‘Lost On Mars’, at once a play on Paul Magrs own name as Mars and also playing on our fears and beliefs that make us human. This is not just a YA novel but an existential exploration of being a stranger in a strange land. For the young adults or teenager, as they are often referred to, this is something they know all about as their size outgrows rapidly the brains they need to apply at everything life throws at them. A family of settlers on Mars with limited technology and no Facebook is presumably a teen nightmare before you even start. This has already been compared to ‘Little House On The Prairie’, a book that formed part of my own literary upbringing. I can see the comparison but Paul Magrs has come up with a complete world that references far beyond that to include Jules Verne, HG Wells, steampunk and even ‘Lost In Space’. There are huge influences and he shows a great imagination in drawing elements together.
At the opening of the novel, Lora lives with her family, including Ma and Pa, Grandma with her cybernetic eye and leg, two siblings and a sentient servant bot known as Toaster who is actually a converted sunbed. Their home is on the Mars prairie and they are pioneers who scratch a living on its surface, occasionally visiting the local town for supplies. All is not well, a dust storm takes most of their corn crop and they have to barbeque their work beasts after they, too, die in the storm. Other characters include Lucille with the five o’clock shadow, her husband from the town and the Adams family who go out to spacewrecks in the wilderness and strip them for stock for their overpriced shop. Grandma and her friend Ruby are the original space pioneers, so much so that Ruby prefers to eat the food pills that they had for their journey rather than fresh food grown on Mars. There is a sense that much technology is lost and they have no contact with other towns on the vast planet. Worse than that, people are being disappeared and when Lora finds out that there are actually original Martians on the planet, she is torn between making a new friend in the mysterious Martian girl and running from an implacable enemy. In the event, it is Lora who becomes the leader when flight is necessary.
This is part one of a trilogy and the ending leaves many unanswered questions and the feeling that Lora has a long way to go. Magrs uses humour, too, and has a greater knowledge our heroine than she does of herself. This is an enjoyable read and not just for young adults. There are characters to both like and dislike frustrations and yet more questions. Sometimes the characters seem to change and this leaves us uncertain if Lora is right to trust them. It is unsettling particularly Lora’s relationship with her mum during their exile. I enjoyed getting caught up in their troubles and I am looking forward to reading the next in the series.
(pub: Firefly Press Ltd. 350 page paperback. Price: £ 6.50 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-91008-022-1)
check out website: www.fireflypress.co.uk