Lost on Mars – Paul Magrs

LostonMarsLife is hard but predictable for Lora Robinson, fifteen years old as measured by the old calendar and soon to turn sixteen, but she has grown up on a farm on Mars, the old homeworld of her species a distant memory important only to those who experienced it first-hand. But change is coming: first a dust storm which wrecks the harvest and causes the death of their two native reptilian beasts of burden, then the disappearances, the vanishing of first babies and children across the town in the middle of the night, then of adults.

Paul Magrs approaches the characters of Lost on Mars not as scientists but homesteaders, a tale of rough pioneers of the American west transported to a still wider and wilder frontier, Grandma one of only a handful of the first settlers, Da and Ma the second generation, with Lora, brother Al and baby Hannah the third, accompanied by Grandma’s cranky but loyal robot Toaster.

It’s not the Mars of reality as depicted in Andy Weir’s meticulously researched The Martian, nor the Mars of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red/Green/Blue trilogy, terraformed over many generations; this is a Mars that never was, akin to Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, a fairy tale world transformed to warmth and a breathable atmosphere in only two generations where the crops grow and Earthlight romantically provides illumination equivalent to moonlight rather than our own “morning star,” Venus.

The myths of the Martians also take after Bradbury, unseen but always rumoured, drifting as ghosts through the dunes, glimpses of elegant forms in the dead of night, the belief in them and the precautions against them akin to folk tales, superstition, yet Lora makes a friend of one of them who takes her flying across the night sky but vanishes when the dawn comes.

Forced to abandon Our Town and set off across the uncharted Martian desert with dwindling resources and numbers, the narrative adhering strictly to the pattern of – We did something dangerous! It was terribly scary! Oh, we escaped! – it is unnecessary for a book where so little happens to be so long, and as the first in a trilogy little attempt made to explain the bizarre events which have befallen Lora, apparently incompatible with the world from her point of view.

With the tone of the novel best exemplified by Ruby, Grandma’s best friend and another of the original settlers, a woman who has buried three husbands and nine babies, this is science fiction to appeal on an emotional rather than intellectual level, but the success will depend on the reader’s tolerance for stories of rustic fortitude told through the eyes of a plucky teenage girl as she struggles through deprivation and hardship in a harsh and unforgiving land while learning self-reliance and the true meaning of courage.

Magrs has written several Doctor Who novels, and taking the ethic of that much of what happens is for the immediate effect rather than because it is logical or consistent. The backstory defies examination, from every databank with geographical details of their new homeworld irreparably damaged when the colonists arrived, not one map of the planet extant nor any clue whether there are other colonists or where they might be, to Lora’s attitude towards her lost family following her rescue, occasionally reassuring herself that she will get around to looking for them, of course she will, at some point.

Aimed at the young adult market but expecting the wide-eyed unquestioning acceptance of the kind of child who no longer exists or at least is too young to be reading books of quaffing salvaged sparkling champagne around campfires while Ma knocks back her purple pills to help her cope with the day, those who are intrigued would do better to seek out Joe Haldeman’s Marsbound trilogy similar in theme but superior in every way.

Lost on Mars is available now from Firefly



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