Author: Carrie Vaughn
Genre: science fiction
Published: January 17 2017
Source: ARC from publishers for review
Polly Newton has one single-minded dream, to be a starship pilot and travel the galaxy. Her mother, the director of the Mars Colony, derails Polly's plans when she sends Polly and her genius twin brother, Charles, to Galileo Academy on Earth—the one planet Polly has no desire to visit. Ever.Carrie Vaughn's newest young adult novel is this short but detailed science fiction story/retelling. Updating and altering the premise from the 1960's classic YA novel Podkayne of Mars by Robert Heinlein, Martians Abroad tells the outsider tale of Polly Newton, a Martian-born human journeying to Earth for the first time in her fifteen years. Most science fiction tends to explore the stories of people leaving (or having already long left) Earth for parts unknown, but this standalone imagines the opposite scenario for Polly and her twin brother. Sent away from Mars and Colony One by their ambitious and politically-motivated mother, the siblings face a myriad of issues in a relatively short amount of time: Earth-centric culture shock, mysterious accidents, conspiracies, etc.
Homesick and cut off from her desired future, Polly cannot seem to fit into the constraints of life on Earth, unlike Charles, who deftly maneuvers around people and sees through their behavior to their true motives. Strange, unexplained, dangerous coincidences centered on their high-profile classmates begin piling up. Charles may be right—there's more going on than would appear, and the stakes are high. With the help of Charles, Polly is determined to find the truth, no matter the cost.
Polly narrates and identifies as an outsider, literally and figuratively. Her story is distinct and memorable largely because of the unique and strongly-held views she has on other humans/schoolmates and about the Earth itself. Through Polly, and to a much smaller extent her brother Charles, humanity's ancestral home is viewed as an (often hostile) alien world, full of unknown dangers. This reversal of the usual narrative makes for a fresh plotline; Polly's disbelief at the realities home world (large carnivores! parasitic bugs drinking blood!) is sometimes hilarious, and sometimes thoughtful ("As much as space liked to think it, Earth wasn't totally safe. It's just a different kind of dangerous." "Sure, space would kill you given half a chance, but nobody talked about the millions of ways Earth was constantly trying to kill people.") but always uniquely hers.
The main strengths of Martians Abroad lies in its creative imagination, its unique premise, and in Polly herself. The other characters shown, even her own Martian-born twin, are noticeably much less developed in nature. Charles is deliberately and voluntarily held apart from the rest at their military/boarding school, but even the other cadets Polly is friendly with don't get a lot of characterization or much personality. The various antagonists or competitors that Polly faces manage to be a bit more intriguing and add new interest to the story. They at least have agency, though some of the novel's plotlines end too easily and predictably.
This is a rather short book and it manages to quickly cover a lot within those just-under three hundred pages. Some elements of the plot are executed better than others but Martians Abroad is fun; a creative and fresh take on a genre classic. It's ended up being a mixed bag overall; I liked Martians Abroad but a few issues kept me from loving it. The narration, though distinct and believable as a young teen, is also distant and remote. The secondary characters are unfortunately one-dimensional from start to finish. There's more to enjoy about this than otherwise, but it didn't create the emotion necessary to be a favorite.