Pictured: Hardcover (New York: Pantheon Books, 1999) 309 p., $24.00. Here is the promotional piece from the inside flap of the dust jacket:
What makes humans bark? Is the funny bone funny? What is the algebra of comedy? Did the sitcom originate with the ape?
Carlton is an android (a 4.5 Bowie Artificial Intelligence Robot) who works for Alex and Lewis, two comedians from the twenty-second century who travel the outer vaudeville circuit of the solar system known ironically as the Road to Mars. His problem is that although as a computer he cannot understand irony, he is attempting to write a thesis about comedy, its place in evolution, and whether it can ever be cured. And he is also studying the comedians of the late twentieth century (including obscure and esoteric comedy acts such as Monty Python's Flying Circus) in his search for the comedy gene.
In the meantime, while auditioning for a gig on the Princess Di (a solar cruise ship), his two employers inadvertently offend the fabulous diva Brenda Woolley and become involved in a terrorist plot against Mars, the home of Showbiz.
Can Carlton prevent Alex and Lewis from losing their gigs, help them overcome the love thing, and finally understand the meaning of comedy in the universe? Will a robot ever really be able to do stand-up? As Einstein might have said, nothing in the universe can travel faster than the speed of laughter.
The Road to Mars was named one of the best books of 1999 by the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle published a positive review. Lisa DuMond of SF Site also praised the novel in her 1999 review, but one reader over at The Complete Review was less impressed.
According to The Greedy Bastard Diary: A Comic Tour of America (2005), a nonfiction book written by Idle:
We first tried adapting an old screenplay of mine called The Road to Mars. This was a bit of nonsense about the future of show business known for a while nauseatingly enough as Outta Space! (Ouch.) It was about a couple of comedians on the road in space but the best moments featured a chorus of quite possibly gay Welsh robots singing to a diva they adored:Considering that author Eric Idle was one of the six original members of Monty Python's Flying Circus and that Garry Shandling, Robin Williams and Steve Martin endorsed The Road to Mars, perhaps it is no surprise that some consider the novel a real laugher. Read an excerpt and decide for yourself!
Do we love Irena Kent?
Yes we do. Yes we do.
Is he down from heaven sent?
Yes she be. You can bet your sweet arse she be.
It’s still the first gay white Negro spiritual. Nobody bought it.