Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn

Welcome to Part II of the Book Tour for Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn — if you missed the first part, go check it out and enter the giveaway for a free copy.

Martians AbroadMartians Abroad

by Carrie Vaughn

eARC, 288 pg.
Tor Books, 2017

Read: January 11 – 12, 2016


There are so many things that I want to say about this book, I don’t know if I’ll be able to get to them all — seriously, I have a checklist that’s daunting — but let’s give it a shot.

I remember while growing up back in the 20th century that SF was fun. Maybe fun isn’t the right word, but stick with me — sure, the stories were serious, there were real stakes (usually), not every ending was happy, and so on — but there was an overall sense that the future would be okay, that space travel and aliens (at least the ones not trying to kill us/take over the world) were positives, and that there as something in humanity that made it all worthwhile. But more and more that went away, and the future became (when not downright dystopian) a grim place with people struggling to survive. By and large, who wants to live in the future depicted in SF now? Sure, there are exceptions, but most of those are in the Douglas Adams’ tradition (Scalzi and Clines would be good exceptions to this) — “light” or humorous SF. I’m not saying that I want an end to those stories, or that I don’t enjoy the darker SF. But I wouldn’t mind more SF that makes me feel okay about the future, rather than wanting to return to the carefree days of the end of the Hoover administration instead of getting to 2040 and beyond.

Enter Carrie Vaughn and Martians Abroad — an update of Heinlein’s Podkayne of Mars (not unlike Scalzi’s take on Little Fuzzy in Fuzzy Nation). Now, I’ve not read Podkayne, but I assume that it could use a little update and some tweaking. Not necessarily to improve it, but to make it “fit” the readers of today. Like a good cover song, such an update can revitalize an older work, showing different aspects of it, without having to replace it (see Parton and Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”). Since I didn’t read the original, I have no real idea how much of the plot of this book came from Heinlein and how much is straight from Vaughn herself — and I really don’t care outside of some vague curiosity. What I do know, is that Vaughn took some classic ideas and did something that only she could do with them. She gives us a vision of the future that’s not perfect, but seems like an okay place to be. This doesn’t make it better (or worse) than other SF works — just a refreshing change of pace.

From Lowood Institution to Trinity High School to Welton Academy to Hogwarts (and many others), there’s something about boarding school stories that just works. You get a little bit of a fish out of water story, usually an oppressive administration, some unofficial traditions shaping actions (frequently at least brushing up on bullying), and a heckuva story ensues. Sure, as a kid (and even now) I always wondered why anyone would attend/send their kids to one, but apparently it’s a thing. Add the Galileo Academy to the list — it’s a school for the children of Earth’s elites, as well as those of a few select space stations and colonies. Charles and Polly Newton are the first students from Mars to matriculate there — by “from Mars” I mean that they’re from the human colony on Mars, not some sort of fully alien life.

But really, in so many ways, they might as well be wholly alien — ditto for the students form various space stations or the Moon, etc. Due to differences in gravity, having to breathe pumped-in air, etc., their muscle structure bone density — and even digestive systems — have adapted to their environments to the extent that it’s easy to tell an offworlder by sight. How serious are these changes? Let’s put it this way — the non-Earth born kids can’t eat bacon. I know, I said this wasn’t a grim or dystopian view of the future, but that one fact makes me rethink that whole idea.

Now, the last thing Polly wants to do is come to Earth — she has a plan for her future, and this isn’t anywhere near it. It fits right in with her mother’s plans (Polly just doesn’t know how), Charles convinces his sister to go along with his mother’s plan without much fuss — it’s not like they could stop things, anyway. The trip from Mars to Earth isn’t as bad as she expects and she begins to have a little bit of hope – only to have that crushed as soon as she starts to meet students and administrators from the Academy. Basically offworlders are seen as lower-class/working-class, not as sophisticated or healthy as those born and raised on Earth. Polly, Charles and the other offworlders find themselves grouping together, and the target of harassment of varying degrees of seriousness and intensity from the rest. It’s tough to tell how much of this is in their minds and how much this is real — at times it feels like Polly’s exaggerating how bad things are, but typically, her perceptions are substantiated.

Before long, some accidents or other dangerous situations start occurring that put Polly and her classmates in jeopardy –and it’s not long before the students begin to wonder if there’s something other than chance at work here. While Polly seeks to integrate herself better into her new community — and she makes some pretty good strides at it (and some stumbles) — she, Charles and her friends try to figure out just who is targeting their class and why.

Polly is a great character — strong-willed, fallible, smart, impulsive, brave, socially awkward — very real. Incidentally, you may have noticed that we share a last name — I’m claiming Polly Newton as my great-great-ellipses-great-granddaughter right now, and welcome her to the family. The rest of her classmates are just as well-drawn. I could’ve used a little more on the adult front — the teachers and administrators are largely absent, and are vaguely drawn. I do think that’s a function of Vaughn’s focus being on the students, not necessarily a flaw with the book — I just would’ve liked a bit more of adult presence.

There is some real honest humor here — some of it comes from the situations, some of it is from Polly’s snark. But better than her attitude is the sheer awe she feels at Earth — the colors, the life, the non-greenhouse plants, the sky, the air. Her initial impressions of Earth were great — and they only got better from there — each time she left the confines of school, she discovered something new about this planet and the way it was described was better than the last. Polly’s a human, but from her perspective she’s an alien to this planet, she’s seeing it with fresh eyes.

There are some villains (of a sort), some real opponents to be faced, but really, there’s no one evil. There’s some misguided people, some . . . unthinking/wrong-thinking characters. But there’s no Voldemort figure, no true evil. Just conflicting agendas, different priorities, unrepentant snobbery — it feels real. Again, a refreshing change of pace.

Yes, this book is about teenagers, but it’s not a YA book. It is, like the SF I talked about at the beginning, YA-friendly, though. A book that I can recommend to friends as well as my kids and their friends — and, of course, you, whoever you are. The book was exciting, entertaining, filled with real situations in an appealing future. Vaughn’s to be thanked for such a pleasant change of pace, a breath of fresh air — and I hope we get to revisit this world (but if we don’t, that’s okay, this is a complete story as is).

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Tor Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this. Also, thanks to Tor for the opportunity to take part in the Book Tour.

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4 1/2 Stars

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Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn Book Tour

I’ve been a fan of Carrie Vaughn for over a decade now — if she’s published a novel, I’ve read it (which doesn’t mean I’ve loved them all. Naturally, I jumped at the invitation to be a part of this Book Tour. My take on the book will be posted in a few, but for now, read a little bit about this book, and then keep scrolling so you can learn how to score yourself a free copy. Or go buy a copy and let someone else get it for free. 🙂

MARTIANS ABROAD
Carrie Vaughn

“It is Polly’s teen snarkiness and strong sense of self that will have readers rooting for her to get to the bottom of the mystery. … this easygoing adventure has an affable appeal.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“This is a classic ‘fish-out-of-water’ boarding-school story, focused on an adventurous, good-hearted heroine, with retro SF twists that nod to Heinlein’s oeuvre.”
—Booklist

Inverse’s 11 Science Fiction Books That Will Define 2017 List


From the author of the New York Times bestselling Kitty Norville series and the highly praised After the Golden Age and Discord’s Apple, MARTIANS ABROAD (A Tor Hardcover; $24.99; On-Sale: January 17, 2017) is a modern feminist update of the classic juvenile science fiction novel by Robert Heinlein, Podkayne of Mars. Classic science fiction authors such as Vernor Vinge, Gregory Benford, and Jack McDevitt have already lauded this new take from Carrie Vaughn, which will appeal to both YA and adult audiences looking for an optimistic view of the future.

Teenage Polly Newton has one single-minded dream: to be a starship pilot and travel the galaxy. But her mother, the director of the Mars Colony, derails Polly’s plans when she sends Polly and her genius twin brother, Charles, to Galileo Academy on Earth—-the one planet Polly has no desire to visit. Ever.

Homesick and cut off from her desired future, Polly cannot seem to fit into the constraints of life on Earth, unlike Charles, who deftly maneuvers around people and sees through their behavior to their true motives. But when strange, unexplained, and dangerous coincidences centered on their high-profile classmates begin piling up, Polly is determined to find the truth, no matter the cost.

A versatile author, Vaughn has earned acclaim in multiple genres even as she continues to hit the bestseller lists. Fans know that she can entertain even while telling challenging and empowering stories about women finding their place in the world. RT VIP Salon describes “the excitement of reading a new story by Vaughn that’s set in a world that is so fascinating.” MARTIANS ABROAD will find fans in adult science fiction readers, young adult fans, and anyone looking for a new take on a classic science fiction adventure.

“Her breezy, convincing teenage heroine brings this familiar material to life: an
excellent retro-SF story retold for a new generation of aspiring starship pilots.”
—Gwyneth Jones (Ann Halam), author of Life

“This fun adventure echoes classic space cadet themes with a
bright finish. It’s in conversation with much of Heinlein’s
legacy with twists to keep it interesting-—a brisk read.”
—Gregory Benford, author of Timescape

About the Author

Carrie VaughnCARRIE VAUGHN, the New York Times bestselling author of the Kitty Norville books, is also the author of the stand-alone novels After the Golden Age and Discord’s Apple, and the young adult books Voice of Dragons and Steel. She holds a Masters in English Literature and collects hobbies—-fencing and sewing are currently high on the list. You can visit her online at www.carrievaughn.com.

Giveaway!

The good people over at Tor Books want to give one of my readers a Hardcover Copy of this book — and who am I to argue? We’re going to keep this simple: if you want the book, between now and 11:59PM MST on 1/30/17, leave a comment on this post. Make it amusing, if you please — it won’t help you get the book, but it’ll make things nicer for me.

Sometime next Tuesday, I’ll use some sort of random number generator to pick a winner, and notify the winner to get your address. Sound easy enough?

Not to take anything away from my upcoming review-ish post, but trust me on this folks, you want this one.

The Last Star by Rick Yancey

The Last StarThe Last Star

by Rick Yancey
Series: The 5th Wave, #3

Hardcover, 338 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2016

Read: November 3 – 5, 2016

Since the Arrival, I’ve been beset by more cravings than a women pregnant with triplets, and always for things I’ll never taste again. Chocolate ice cream cones. Frozen pizza. Whipped cream in a can. Those cinnamon rolls Mom made every Saturday morning. McDonald’s french fries. Bacon. No, bacon was still a possibility. I would just have to find a hog, slaughter it, butcher it, cure the meat, then fry it up. Thinking about the bacon — the potential of bacon — gives me hope. Not all is lost if bacon isn’t.

Seriously.

And there’s the best that this series can do — when there’s no reason for hope, no reason to keep going — Yancey’s characters find a reason (other than inertia) to keep struggling, to keep walking, to keep surviving, to keep hoping.

Sadly, I pretty much needed that same kind (not extent, kind) of perseverance. I thought The 5th Wave rocked, and I enjoyed The Infinite Sea, but not as much — but the wheels really came off this time. It’s not an Allegiant-level disappointment, but it was closer than anyone should want.

The writing was skillful — I liked a lot of what the book had to say about humanity, enlightenment, and teddy bears (no, really). Yancey nailed the character beats, moments, observations — but he utilized this great writing and surrounded these strong elements with a story that just wasn’t worth telling. Somehow in the end, the whole was <iLless than the sum of its parts (anyone know the German for that?).

I’m going to skip the plot summary because it’s just the next stage in the series, leading up to the final confrontation between the survivors we’re following and Humanity’s foes. That’s really all you need to know — and everyone who’s been reading the series knew that already.

This is the 10th book I’ve read by Yancey, and it’s so clearly the weakest link. I’d still recommend this book for those who’ve read the first two — but on the whole, I’d tell those who hadn’t started the series to skip it. I’m more than ready to give whatever Yancey does next a chance, if for no other reason than to get the taste of this out of my mouth.

—–

3 Stars

Kitty Saves the World by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty Saves the WorldKitty Saves the World

by Carrie Vaughn
Series: Kitty Norville, #14

ARC, 325 pg.
Tor Books, 2015
Read: July 14 – 15, 2015
4 1/2 Stars
Easy title to live up to, no?

About the same time that I posted my review of the previous book, Low Midnight, where I talked about “future Kitty novels,” Carrie Vaughn announced that this one would be the end. So much for my predictive ability. Now, at the end, I see that Low Midnight was well-placed in the series, and I have a better understanding of the role it played in setting up this book. Which is not to say that I wouldn’t have preferred a few more books in this series, but if Vaughn had to end it now, I’m glad she did it like this.

This couldn’t be less obvious a last novel. Kitty name checks and/or visits everybody we’ve met along the way, it’s like the last few minutes of “The End of Time” before The Doctor regenerates into Matt Smith. But Vaughn does it so smoothly, it’s only when you stop and think about who’s shown up that you even notice what she’s done.

I don’t really have much to say about this — it’s the 14th and final novel in a series. Don’t let this be the first one you read — do let this be the last. Start with one of the first few (if not the first, Kitty and the Midnight Hour).

This is different than the rest of the series, not just because it’s the end. There’s plenty of action to be found — not a lot of time for character development, growth, relationships, new characters (well, maybe a couple) — it’s all about Regina Luporum and her allies versus Dux Bellorum, anything else is a distraction (however pleasant a distraction). Which isn’t to say that the characters are unimportant — it’s Carrie Vaughn, characters are the core. But they’re very busy here, and don’t have a lot of time to chat, reflect, or anything like that — they have a world to save.

The final showdown with Roman didn’t go as expected, but better. The scenes following that were great, and the ending was everything a fan could hope for.

One criticism — and, now that I think about it, this applies to the series as a whole — Kitty tells us time after time that her pack is what’s important, it drives her restaurant/bar New Moon, it keeps her in Denver, it’s what motivates her, blah, blah, blah. But really, outside of the occasional chat while picking up an order with Shaun and references to the group hunting on the Full Moon, we don’t see them. The pack that Kitty cares about is the other one — Ben, Cormac, Amelia, Alette, Odysseus Grant, Tina, Rick, Matt, and the others that fill her life and align themselves with her against the Long Game. I’d be fine with it if Kitty were just a little bit more honest with herself/us about it.

I’m going to miss Kitty, Ben, Cormac and the rest, and the next year is going to feel a little strange not getting any new adventures from them. But this was a great way to say goodbye.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Dusted Off: Kitty’s Big Trouble by Carrie Vaughn

While starting the post for Kitty Saves the World, I noticed I’d reviewed only two other books in this series here. Unthinkable. It was one of the first UF series I ever tried and it’s one of my favorites to this day. Turns out, that somehow I’ve only written one other post on the series. I’m still having trouble coming to grips with that. So, I figured I’d better throw this up before I forgot.

Kitty's Big TroubleKitty’s Big Trouble

by Carrie Vaughn
Series: Kitty Norville, #9

Mass Market Paperback, 307 pg.

Tor Books, 2011

Read: July 3 – 4, 2011
It’s been far too long since we’ve had a new Kitty Norville adventure, and Carrie Vaughn didn’t disappoint with this one.

We begin with Kitty’s most recent hobby–trying to out historical figures as weres or vampires or whatever. Which is a lot of fun, and is a well Vaughn hopefully returns to.

But the main action focuses on the Long Game between various vampire factions that we’ve seen a few peaks into lately. Kitty’s ally Anastasia is racing against Roman for possession of a magical artifact that could turn the tide in this competition forever.

Honestly, I don’t think this was the strongest entry in the series plotwise–this seems more about setting the stage for bigger things down the road. But while setting the stage, we get to spend some good quality time with some great characters, learn more about Cormac’s situation, and meet a few new characters (a couple of which I hope to see again, soon).

Should add that it took me far too long to get the title, and when I finally did I wondered where my head had been for a couple hundred pages.

Can’t wait to see what trouble Kitty gets into next.

—–

4 Stars

Low Midnight by Carrie Vaughn

Low MidnightLow Midnight

by Carrie Vaughn
Carrie Vaughn
Series: Kitty Norville, #13

Mass Market Paperback, 309 pg.
Tor Books, 2015
Read: January 7 – 8, 2015
Ahh, the fans (some of them, anyway) get what they’ve been wanting — a novel featuring everyone’s favorite retired monster hunter (and the deceased Victorian witch who’s living inside his brain). The thing Vaughn did that makes this stand out is that unlike most authors, rather than give Cormac some side story, she gives his solo adventure a central place in the overall storyline — what happens here will play a big part in what happens in future Kitty novels.

This is honestly not at all what I expected from a Cormac novel. I expected more violence — not necessarily a blood bath, but more guns, more offensive magic — and less discussion of meadows. But he’s grown — moreover, he’s doing what he can to live as a law-abiding ex-con (especially one with Ben looking over his shoulder all the time). So no guns. Brains over brawn, which seems to be stranger for Cormac than it is for readers.

The plot was meager, honestly. The story was mostly just an excuse to see Cormac in his element — get to know him better, get a fuller picture of his past and to watch the way that he and Amelia work together. And as such, the novel succeeded. As a story about Cormac and Amelia investigating a century-old death by magic, it was tolerable.

The strongest part of the book was their relationship, the way they’ve learned to work — and exist — together. There’s genuine affection between the two — a little mistrust (which makes sense, given their unusual situation), but genuine affection. Given how we’re introduced to Cormac, that’s pretty serious growth.

At the end of the day, this was a nice diversion — a good way to get a different look at things, to see the people who aren’t Kitty engaged in her crusade, and to get to know these characters better. I’d probably enjoy another book focused on Cormac and Amelia, but I’m looking forward to getting back to Kitty’s POV.

—–

3.5 Stars

The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey

The Infinite Sea (The 5th Wave, #2)The Infinite Sea

by Rick Yancey
Series: The 5th Wave, #2

Hardcover, 300 pg.
Putnam Juvenile, 2014
Read: October 4 – 5, 2014
Man, talk about trepidation. Did I want to pick up this book? Was there any chance it could live up to The 5th Wave? Slim to none. But man, I wanted to find out what happens to the Earth. I wanted to know if we ever figure out what the aliens want with the Earth, why they’re eliminating humanity in the way they are. So, prepared to be disappointed, I cracked the cover.

And Yancey doesn’t try to match — or even try to top — The 5th Wave. He writes a very different book. Not one that grabbed me as thoroughly, but one that works in its own way. Where The 5th Wave was a bullet train that you just tried to hang on to — The Infinite Sea was roller coaster you’re riding while blindfolded — the ride lopping, diving, screaming around a corner with no warning, leaving your stomach behind you.

Yancey can’t even give us a Prologue to reorient ourselves to this world, to get our feet under us so we can say, “Oh yeah, this is what’s going on…” before resuming the action. Sure, it starts to seem like that, but nope. He’s right there to pull the rug out from under us at the first possible moment, in a way that catches the reader just as off-guard as the bits of remaining humanity will be.

I read some criticism lately about The 5th Wave that complained about the lack of motivation given for the aliens to do what they’re doing — it makes no sense, and therefore the reviewer couldn’t buy into the book with a motive-less enemy. But to me, that’s why the book worked. Humanity doesn’t understand what’s going on, so there’s no reason we human readers should either. Try as they might, there’s just no figuring out what’s going on other then their great need to survive.

On the whole, we spend time with the characters we met in the first book, those that survived — and, in flashbacks, some that didn’t, Cassie, Sam, Ben/Zombie, and a few others I won’t name because I can’t be sure I won’t spoil something by doing so. We say good-by to some of them, too. We meet a few other characters, too. Some of which we’ll see again. It’s that kind of series. But we get to know almost all of them better, the last book was all about getting to know a couple of these characters really well. This time, we get backstories on everyone, even if it’s pages/paragraphs before they die. This is important, I feel more grounded in this world the more I get to know characters who aren’t Cassie, Evan or Ringer.

And we get some more mature, experienced — and in some cases, informed — hints at what’s really been going on. Still, not enough to placate that other reviewer, I bet — or, really anyone. At one point, Cassie’s complaining about her interactions since Day 1 with Evan.

Every time I edge too close to something, he deflected by telling me how much he loved me or how I saved him or some other swoony, pseudo-profound observation about the nature of my magnificence.

I chuckled as I read it, because this is pretty much Yancey’s modus operandi — just when you get close to learning something, being told something, a character figuring something out, etc. — something explodes or someone starts shooting. Or both. Not a way to tell a narrative that satisfies everyone or to show off brilliant world-building. But a it’s great way to keep pages turning.

I found this to be a very satisfying read. As I said, I didn’t expect to be as taken with this book as I was its predecessor, and I wasn’t — but in a way, I’m sucked into this series more than before. I really don’t know the last time I said “son of a — “* out loud at a book as much as I did with this one. It’s probably not since Butcher’s Changes that I’ve called a writer so many names as I’ve read. Yancey just keeps throwing me for loops. Not the best book I’ve ever read, not high literature, but edge-of-your-seat thrills, convincing characters, and honestly come by surprises. Really entertaining stuff. That’s all I ask for.

—–

* I seriously don’t finish the sentence, because I’m too busy shaking off whatever trauma is thrown my way and getting back into things to bother.

—–

4 1/2 Stars