Conditional Recommendation: Suspenseful events and amazing discoveries of two 13-year-olds as they struggle to survive their last day on Mars.
Genre: Science Fiction
After a slow start—it also just might be me because I’ve noticed it takes me some time to get my bearings in science fiction—the action and suspense completely sweep you away on an exciting space adventure with two thirteen-year old kids and their robot, JEFF. I struggled to get into this one as the plot doesn’t seem to pick up until about 100 pages in. Granted, there’s a lot to set up for the reader, characters to get to know, context to grasp . . . but I’m glad I stuck with it because it really does take you for a ride!
It is Earth year 2213—but, of course, there is no Earth anymore. Not since it was burned to a cinder by the sun, which has mysteriously begun the process of going supernova. The human race has fled to Mars, but this was only a temporary solution while we prepare for a second trip: a one-hundred-fifty-year journey to a distant star, our best guess at where we might find a new home. Liam Saunders-Change is one of the last humans left on Mars. The son of two scientists who have been racing against time to create technology vital to humanity’s survival, Liam, along with his friend Phoebe, will be on the very last starliner to depart before Mars, like Earth before it, is destroyed. Or so he thinks. Because before this day is over, Liam and Phoebe will make a series of profound discoveries about the nature of time and space, and find out that the human race is just one of many in our universe locked in a desperate struggle for survival.
Those “profound discoveries” make the plot exciting and suspenseful. I really appreciate the ability of science fiction to take big concepts—large, intricate webs of ideas—and construct them into small, enjoyable bites for the reader.
A common theme throughout fiction, and perhaps in life, is human survival. Of course, this science fiction imagines a set of circumstances in which the structures we depend on to sustain life are destroyed and humans must survive by their ingenuity, technology, and sheer tenacity. That’s what makes science fiction fun—exploring the what ifs of, in this case, planetary destruction and humans surviving in space.
Human life is valuable and worth taking risks to protect and save. Also, though there’s the usual surface-level disgust with parents, it’s clear through their death-defying actions that Liam and Phoebe really care about their families.
Liam’s mom tells him something that sticks with him through the story, compelling him to work through his fears and anxieties to problem solve or do what needs to be done. When Liam admits the hopelessness of the human race surviving in space, his mom replies, “We’ll take it one unknown at a time.” I love it. That’s how the Christian is to live life: one step of faith after the other. And you can only take the step that’s right in front of you. This mentality aids Liam as the stakes rise.
Phoebe lies to Liam once and Liam recognizes what she did as deception and he doesn’t like it. Sin is treated as sin.
Liam is a bit of an anxious guy! So many of the sensations he experiences are anxiety-related and yet, he does things anyway. I really appreciate this about him because he doesn’t let fear stop him. It stumbles him, causes him to freeze at times, but he moves forward. As a person with an anxiety disorder, I appreciate a character who portrays the right way to walk through anxiety: by doing what you would do anyway rather than avoiding and reinforcing your anxiety. Liam is a very likable character. Minus some tendencies to push at boundaries his parent’s set, he’s respectful to others, especially to Phoebe whom he helps as much as he’s helped by her. They have a great, mutually respectful friendship that’s really enjoyable to read.
There are a bunch of hints of future discoveries and unfolding plot lines—definitely setting up the first book in a series—but the book wraps up smoothly with a feeling of completion. The curtain drops on part one.
In this book (I can’t speak to later books because I haven’t read them yet), Liam and Phoebe are just good friends, along with their friend Shawn. They do nice things for each other, watch out for each other, and work as a team to survive. They also have fun together.
There is a scene where Liam breaks out in a sweat when their eyes meet and he has some internal dialogue about how weird he feels but it is quickly brushed off in adolescent awkwardness. Phoebe thanks him for being like a brother (which Liam can’t decide if that’s a good comment or not) and later on when they’re smashed together in a small cockpit during an escape she says, “Don’t get any weird . . . boy feelings while we’re like this.” Liam replies, “Shut up,” and they grin at each other. That is literally it. There’s no other “weirdness” between them besides these two instances. It’s definitely a good friendship.
Liam’s mom says, “There’s so much we don’t know that we can only do the best we can, and that will have to be good enough. Maybe that’s what being human is really about.” Being human really isn’t about just doing our best and hoping that’s good enough. Maybe in some respects, in some areas of life, but for the Christian life is about knowing God, helping others to know God and be saved, and going through life in relationship with God.
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