A spider lives in my room.
It spun a thread across an unexpected intersection of wall and door and floor, a single, long strand which I walked through the other day without noticing, and now it drifts in the breeze of my fan, one end anchored to my carpet, intermittently catching the light as it sways in and out of visibility, like an impossibly thin nylon fishing line, adrift and lure-less in the ocean—a thing of distracting, ethereal beauty.
When I was 14, I started writing a fantasy story set in a world of floating islands about a boy who tries to stow away on a merchant ship, jumps overboard to avoid capture by pirates, and gets clocked over the head by his Amazonian future love-interest. Throughout high school my story morphed to eventually include more steam punk elements until I eventually shelved it as being too juvenile and requiring extensive edits to plot and character.
This is basically the book I wanted to write at fourteen.
Which is a wonderful thing.
It’s actually really nice to see a book that feels so appropriate for its audience as a light summer read (or a mid-semester read, for those us who burned through the assigned reading with time to spare). If you ever were into the video game Skies of Arcadia (which I certainly was at about that age, as my sketchbook could readily testify), this is suitably nostalgic.
My three criticisms:
1) The writing quality, at its best leaves you feeling whelmed. Not over- or underwhelmed, merely: whelmed.
2) Fails the Bechdel Test. I mean, maybe not actually: I think Areané argues with her mother about the latter’s expectations of her as a daughter, which is still tangentially about men. This is the only conversation of substance the mother takes part in for the entire book. She is almost the only other female character with lines. For the second two-thirds of the book, Areané is the only female character period. For how heavy-handed the author is in relaying the unfairness of a society that places rigid restrictions on people based solely on gender, she does an awfully good job dropping every other woman in her city.
3) A lot of authors seem to struggle to keep the dynamics straight between their different characters, and this is no exception. You, the author, might super like your main character, but you must remember to restrain that good will in the characters who have no reason to be so interested in your protagonist’s well-being. Also, the relationships between her male characters are not convincing. Men and women authors both struggle to accurately represent the opposite sex at times. I feel a decent number succeed, at least to a causally convincing degree. Not in this instance.
Epic future histories make for some of my favorite reading, and Kim Stanley Robinson’s chronicle of Man’s initial colonization of Mars satisfies this itch entirely.
In Robinson’s universe, no single hero can control events on a massive scale: those with the hubris to try are swept away in the political and elemental forces created by their own short-sighted predictions. To be mildly pretentious for a moment, I would argue that he stands in philosophical opposition to Atlas Shrugged, not only in dismantling elitism, but through the intentional muddling of moral and ethical positions. There are better and worse characters, but the best are divided over painfully valid yet intrinsically opposed viewpoints. Not just one or two, but four or five or six.
Robinson’s writing varies in quality, or perhaps the wavering standards are meant to reflect the intellectual and emotional abilities of the rotating cast of third-person narrators. Mars, however, remains the focal point, and Robinson hits peak eloquence when describing the geological features and cataclysms of the planet. Prominent landmarks of the Martian terrain such as Elysium, the Tharsis Bulge, and the Valles Marineris fill such a central role that the plot feels no more than an excuse to allow the reader to witness the tremendous glory of a surreal and changing planet.
If you don’t want to travel to Mars by the end of this novel, you’ve missed the point.