Martian Child: A Novel About a Single Father Adopting a Son
by David Gerrold
This isn't a work of Science Fiction, though it might as well be. It's a story about how a boy named Dennis came to be adopted by a man named David Gerrold, and it's a story about how love isn't a guarantee that things will work out.
I said it isn't a work of Science Fiction. Well, it doesn't take much to think of it as one. Dennis came from an abusive background and had been floating in limbo in the child care system, heading for permanent institutionalization for ADD and a collection of other "hard to place" traits and he told everyone he was a Martian. David Gerrold, as you probably know, is a Science Fiction writer. He broke into the field with the famous Star Trek episode "The Trouble with Tribbles" and made a name for himself as a worthy successor to the Heinlein tradition with his Chtor war series. Just to make things more interesting, David is gay.
If you hit that paragraph with an inter-dimensional-widgit just right, it is Science Fiction. As a matter of fact, it's practically Stranger in a Strange Land without any help at all.
It certainly doesn't hurt that Gerrold is telling the story of what must have been his biggest life-challenge from the heart, and that he's an exceptional writer to boot. By the end of the first 50 pages I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, as he no doubt intended, as we wade into the story of adopting a boy everyone said not to, which was just the sort of thing that David couldn't turn away from. Besides, Dennis was a Martian.
At 190 pages, The Martian Child isn't much use for keeping the door open against a strong wind, but it certainly gets the job it needs to do done. Written now, seven years or so later, the author has a fair idea of how things turned in long run, so I never got the feeling that when the book was over it would wishfully decide that they had lived happily ever after...whether they wound up on Earth or on Mars. Whether they wound up together or not.
I found it easy to care about both of the people central to the story, and I read through the inevitable crisis on tiptoes. My family was "Disneygraded" when I was a little younger than Dennis is in the story, and no doubt that made it that much easier for me to respond to the story. More than that though, as a part of the SF community, this is a story about one of our own, and like all communities, we have a natural desire to look after our own. Of course, as Winne-Ther-Pooh, knew, and the author discovers, stories are always about "us" in the end. Though David is writing about his relationship with Dennis, its his relationship. Though we care about the people in the story, we are ultimately looking to see if there is anything in it that will tell us how to live in this strange land ourselves. And there is.
Maybe in the end, all children are from Mars and parents are from Earth.
Disneygration: by holding their fingers in a certain way, Martian children are able to reduce matter into its component atoms. No wonder there are no signs of life left on Mars.
© 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu