Thursday, 19 February 2015

MARS EVACUEES by Sophia McDougal - reviewed by Cecilia Busby

"When the polar ice advanced as far as Nottingham, my school was closed and I was evacuated to Mars."

I'm a great fan of science fiction, and it's cheering to see proper sci fi (as opposed to its disguised cousin 'dystopian fiction') starting to appear once again in children's books. Sophia McDougal's MARS EVACUEES is unquestionably proper science fiction, and what's more it's clearly aimed at pulling a few more girls into the genre, or at least giving those that are there already some decent role models. McDougal's heroine, Alice Dare ('Alistair? Funny name for a girl', is the inevitable comment from anyone who asks her name...) is the daughter of an ace female fighter pilot, whose success rate in the war against the invisible aliens who have invaded Earth is legendary. The aliens - the Morror - are using technology to alter the earth's temperature so it becomes more suited to their physiology: hence the encroaching ice sheet that causes Alice, and 300 other children from important families, to be sent to Mars. But Mars is only in the early stages of being terraformed and the station where they arrive is in the middle of a dangerous wilderness.

Alice rapidly makes friends with a rather odd-ball girl called Josephine. Clever, musical, unconventional, she is the target of bullying from some of the more preppy kids and the two form an alliance, which becomes even more important when the adults disappear and the children have to fend for themselves, along with some cheerful robots who zip around after them and continue to insist that the kids learn English grammar and quadratic equations while they hunt each other, 'Lord of the Flies'-style, around the station. Eventually, Alice, Josephine and two Philippino-Australian brothers, Carl and Noel, escape, but heading out in the wilds of Mars with only a fish-shaped educational robot to help them may not be the smartest move they could have made, and the Mars wilderness turns out to be not so devoid of life as the human colonists had supposed....

I really enjoyed this book - it has fabulous characters, edge-of-the-seat suspense, and some big themes - family, friendship, love, betrayal, war, forgiveness, aliens and the importance of duct tape. Thoroughly recommended for boys and girls in the classic 9-12 bracket, and fun for older readers too!

(And for those among you with access to technological wizardry, there's even a space-fighter training app to go with the book, which you can download free from i-tunes here or Play here). 

Cecilia Busby writes fantasy adventures for children aged 7-12 as C.J. Busby. Her latest book, Dragon Amber, was published in September by Templar.

"Great fun - made me chortle!" (Diana Wynne Jones on Frogspell)

"A rift-hoping romp with great wit, charm and pace" (Frances Hardinge on Deep Amber)


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