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.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

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.

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

Saturday Miscellany — 1/11/14

Sorry this is late today, stuff at work happened that I won’t get into because: 1. you don’t care, 2. you wouldn’t believe me. Anyway, here are the odds ‘n ends from this last week about books, authors and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

Kitty in the Underworld by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty in the Underworld
Kitty in the Underworld by Carrie Vaughn
Series: Kitty Norville, #12


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m a little surprised at my rating for this one — not that Vaughn’s not more than capable of writing a four or five-star book — but based on my reactions while reading which were definitely not favorable. But my reactions were strong enough — based on the claustrophobic note frequently struck here, and how much I cared about what Kitty was doing/going through — that I knew Vaughn had delivered. Hadn’t necessarily written the book I wanted/expected, but she got the job done very effectively.

N.B. I get vaguely spoilery beyond here — I don’t think it’s too terrible, nothing I’d really have minded reading before picking up this book.

So the idea behind Kitty Drinks the Kool-Aid in the Underground is that while some vampires, and Kitty herself think the whole Regina Luporum thing is a joke, there are some who take it very seriously. So seriously, that they kidnap Kitty to get her assistance in making a major attack on Roman/Dux Bellorum.

Now, this may strike you as a particularly stupid way to get someone to help you out — as it should, it definitely strikes Kitty that way. But for whatever reason/delusion, her kidnappers don’t see it that way.

Now, over the last 11 books, we’ve seen impetuous Kitty, rash Kitty, leaping-before-she-looks Kitty — and while Ben and Cormac grit their teeth and fret, the reader just smiles, content in our knowledge that this is just Kitty being Kitty. However, in Kitty gets Stockholm Syndrome in the Underground we see Kitty being just stupid.

She gives a magic user (that she doesn’t know) access to her blood. She lets a strange vampire feed off of her. She passes up chances to escape. She lets her guard down with her captors. Now, Kitty’s generally quick to trust — which is part of her charm — but she generally has some sort of basis for that. Not here. Well, at least no rational basis. Here’s she’s just so desperate to take down Dux Bellorum, that she throws reason and caution to the wind.

She spends large amount of time being rational, thinking things through, reacting as she should — and then she seems to shut that down to work with these people. I talked back to the book a lot (this is a behavior I don’t typically engage in at all). My favorite werewolf had taken leave of her senses and was risking it all.

This book should’ve been twice as long (at least). Kitty needed more time in the cave before she acted the way she acted. The reader needed to get a better idea of the rich and colorful characters that were introduced here. It would’ve been nice to see Kitty’s pack at work trying to find and rescue her. So much of what was going on in this book was new, terribly interesting, and worthy of exploration, it’s a shame we didn’t get the chance.

Although, a longer book would’ve likely given me a stroke. So I shouldn’t complain.

For all my gripes, it was a tense, taught adventure that will have interesting (to say the least) ramifications going on. Now I have to start counting down for the next one. Can’t come soon enough.