Author: Sophia McDougall
Genre: Science Fiction, Middle Grade
Publication Date: March 27 2014
Paperback: 336 Pages
The fact that someone had decided I would be safer on Mars, where you could still only SORT OF breathe the air and SORT OF not get sunburned to death, was a sign that the war with the aliens was not going fantastically well.
I’d been worried I was about to be told that my mother’s spacefighter had been shot down, so when I found out that I was being evacuated to Mars, I was pretty calm.
And despite everything that happened to me and my friends afterwards, I’d do it all again. because until you’ve been shot at, pursued by terrifying aliens, taught maths by a laser-shooting robot goldfish and tried to save the galaxy, I don’t think you can say that you’ve really lived.
If the same thing happens to you, this is my advice: ALWAYS CARRY DUCT TAPE.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone but could be a series! Hopefully it is a series!
How did we get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): Paperback
Why did we read this book: Because of the promise of awesome, rounded female characters, Mars, Aliens and Robots.
…and do you know those kinds of books that you end up loving without even realising you are loving them until BOOM it hits you half way through reading it? Those kinds of books that you pick up to read because everything you hear about them prior to reading makes it sound like it’s going to be a fun read and then you start reading it and it’s like you don’t even know how or when but all of a sudden you must keep reading or else, and what was supposed to be a fun read turns into a funny read but also one where you never get punched in the face i.e. the female characters are awesome and even though it’s a Middle Grade book it is – thank gods – not written down and also a lot of the characters are not white and then there are ROBOTS on MARS and Aliens who are maybe terrifying but not terrible as most people think and there are High Stakes too and really dark moments so even though this is a fun, funny read, it is also equally one where War Has Consequences and Kids Are Not All Good Little Angels.
And it just so happens that one day Earth was invaded by these aliens called Morrors and nobody knows what they look like because they are invisible (or are they?) but everybody knows They Are Up To No Good when all of a sudden Earth is getting cooler and cooler and it’s a new Ice Age because the Morror need a colder climate but obviously humans cannot let this happen. So there is a War going for the past fifteen years and whilst fifteen years is not long enough for adults to forget How It Was Before, for 12-year-old children like Alice Dare (not Alistair), the War and how Earth is now is everything she has ever known. Her parents are part of the War Effort, her mother is actually this super famous spacefighter pilot and a BAMF and so Alice has always known that she would probably be a soldier one day. So when shit hits the fan and the call comes for her to be evacuated to Mars along with other 299 kids in order to join Soldier Academy (but also finish her studies under the tutelage of Roboteachers), she knows she has little say in that and off she goes.
And Alice is the narrator but not necessarily the only main character and so she meets other kids and becomes friends with them, especially Josephine Jerome who really wants to be a scientist and not a soldier, and brothers Noel who is the youngest and Carl who is a bit exasperating but also completely endearing. And Alice might be the protagonist but she is doesn’t save the day on her own which is very important. And the day needs saving because one day all the adults disappear and inasmuch as they’d like to enjoy the fact that they are alone without adult supervision and just to do the irresponsible thing any kid worth their salt would do, like maybe go windsurfing on the lake or something, it is simply not possible for them to just be kids because all of a sudden things go Lord of the Flies and people get hurt and Alice and Josephine and Carl and Noel as well as their Goldfish robotteacher need to like, evacuate the evacuation before they get killed by the other evacuees or terrifying aliens come to eat them.
And one of this book’s greatest strength is Alice’s narrative voice which carries this deadpan stoicism I really liked and Alice is fierce, and loyal and also loves the colour pink more than anything in the world. And her individuality contrasts and clash with that of Josephine’s really well but the book works in the way that they become complementary without making a point of making one or the other “better”. And there is a point about enemies having to work together for the common good because life and surviving and moving forward are more important than going back to restore things The Way They Were.
And…I really like this book, ok? I really, really like this book. And this is it. Simple as that. Today is Friday and I just read a book that was awesome. Life is good.
…And that was very stream of consciousness! I like it.
I agree with Ana: Mars Evacuees is a fantastic, fun, funny book. It’s a perfect example of the awesomeness of middle grade speculative fiction as it’s never written down, yet still manages to hit the target demographic perfectly. More importantly, Mars Evacuees is a smart story with genuine main characters (human AND Morror alike), logical (familiar yet also uniquely refreshing) worldbuilding, and a plot that will appeal to readers of ALL ages because it is that damn good a story.
In other words, Sophia McDougall has written a pretty awesome science fiction novel and everyone should read it immediately.
Why do I love Mars Evacuees so much? Let me count the ways:
Gender roles, female characters, and diversity. The protagonist of this piece is Alice Dare (not Alistair), who is the daughter of a famous fighter pilot war hero of a mother, and a scientist father. I love that Alice is a genuinely believable twelve-year-old, who is not exceptionally talented at flying or schoolwork, but who is fiercely loyal to the people she cares about and follows her gut instinct and refuses to give up and die, even when the situation on Mars is at its most desperate. I love that while Alice is the main character of the book and the narrative is filtered through her perspective, Alice isn’t actually the star of the piece. If anything, her new friend Josephine – who is basically a genius, but who also hates the fact that she’s being involuntarily enlisted in the army, dashing her dreams at pursuing a scientific career – is the one who saves the day with her smarts, multiple times. There are also brothers Carl and Noel who play huge roles in this book – Carl is impulsive and cocky, but beneath his brazen exterior he’s also a dedicated older brother who is protective of his sweet and compassionate younger brother Noel. In turn, Noel accepts his brother’s overprotective tendencies, but isn’t afraid to voice his own opinions – particularly useful when the group stumbles across a Morror named Thsaaa and make first contact. Thsaaa is a main character as well – I won’t spoil too much, except that I love that the Morror species is very different from humanity, from the way they do math (non-base ten), to the way they communicate (visual/sensory/color), to their gender and sexual identities (non-binary). MORE OF THIS, PLEASE. Also on the diversity front, the cast is predominantly people of color! Carl and Noel are Filipino-Australian brothers, whose cultural and language cues are integrated in the story in a natural way (e.g. see first scene when Alice sees Carl showboating and is confused when Noel calls him “kuya”); meanwhile Josephine (brilliant, brilliant Joesphine!) is black.
Finally, Mars Evacuees is so impressive in terms of its characters because they are all genuine, flawed individuals that must work together in order to prevail and survive. No one is perfect on their own, and it truly takes the effort of teamwork and friendship to make things happen.
Terraforming, worldbuilding, and the alien war trope (with a compassionate twist). As its title suggests, Mars Evacuees takes place on…Mars. This is a Mars that has gone through the initial phases of terraforming, with the restoration of a thin oxygen atmosphere, and introduction of Earth vegetation and bacteria. While walking around on the planet’s surface without bulky space suits is possible, there isn’t enough oxygen to sustain human life without some external tank/breathing mask supplementation – but it’s getting there. The vision of Mars in this book – with a few military domed outposts, a relatively small human adult staff and a much larger stable of specialized robot workers (from teachers/caregivers – more on that in a bit – to terraforming/farmer bots) is believable and well-conceived.
More importantly, Mars Evacuees is the story of an alien civilization that has come to Earth and waged a war for unknown reasons. Despite being at war for nearly two decades, very little is known about the Morror – other than they have technology that renders them invisible to the naked eye, and that they are terraforming Earth to suit their own ideal climate (essentially triggering a new ice age). When Alice and her friends stumble across the Morror on Mars, however, a new understanding of the situation evolves – and the kids are key to this important new development in Morror-Human relations. Which brings me to the next awesome thing about Mars Evacuues…
Adults don’t know EVERYTHING. They really don’t. It is the child protagonists who make first contact with the Morror, and it is because of their efforts that EVERYTHING CHANGES. In a very good way. The alien war trope usually involves evil locust-like aliens eyeing Earth with covetous eyes because they’ve squandered their own resources and planet… in Mars Evacuees, things are a little different. In a very good way.
The absurdity/hilarity factor (including robotic teddy bears and protective goldfish). Lest you think Mars Evacuees is all joyless war and gloom, rest assured that it is actually written with a deft and light hand, it is awesomely funny, and detailed, and HILARIOUS. Alice’s voice is wholly genuine as a twelve-year-old, but also she’s just an incredibly winsome narrator because she’s so frank and insightful. And did I mention the robo-teachers? There’s a talking sunflower, an inapporpriate teddy bear (that sounds terrifying, frankly), and a cheerful, syllabus-driven Goldfish. Who can zap things with its eyes. I love Goldfish.
Once again I say: Mars Evacuees is an awesome science fiction novel and everyone should read it. Immediately. Absolutely recommended, and on my shortlist of favorite novels of 2014 so far.
When the polar ice advanced as far as Nottingham, my school was closed and I was evacuated to Mars.
Miss Clatworthy called me into her office to tell me about it. I’d had in the back of my mind she might be going to say the aliens had finally shot down my mother’s spacefighter, so on the whole I took the actual news fairly well. And that’s even though I knew Mars wasn’t really ready for normal people to live on yet. They’d been terraforming it for years and years, but even after everything they’d squirted or sprayed or puffed at it and all the money they’d spent on toasting it gently like a gigantic scone, still you could only sort of breathe the air and sort of not get sunburned to death. So you can see that the fact someone had decided I would be safer there than say, Surrey, was not a sign that the war with the aliens was going fantastically well.
Still, after eight months of Muckling Abbot School for Girls, I thought I could probably cope. It was one of those huge old posh schools that are practically castles, and must have been pretty draughty even before the Morrors came along in their invisible ships and said, ‘Oh we’re going to settle on your planet!” The Morrors had told us when they arrived. “We only need the poles, which are more suitable for our needs! Don’t worry; you will hardly know we’re here! And as a sweetener we will reverse Global Warming!’ (Because that was a bad thing back then, apparently). And of course, it turned out ‘the poles’ meant rather more of Earth than we were entirely happy about, and that they could reverse Global Warming rather more thoroughly than we liked.
And so here we were.
‘Of course,’ Miss Clatworthy said, ‘it’s an Emergency Earth Coalition project and an Emergency Earth Coalition school up there. So it’s rather taken for granted you will enrol as a cadet in the Exo-Defence Force.’
Well that was a bit sooner than I expected, but I’d got the general idea of my future a long time ago, and whether I liked it or not it was always going to involve shooting things.
‘Of course,’ I agreed.
Additional Thoughts: We have a Q&A with Sophia McDougall HERE, where we talk about the book, inspirations and more.
Ana: 8 – Excellent
Thea: 8 – Excellent
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