by Carrie Vaughn
Cover Artist: Paul Youll
Review by Sam Lubell
Tor Books Kindle Edition ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765382207
Date: 17 January 2017
Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn is an interesting homage to Heinlein's Podkayne of Mars crossed with a Young Adult boarding school book. The result is YA science fiction novel with a few interesting characters, but a rather thin plot. I admit I spent much of the novel wondering if the links to Podkayne were just a coincidence, as the plots and setting are completely different, until I reached the end which is too similar to be anything but intentional.
The viewpoint character, Polly Newton, and her genius brother Charles are sent by their mother to go to the very exclusive Galileo Academy on Earth. Polly, who wants to become a starship pilot, thinks that Earth is "old, grubby, crowded, archaic, backward, stifling", so regards this as a disaster.
Once on Earth, Polly is constantly getting into trouble for not following directions, trying to get on the bridge of the spaceship, ride a motorcycle, or sneak out of a field trip to see the city for herself (and touch a horse) rather than just view museum exhibits. The Earth students look down on the handful from off-world, who admittedly need time to adjust to Earth's gravity and know little about Earth history. There are some typical school story tropes -- the mean girls, dating issues, the handsome guy who invites Polly to dance only to embarrass her. Polly is constantly homesick and feels out of place (naturally, her brother takes to everything quickly and easily).
But when something goes wrong, a classmate gets kidnapped or an avalanche leaves another classmate clinging to a ledge, Polly's the one who immediately takes action. Strangely, this tendency becomes increasingly necessary as something goes wrong on every single one of the Academy's field trips. Even the Earth students grow suspicious.
For adult readers, much of the fun of the book is catching allusions to Podkayne of Mars which has its main character Podkayne Fries, Poddy to her friends, and her genius brother Clark, on a voyage to Earth (admittedly they never get there). Charles leaves notes for his sister, just as Clark does. And, as previously mentioned, the endings are very similar even though the two books get there in very different ways. Fortunately, Martians Abroad does not have the sexism that Podkayne of Mars displays. Still, it would be interesting to give a teenager both books and see which one they like better.
Carrie Vaughn is best known for her Kitty books, a contemporary fantasy series about a werewolf talk show host. She has also written a couple of superhero novels-- After the Golden Age and Dreams of the Golden Age--which might also qualify as Young Adult.
Essentially, Martians Abroad is a boarding school book set in the future. Both Polly and Charles are interesting characters and the book reads very quickly. The book would be a good fit for teenage girls looking for YA science fiction with strong female characters. An extended excerpt is available on Tor.com's website (see link a the top of this review).