theory.
I wasn’t originally thinking that my second novel would be science fiction. The idea to write the book originated in a writing course I took with Terry Fallis at the University of Toronto. Each week we would write a short story in class based on the style of humour that was covered in class. For the class on physical comedy, I wrote a story about the first Starbucks on Mars. After the class, Terry approached me and suggested that the story could be the basis of a novel. That got my brain working. The short story that I wrote for the class became a scene in Loved Mars.
What inspirations did you use to create this book?
I really enjoyed Andy Weir’s book The Martian. I wanted to do something similar but with humour and much more world-building. I even borrowed the potato subplot from Weir but made it more of a source of humour. I also used an old TV sitcom My Favorite Martian as inspiration. In the TV show, a human-looking Martian crash lands on Earth. He is taken in by Tim who explains to everyone that his new border is his “Uncle Martin”. I switched things around and had Martians take in the human and explain that it was a cousin with a medical condition. In the TV show, the nosy landlady Mrs. Brown becomes a love interest for Uncle Martin just as the next-door neighbour Plinka becomes Dix’s love interest. The story also pays homage to some great science fiction books including Stranger in a Strange Land and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Why did you decide to make you protagonist a chef?
I tried to think of the most absurd background for an astronaut and thought a chef would be perfect. It created many humourous scenes where the food preferences of Dix and his hosts collide. The only time they agree is in the case of coffee, but the Martian reaction to caffeine is much different to what humans’ experience. I even went as far as to include recipes for every dish referenced in the book. Food preferences is the ultimate human experience. I don’t care for Indian curry, but I love Thai curry. The hate/love for pineapple on pizza. Who makes the best burger? People will debate food forever, which explains the title of the book.
Where did the sling league come from?
Sports is part of our society, and each culture or region has their favourite sport. I decided to apply that to Mars and create a uniquely Martian sports league. As part of my world-building exercise, the behaviour of the Martian and the treatment of the athletes are not what you would expect on Earth. It’s more like the Roman gladiators. It’s also an opportunity to satirize sports by using a spectator who is a complete outsider.
The sling players are part of your Martian class system?
Yes. This was rather overt attempt to comment on the unfairness of discrimination based on race, colour or class. Loved Mars in a funny fantasy but it’s also a commentary on the social and political worlds that we live in. So often the privileged class exploit others to maintain their position. We don’t often see it ourselves, but an outsider will spot it right away. And systemic discrimination is a subtle way to maintain the status quo. In Loved Mars, the privileged class have red pigmentation and the underclass is blue. Dix did not start off as someone who cares about social justice but over time he becomes “woke” to the unfairness of Martian society.
What can you tell us about your choice of antagonist?
Well Cheyhto is pronounced Cheeto, which most people recognize as a popular orange snack food. It was also an early nickname for Donald Trump because of his orange hair. Cheyhto is an authoritarian and narcissist. He has a bad temper and a mean streak. One of his favourite activities is tanning on the surface of Mars which gives him a strange orange pigmentation. I thought that he would be a perfect foil for the wise-cracking protagonist. For a short time, the two characters actually reach an understanding.
What is your favourite part of the book?
I love the sling matches. If someone would make a film out of the book, those scenes would be so much fun to watch. I also love the Martian’s love for and reaction to espresso. As an espresso drinker, these scenes still make me snicker.
Can we expect more sci-fi out of you in the future?
I have been asked many times to do a sequel to Loved Mars. But I have so many stories in my head that I can’t see myself returning to Mars with Dix and his Martian friends. But you never know.