Superstition in Space: Mary Turzillo’s Mars Girls

Mars Girl Cover, Mary Turzillo author photo, Apex, 2017

Mars GirlsMars Girls Mary Turzillos Apex 2017

Mary Turzillo
Apex Publishing
June 2017

A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Even for people who know little about her previous work, known for its exploration of the potential of humanity on Mars, it is easy to fall into the society Mary Turzillo has created in her new novel Mars Girls.

It tells the story of two girls, both born and raised on Mars, who find themselves caught up in the struggle between science and superstition. As some unsatisfied Martians wish to return to Earth and others want to rush the journey into the great beyond, the girls get trapped in the middle as their parents’ research is plundered in the desperation. The girls are dragged into the plans of a superstitious cult that could leave them frozen and lifeless in the unexplored corners of space.

Turzillo’s ability to build worlds is masterful. I found everything from colloquialisms to gender roles easily established in the first couple of pages, without overloading the story with exposition.

It’s easy to engage with the protagonists, two teenage girls who, over the course of the book, mature from schoolgirls to the pioneers of their own world-changing adventure. It struck me that, unlike many YA stories that age their protagonists prematurely, Nanoannie and Kapera do not grow so much that I ever forgot they were so young. They still felt realistically like girls, smart and tenacious but still on the path to womanhood.

Their naïveté and at time tenuous grasp on what is going on around them meant that there were times when I felt as lost and confused in their narrative as they did. The first half of the book felt like a mystery that wasn’t going to come together.  But I found that this sense of floating in an alien world made all the revelations as the girls delve deeper into the conspiracy surrounding them all the more exciting.

By splitting the narration between the two of them, Turzillo creates a heart-warming – and, at times, heart-breaking – sense of their friendship, and how it is tested. The tone shifts from scene to scene in a way that gives a really clear sense of the girls’ attitudes towards increasingly dark situations, from dogged determination to bleak resignation.

The book as a whole shows a great understanding of real science. It made the futuristic gadgets seem almost familiar through description that reminded me of real technology that exists today, from realistic space suits to the communications systems that feel like super advanced version of contemporary mobile technology.

As well as predicting the way science will advance in the future, the story also explores how religion, spirituality and pseudo science will progress. I liked its acknowledgement of the strength of humanity’s inability to let go of comforting beliefs and how it can push them to extremes, which I’ve often thought is neglected in sci fi in favour of a focus on cool futuristic technology. This belief makes the villains such interesting characters – they genuinely believe that they are in the right and that their actions are for the greater good. Even as their plans unravel, the more impassioned cling to their crumbling belief.

I really enjoyed the idea that, even as humanity successfully explores the universe, there will still be cults out there that aren’t satisfied with the wonder of reality. I think this book manages to blend a deep exploration of humanity with a great interplanetary adventure, and is peppered with fun Easter eggs that sci fi connoisseurs will love.

If you’re interested in learning more about Mars Girls check out our interview with Mary Turzillo earlier this year.