Wednesday, March 23, 2016

MARTians - "Near Future," Consumer Culture Book
MARTians, Blythe Woolston
Well, well, well! Wasn't this a pleasant surprise?!  Although Woolston has her own voice, I think it is to her credit I found her writing reminiscent of some of the greats -- Bradbury, Orwell and Koontz (the foremost being especially fitting, since she pays him tribute, in-text).  I also saw some stylistic similarities between MARTians and Jenny Coolgan's Resistance is Futile (2015).  Thematically, there are some parallels with Scott Westerfield's Extras -- but they share very little in their mode of delivery. 

Further notes:
  • I love protagonist Zoë / Zero.  I love the exploration of identity and ambiguity suggested by her dual names alone! Woolston shows us Zoë's strengths and struggles instead of telling us about it.  I was moved more than once as she grappled with her situation and the choices she faced.  That's good writing.
  • Especially considering how short the text is!  MARTians weighs in more like a novella in your hands and in the reading -- to establish that kind of audience-rapport in so few pages -- I'm impressed.
  • The narrative is easy to follow, well-paced, and elegantly resolved -- again, in such a neat little package.
  • My favourite thing about this book, is its bitter-sweetness.  There are really, really sad things in here, yet I felt proud and hopeful in spite of it all.  
  • I found the book inoffensive.  There are no sex scenes, there is very little questionable language (I don't remember any of the big-hitters), and all of the characters' choices feel strongly rooted in their world and circumstance.  I don't feel like a teenager reading this would put the book down and feel they were being invited / persuaded to experiment with their personal moral code.  If anything, I think the most easily derived message would be that we can triumph above unfortunate circumstances and make the best of things; that we can help others.  It asks a lot of questions about how education / our society are equipping youth for real-world living as well, and I think those questions are valid (spot the homeschooler, anyone?).
  • My only slightly negative comment, would be that I disagree with the circulating pitch that MARTians presents a future that feels all-too-real or close to home.  I disagree because I believe that some of it might happen, but as far as speculative fiction goes, this particular imagining didn't resonate with a haunting feeling of prophecy for me.  It had moments that did that, but the world in its entirety takes a large sidestep from the path I think we're on as a world community.  This isn't a complaint.  I loved visiting this world, I'm just saying I disagree with the sales blurb.
  • Throughout the story, there are careful sprinklings of lay-man psych and consumer theory.  This was delectable.
  • Also delectable: the humour and tone.  Not only is the novel bittersweet, it is funny in an edgy, current way.  Often reincorporation of an earlier concept is droppped in just right.
This is not your typical YA dystopia: there is no triangular romance, no resistance group the heroine accidentally ends up leading -- there's no courtship fullstop.  If you like a mixture of quirky and bleak, this one's for you.

Review copy received from Walker.
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