think twice, maybe it’s not all–maybe it’s not all riiiight

I’m teaching the critique workshop at Fourth Street later this month–it’s June oh good gracious it is June–and there are all sorts of things that we are just not going to have the chance to talk about, since we’re only doing a little bit of panel discussion and a lot of critiquing. I watched a movie about an improv group, Don’t Think Twice, that made me think of a topic that is certainly outside the scope of that panel discussion, so here we are! I really liked the movie, and I recommend it to people who are in creative pursuits, especially people who are in creative relationships.

The thing that they can’t really fit into a well-composed movie of about 90 minutes–and oh gosh I am glad they kept it to that rather than letting it sprawl–was…well. I feel like, especially early on, especially the first time you get a well-functioning creative group, whether it’s improv or a band or a writing critique group or what. Even if it’s a group of two. I feel like there is a certain sense that you will never have something like this again. That it must be preserved at, if not all costs, certainly very, very substantial costs, because it is your only chance at such a creative synergy.

And…it is. And also it’s not.

A well-functioning creative relationship is worth working at. It’s worth preserving. Definitely not to be thrown away at a whim. And when you look back at someone’s life as a whole, there are clearly creative partnerships, working relationships, in which they functioned like no other time. People and dynamics that were better for their work than any others, that turned out to be irreplaceable.

But.

You can’t tell in advance which ones those will be, necessarily, and which ones will just be really intense for the person in them and kind of useless for the work. You can’t tell which will be lead-ups to something even better, even more fulfilling and interesting.

Which is not an excuse to treat other humans badly. I mention this because of the opposite: it is a reason not to be treated badly yourself, not to stand by and watch while someone is treated badly, on the theory that the creative relationship is indispensable. It’s even a reason to pay attention to whether the work that was wondrous and irreplaceable a few years ago is still going that way. Because “this isn’t working well for me” is enough reason not to keep critiquing together, not to keep performing together, whatever it is you’re doing. It’s not trivial to find people to work with. Sometimes it’s not even possible. But that doesn’t mean that the person or people you’re working badly with now have to be clung to and endured no matter the cost to yourself or others.

So how do you evaluate? Well, I don’t honestly know for other creative relationships. But for writing critiques, there are several things: Do you still want to work with the person/people? Are you looking forward to their feedback, do you think it will be interesting? If you had to choose someone to work with now, would you choose this person/group? Do you think you know in advance what they’re going to say about everything you do, and if you think that, are you right? Do you find yourself unproductively annoyed or frustrated by more of their feedback than not? (Sometimes useful feedback can be annoying on the way in, and it’s up to you how much of that you’re up for. But unproductive annoyance is another matter.)

One of the tricky ones: if these things are true, how enmeshed in a group situation is the person? How possibly would it be to get yourself out, and how worthwhile? Sitting through “I think you should describe the living room in excruciating detail on the first page” is annoying; being in a crit group with someone you know to be a bigot is far worse. Disagreeing with someone persistently about what a story should do is bad; being in a group where someone is allowed to treat you with contempt while the rest of the group doesn’t seem to mind it is in a different category of bad. Sometimes it’s worth enduring a group where the fit has gone slightly awry if it’s mostly still a good group. But there have to be limits, and some part of you will know where they are.

“This isn’t working for me” needs to be a fine thing to say in critique relationships. “I just don’t have the time to dedicate to this group that I used to/that I feel it deserves/etc.”: an entirely valid reason not to do it. A lot of times writing groups just quietly reach a natural end date even if they’re working well when they do meet, because the rhythm of people’s work isn’t conducive to the rhythm of the group. But if you don’t want to get feedback from people on your work, you do not have to. Even if it’s otherwise working fine. Even if “everyone else” seems happy with the status quo.

Especially if you went for long stretches of your life without anybody caring about your creative work, it can be really hard to let go of the people who first do that. And sometimes you get really lucky and meet someone in high school or college or in your first workshop–even if your first workshop is in your middle age–whose feedback you’ll value for the rest of your lives. Sometimes someone who was awesome when you were both twenty will still be awesome when you’re both sixty. It’s sad when this turns out not to be the case, but it doesn’t necessarily reflect on you. Sometimes it doesn’t reflect on either of you and you’re both still awesome, you’re just not the right people to critique each other’s work any more.

Sometimes this means taking a leap. It means striking out without a new crit buddy, a new group, a new situation that you understand. Sometimes it’s really useful to identify why something isn’t working (wrong genre? wrong category? wrong life assumptions? wrong schedule?) in order to get at something else that might. It’s worth iterating. But always, it’s worth knowing that there is no last chance for as long as we’re alive. Be kind, be thoughtful, but also be clear that there are many forms and types of critique relationship available, and you don’t have to endure indefinitely in one that isn’t working for you.

Books read, late May

The sea of DNFs in this fortnight’s booklog is daunting. DAUNTING. Also I am in the middle of two very long nonfiction books. So! Short post this time.

Vera Brosgol, Be Prepared. Discussed elsewhere.

John Crowley, Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruins of Ymr. I enjoyed most of this book. The more crows, the better I liked it, but it was a giant mythic century-spanning thing, and I’m down for that. My problems came in with little asides that frankly felt completely extraneous to the book, like, why is this even here, Crowley? Why do you have a young Native character with fetal alcohol syndrome to be…not even a sidekick, basically a few sentences worth of prop at the end? Why have throwaway lines about crows being gender essentialists when you don’t really have that data and it isn’t going to matter to the rest of the book? Why…why, Crowley. Why. When the crow Orpheus section was so good. There were large thoughts about death, and then the places they went were…a little too large, a little too conscious of the idea that this would be a masterwork, a little too sprawling I think, with small elements not treated with enough respect, especially where they touch on actual human lives. This could have been better for trying to be a book instead of the book, I think. (And self-awareness about persons not like oneself, sheesh.)

Zora Neale Hurston, Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”. Hurston interviewed the last surviving person who had been transported to the US to be a slave under legal chattel slavery (I phrase this carefully to acknowledge the realities of human trafficking in our time), and the book just came out now. Her interviews with him are preserved in meticulous detail–not just what he said, but what she as an interviewer did with him to build rapport, what gifts and assistance she provided. In an era when the first person was almost never used in academic writing, I can see why this would not have been a popular approach, but today it’s fascinating context, extremely edifying. This is short and in places emotionally grueling, and very, very much worth reading.

Paul Krueger, Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge. A fun urban fantasy with a bartending angle. The ending had some interesting twists–not all the ones I was thinking it would, and some I actively wished it wouldn’t–but I still enjoyed it enough to hand it off to a friend immediately, and to keep an eye out for Krueger’s next.

Hope Larson, All Summer Long. Discussed elsewhere.

Sam J. Miller, Blackfish City. Seasteading eco-SF disasterfuture Arctic whosis. As I was reading this, I kept thinking this, this is what people claim Kim Stanley Robinson is doing, that he is not in fact doing. Short chapters, diverse cast, very fast and exciting read.

C.L. Polk, Witchmark. This is a gorgeous book, and I can’t wait until it’s actually out in print so that you can all squee about it with me. (This is an ARC, but not a publisher-provided one.) Magic and mental health care in the aftermath of a war, in the ongoing wreckage caused by colonialism and its ills. Relationships developing organically in a fraught situation. This is exactly what I want out of fantasy these days, and then some. Bicycles and trains and consequences. More. More.

Django Wexler, The Fall of the Readers. The last of this MG series, and there’s really no reason not to start at the beginning, but here we are at a satisfying conclusion, so if you’re concerned about series that go on and on, this is definitely not one. Threads are tied up and implications followed up on. I devoured this all in one go one morning when I had been cranky about literally seven other books on my pile.

Be Prepared, by Vera Brosgol

Review copy provided by First Second Books.

When I was a kid, I loved camp stories.

When I was a kid, I did not love camp.

The difference comes through very clearly in Vera Brosgol’s Be Prepared: camp, like other hells, is other people.

Be Prepared is the story of a young Russian immigrant girl who feels out of place with her wealthier American friends and convinces her mother to send her to a Russian Orthodox scout camp for the summer, where she will–she feels–be among kids like herself and fit in and have the glorious joyful camp experience she has heard of from her friends. It is…about as much like that as you would expect. There are biting insects, stinky latrines, unfriendly older kids who are much more familiar with the camp experience, shifting expectations, well-meaning counselors…it’s camp. It’s camp, from the perspective of a two-cultures kid, and Brosgol makes it vivid and relatable.

Please consider using our link to buy Be Prepared from Amazon.

All Summer Long, by Hope Larson

Review copy provided by FSG.

This is the graphic novel story of the summer before Bina goes into eighth grade. It’s the kind of momentous summer where not much happens in terms of major plot points: no dragons slain, no worlds conquered or planets explored, no murders solved, not even first boyfriends or first kisses. The shape of this story is the stuff you figure out about your friendships and interests at that age, the small things that happen out of your control but inside your orbit–friends wandering off and wandering back, family members making choices that expand your world without you having anything really to say about them. A childhood summer is a very particular, very recognizable slice of life, and this is that. This is very clearly and evocatively that.

Please consider using our link to buy All Summer Long from Amazon.

Books read, early May

Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, ed., Africa 39: New Writing from Africa South of the Sahara. One of the things that frustrates me, that I know frustrates a lot of people, is treating Africa as though it’s a single unified place, with a single unified culture. This anthology really does not do that, taking selections from authors from all across the continent with incredibly diverse theme, style, and content. Its very existence sort of belies that sentiment, but getting this kind of content in the US is difficult. Many of the selections were a bit frustrating as they were excerpts not just from novels but from works in progress–so if you particularly liked a passage or wanted to find out more about it in context, that is not guaranteed to be available any time soon. Still, the breadth of work available is breathtaking.

Andrea Cheng, The Year of the Book. I broadly categorize kids’ books as the ones that are for all ages starting with whatever age they’re aimed at and the ones that are only really for whatever age they’re aimed at. Mileage, of course, varies. The Year of the Book is a quite nice book about friendship in various shapes and sizes, and the kind of representation it has, my Chinese-American friends would have killed for when we were in grade school–which means it would have been important for the rest of us to see too. But as an adult, I feel like it’s aimed a little more narrowly elsewhere–and that’s okay. It doesn’t make it a bad book or badly done–it’s important to recognize that not everything is for us. I’d definitely recommend it to younger audiences.

Lara Elena Donnelly, Armistice. Discussed elsewhere.

Rita Dove, Selected Poems. Beautiful time- and world-spanning work that I picked up after my local library fixed their poetry month display to…not be parochial and supportive of local harassers. Go team Rita.

Mary E. Giles, Women in the Inquisition: Spain and the New World. Grueling accounts of various types of woman hauled before the Inquisition, including women who had or were suspected of having different religious affiliations, slave women of various color “categories”/gradations under the system used at the time, and sexually and religiously dangerous women who posed threats to the status quo. I am not sorry I read this, but it took a lot out of me.

Lynne Jonell, The Secret of Zoom. This is another kid-centered kids’ book, where the characterization is not very detailed. It’s focused on doing what it’s doing with music, science, and cartoon-type families. Reasonably fun kids’ adventure fantasy.

Alisa Kwitney, Cadaver and Queen. This book baffles me. It is entertaining and reasonably fast-paced, an exciting YA fantasy romance. But several of the structural choices confuse the heck out of me. The protagonist is American (why?), studying medicine in the UK, where there are reanimated corpses serving in an alternate Victorian England. One of those Victorian corpses is the young medical student Victor Frankenstein, thereby casting permanent confusion on the “Frankenstein was the doctor/Frankenstein was the monster/Frankenstein was the friends we made along the way” question. I found myself deeply disturbed by thinking through some of the implications of the love story too carefully, and also why is there even a Frankenstein in the UK, and…look, if you relax and have fun with it, it’s a fun book, but if you’re not aces at relaxing and having fun, there will be questions like WHAT DID HE SMELL LIKE that may haunt you in the wrong ways.

George McClure, Parlour Games and the Public Life of Women in Renaissance Italy. The stuff they were getting up to in Siena! This is one of my favorite kinds of microhistory, the kind delving into the little side streams of what people were actually up to and the things in their actual lives and how it related to how they viewed the world. Siena! Valuing women because women were shrewd game players! Who knew! I love microhistory.

Victor D. Montejo, The Adventures of Mr. Puttison Among the Maya. This is a very quirky Guatemalan novella in translation, about an American tourist coming to Guatemala and trampling around getting his feet in everything and what transpires from there, sometimes throwing coins, sometimes gathering stories, generally being a 1930s American tourist as viewed through Guatemalan eyes. Glad I read it, entertaining and worth the time.

Armistice, by Lara Elena Donnelly

Review copy provided by Tor Books.

This is the sequel to Amberlough, which is one of the most urban fantasies I have ever read, and yet is not, in genre terms, urban fantasy. It’s a Weimar-inflected alternate world, a spy novel, a stage novel that Noel Streatfeild would never have recognized; it is very much its own thing.

And so is Armistice, very thoroughly a sequel and yet its own book; among other things, Armistice has a different setting–from stage to screen, from temperate to tropics, from the domestic sketches of the descent to fascism to the diplomatic ones. The stakes remain both national and intimately personal–familial, searing, heart-wrenching. There are follow-on consequences from Amberlough, but also from before that book, from the characters being full people with full lives. I am a sucker for stories of revolution, and this is one in a small enough scale to grab and hold me. It’s doing very different things than other books in the genre are doing, and I’m glad to see them done.

Please consider using our link to buy Armistice from Amazon.

 

Present Writers: Marta Randall

Marta Randall is the author of seven novels, one as Martha Conley, and numerous short stories all across the science fiction and fantasy spectrum. Her characters dove the ruins of sunken Hawaii before most writers were willing to give the global effects of climate change the time of day. She was willing to take on refugee crises and generational resentments when these issues were just starting to ramify. If breadth, depth, and sensitivity in handling complex social issues were the metric, Marta Randall novels would be discussed in half the convention panels in 2018.

Her Kennerin duology–Journey and Dangerous Games–particularly exemplify the themes that make Randall’s work feel so contemporary forty years after its first publication. Disabled people, old people, and children all have strong agency. They make hard choices and deal with the ramifications of their decisions–sometimes for decades afterwards. For Randall, killing another individual always matters. Even if the killer was thinking of their victim as somehow lesser or unreal because they were a different ethnicity or origin of human, a different literal alien race, or because they were in good old science fiction fashion a little blip on the screen of a spaceship, they still count. Their deaths still matter, and there will still have to be a moral, personal and social reckoning for them.

For all that much of science fiction has featured colonies here, there, and everywhere, Randall’s work has been willing to deal with the ongoing legacy of colonialism in complicated and human forms. Her characters come up with solutions that their children don’t always agree with or even approve of, and the colonialism is intersectional and multidimensional. Some characters need to rename and reinvent themselves; others, to reiterate choices in a setting where moral purity is not a starting point or an outcome and the world is filled with people who are simply doing the best they can to stagger toward kindness among other flawed sentients.

The climax of Dangerous Games features a stunning indictment of respectability politics, in which a character demands, “Where is the law that says the victim of injustice must always be appealing?” and rails against the practice of pitting minorities against each other. It is a staggeringly fresh take on a topic that we will be generations more in fixing. It made me feel astonished and glad that Marta Randall is present, that her books are around to appreciate and to influence the conversation for those generations to come.

This is the beginning of a new series I’m doing here on the blog: Present Writers. I thought about eligibility for this, and I finally decided that what I want it to be is the opposite of a retirement party. I want to take retirement age and say: yay! We’re glad you didn’t retire and are still around doing cool stuff–you are present, and your work is a gift. Let’s keep the part of a retirement party where your colleagues say cool stuff about your work and ditch the part where you, y’know, go away and stop actually doing it. I don’t like the part where you go away. Don’t do that! I just like the part where people say the cool stuff about your work. This is in lieu of a cake and a gold watch, which are harder to shove through the internet at this time.

I picked 62 because in the US that’s the very beginning of Social Security eligibility, so I did not have to figure out where my personal milestone line would be. What “seems reasonable” to me? Eh, humans vary a lot, “seems reasonable” is a weird thing. Rather than angsting about it, I will pick the arbitrary line that is used in the country I live in, and once a month I will write a post celebrating the work of a writer who has achieved that arbitrary milestone, focusing on at least one specific book that feels contemporary and interesting to me. If you want to recommend authors who are over 62, have at it! I have a pretty long list in my head already, but adding to it never hurts.

Books read, late April

Elizabeth Bear, Stone Mad. This is a sequel to Karen Memory but with very different focus and structure. Karen and Priya have moved on–taking some of their more interesting machinery with them–and some of the discoveries they make along the way are earth-shaking. Also building-shaking. But the heart of this story is relationship stuff, established relationship stuff, ongoing relationship stuff, in a way that we rarely get to see in genre narrative. Making things work, getting things to a point where they can keep going, is a very different plot than finding one’s sweetheart, and I’m glad to see it here.

Kate Cavett, ed., Voices of Rondo: Oral Histories of St. Paul’s Historic Black Community. This is an amazing book. It’s a compilation of interviews with people who lived in the neighborhood in question, and Cavett is smart enough to let the interviews speak for themselves. There’s a great diversity of experience–economic, cultural, personal–and putting it side by side does so much to make it vivid and layered and real, with joy and suffering and the human experience in miniature, in neighborhood form. This is my city. There are probably similar stories for yours, and I recommend that you find them, because this is worth knowing about the structure of where you live, what has been lost and what remains, what your neighbors have to say about it.

Craig Laurance Gidney, Skin Deep Magic. The title of this collection is extremely well chosen; they are fantastical and dealing with race and culture in ways that go beyond the superficial.

Joy Harjo, How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems: 1975-2001. Harjo is from Oklahoma, and the southern plains sing through the poems. This is not my prairie, but I can see how my prairie will slip down into this one, hotter and dryer. Harjo’s Muscogee background also informs her poetry in ways that sing through it, and I don’t know the songs the way I do the songs from the neighbors up here, but that doesn’t make them any less interesting to read.

Faith Erin Hicks, Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, Jen Wang, Holly Black, et al, Lumberjanes: Bonus Tracks. This was a bunch of side tales of whimsy and wonder and friendship to the max. Already sold on it. Yep.

Jim Kacian, Philip Rowland, and Allan Burns, eds., Haiku in English: the First Hundred Years. Okay so look. We do not do this with terza rima, people. We do not look at terza rima and say, okay, sure, this is a major cultural form, extremely important to you, but we’re going to say that when WE do it, it means basically whenever we want and not ANY of the stuff it means to you, but it’s the same thing with the same name yay. And I have serious issues with the way that Anglophones do that with haiku. This is an anthology of extremely short poems, and that is it. They have literally no other requirement than that. I decided within the first few pages that I could read them on that premise or not, since that’s what they are, and I did read them, and I learned some things about very short poems. But I still object to just willy-nilly declaring that minuscule poems get to be haiku because we feel like it. ANYWAY. One of the things I learned: repetition in really short poems is not nearly as searingly effective as the poets want it to be. Mostly, in poems of less than fifty words, it’s pretty bland. Interesting to have a large data set there. I still wish that they were not so blithe about how haiku can be three words or a bunch of letters or whatever. Eh.

Andrus Kivirahk, The Man Who Spoke Snakish. This is an Estonian fantasy novel set at a sort of mythical version of the Christianization of Estonia, with the new ways symbolized by such newfangled innovations as eating bread and living in villages, and the old ways by speaking snakish and intermarrying with bears. This is a weird, weird book, and the bear-on-woman sex is right there in it, so if you are not up for that, you’re going to want to opt out here. It is…well, look, I picked it up because the Estonian ambassador was like, this is the one book you should read to represent Estonia! and huh. Huh. It idealizes a natural state that never was, it is extremely weird about sex and gender and let us not even get into the role of “speaking German” or farming tools and…yeah, so, Canadians? if you want to not feel alone about the ursine stuff? in your books? sidle on up to Estonians, they’ve got you covered. In bears.

Ian Lendler, One Day a Dot. Discussed elsewhere.

D. Peter MacLeod, Northern Armageddon: The Battle of the Plains of Abraham and the Making of the American Revolution. Quite often I say of nonfiction “does what it says on the tin.” This does not: the making of the American Revolution is an extremely minor component of this book. What it does do is consider the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in loving detail from primary sources in more than one language. Popular songs get quoted extensively. It’s a lot of fun, sardonic in spots, but it’s very specialized, so judge for yourself whether you’re interested in something quite that specialized.

Sujata Massey, The Salaryman’s Wife. This is the beginning of a long mystery series, and maybe the later volumes are really cool. I will probably not find out, because this is very very mid-90s, in that way that was so perkily fascinated with all things Japanese in a very exoticizing way. Everything is explained in words of very few syllables: in Ja-PAN…. It also…starts with a sexual assault on a commuter train and goes from there. The ways that this book parsed as sexy or at least daring have not aged particularly well in a few places. I really liked Massey’s recent historical non-mystery novel, so I had hopes for this, and I did finish it, it just…didn’t hit me very well. Which is a shame; I could use another good mystery series. I just don’t think this is it.

Moliere, The Imaginary Invalid. Kindle. The first translation that came up on Gutenberg, and it was a stinker of a translation, no nuance whatsoever, but I speak enough French to be able to spot what the better version would look like, and anyway I was reading it in preparation for going to see a production of it. It was not a good production, this is not a good translation…and yet I’m really glad I read it, thinking and talking about it with the person I went with has been fascinating, and you can see the bones of an interesting comedy about relationships and trust through both things being suboptimal.

Hans Rosling, with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund, Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–And Why Things Are Better Than You Think. There’s a lot to like in this book–Rosling uses facts and figures to undermine a lot of well-educated westerners’ stereotypes about the rest of the world, ways in which worldviews have not been updated in 50 years or more, etc. I agree with Rosling that believing that things can actually be improved in the ways that they factually, verifiably have been improved will help us to be heartened to work toward improving more things. Hurrah. However, he goes off the rails in some areas that are not his main area of expertise, missing the point in ways that really have the potential to do harm because of his own firm, serene conviction that he couldn’t possibly have missed anything. A few easy examples: he brings up DDT as “safer than we think” because “it has not directly killed any humans.” Probably not true–very few manufactured products have no manufacturing fatalities–but in any case, direct, immediate human deaths are not the only possible point and also he completely neglects the DDT resistance that has come about in the areas where it’s continued to be used. So…stop that, Rosling. Another example: he blithely claims that menstrual pad companies “should be” trying to exploit the poorest markets as they emerge from being even poorer still, rather than questioning whether that’s really a case of “should.” Do those factors need reinforcing under the guise of pure fact? They really, really don’t, and I wish there was a good book about improvement in extreme poverty worldwide and general examining of statistics in that kind of area that didn’t wander off into that kind of bad logic.

Maighread Scott and Robin Robinson, The City on the Other Side. Discussed elsewhere.

Robert Service, Spies and Commissars: The Early Years of the Russian Revolution. If you’re looking for an account of what things were like on the ground, for Russians, this is sure not it. This is about who knew what among various groups, many/most of them foreign. So if you want to hear a bunch about Arthur Ransome’s Russian Revolution–which, surreally, I guess I did–here is a book for you. It’s another piece in that very large puzzle. I like having more pieces, but at the end of the day I’m more interested in most of the other pieces, and I expect most of you will be too.

Carrie Vaughn, Martians Abroad. Discussed elsewhere.

Martians Abroad, by Carrie Vaughn

Review copy provided by Tor Books.

Sometimes you read the first book in a series and think, this is really well written, but it’s not for me, I should circle back when this author is doing something different. And then the author does fourteen volumes of that very popular series, and it becomes easy to not think of that. But! Molly Tanzer was glowingly positive about Bannerless, and I liked that, so when Tor had its paperback release of Martians Abroad, I asked for a review copy. I’m glad I did.

It’s pretty clear that this volume is a response–not a retelling or a rewriting, a response–to Heinlein juveniles, specifically to the loathsome Podkayne of Mars. Vaughn is smarter than to name a character pee/toilet (I know, I know, “it’s Poddy not Potty,” oh yes, that enunciation makes all the difference in the world–I have talked to people from Missouri, Bob, it totally does not), so her sibling characters are Polly and Charles, not Poddy and Clark. And…I don’t know who else sees this, but…to me, it highlighted something else. That Vaughn wasn’t just influenced by the Heinlein juveniles, the “Golden Age” SF by men. Someone else wrote teen siblings named Poly and Charles, patient analytical boys, reckless frustrated angry out-of-place girls. (Anybody? No? Madeleine did that. Meg Murry O’Keefe’s two eldest kids, who get books of their own after the Wrinkle in Time series, are named Poly–later Polly–and Charles.)

Carrie Vaughn has learned from a whole world of previous generations of speculative writers. Not just the men. And Martians Abroad is much the better for it.

So what is this book. Polly and Charles Newton are Martian teenagers who have gotten shipped back to Earth to go to school at the very snooty Galileo Academy, due to their mother’s machinations, and Polly is not thrilled. Charles is generally off in his own head, trying to weather things in his own way. Polly wants to be a pilot–she wants nothing to do with Earth–but gradually through mishap and adventure makes some friends at school. And then they begin to suspect that the mishap and adventure they’re suffering are a bit more than Polly’s penchant for getting into trouble, more than the weirdness of living in a heavily biological higher-gravity environment, more than they seem.

This is simultaneously a fun adventure science fiction novel that seems like it would be entirely plausible to give to teens and a fun adventure science fiction novel that I would be entirely comfortable giving to elders who complain that they just can’t find things like they used to like. It is both. And since it’s not extensively quoting from anything–since its argument, where there is one, is by example–there’s no need to immerse yourself in “original texts” or “source material” to enjoy it. You can just pick up a story about how weird Earth feels when you’re from Mars, how weird your teen years feel when you don’t get along with your mom, how you can find friends and learn to get along with your brother and figure out how to get the career your want that you’re really good at, if you can manage not to get yourself and everybody else killed along the way because gravity wells and biological systems are difficult, and also so is space.

Please consider using our link to buy Martians Abroad from Amazon.