2014’s Mars Evacuees is the first of two volumes in Sophia McDougall’s Mars Evacuees young-adult military SF series.
The Morrors appeared from deepest space to save humanity from unchecked global warming, in return for which they asked only minor territorial concessions. Merely in the coldest regions of Earth. Well, they demanded rather than asked and their territorial demands were major rather than minor. Since the Morrors required more arctic territory than existed at their arrival, they set about cooling the entire Earth to better suit their needs.
For the last fifteen years, longer than Alice Dare’s entire life, humanity has been fighting a losing battle against the aliens.
The immediate cost of the war for Alice Dare is that her parents are assigned to combat duties far away. Her mother is a famous space combat ace, while her father crews a submarine. However, as polar ice approaches Nottingham, Alice experiences an even greater inconvenience: she and an assortment of lucky kids are evacuated to semi-terraformed, not especially habitable Mars.
The Mars evacuees all possess some significant familial connection, which justifies relocating them to humanity’s lifeboat. However, while their immediate survival odds on Mars may be better than on war-torn Earth, this does not mean they will get an easy ride. Their new home, Beagle Base, is a military school. As soon as each student reaches age sixteen, they will be dispatched to some suitable front in the war.
Alice and her schoolmates are dragged into the war almost immediately. It takes the kids some time to grasp this, however, as the first sign that something is wrong is … absence. For reasons unexplained, all of the adults vanish from Beagle. No explanatory note is left for the students. The adults never return and the students can only speculate about what happened.
It takes a surprisingly short time for the kids to form rival cabals and for the larger and more predatory students to commandeer an excessive fraction of the supplies remaining. Rather than remain for more beatings and thefts, Alice and her friends — Josephine Jerome and the Dalisay brothers Noel and Carl, plus an education-obsessed Goldfish robot — commandeer an atmosphere-capable spacecraft and flee towards Zond Base, three thousand miles (about five thousand kilometres) away.
Marooned a thousand miles from Zond, the kids must find a way to navigate the Labyrinth of Night. Mars’ cold, its thin air and the unhealthy radiation environment all present possibly insurmountable challenges. However, before Mars has the chance to kill the children, Alice and her friends make two important discoveries:
- The Morrors, who have previously ignored Mars, are present on Mars.
- So is something much, much worse.
Readers may be astounded by the speed with which the students of Beagle Base go Lord of the Flies. This book being aimed at younger readers, the worst does not happen, at least not where the reader will see it. The bigger kids settle for beating and robbing the weaker kids. At least onstage and while Alice and company are still at Beagle. I expect that by the time adults return to Beagle, there will be little corpses here and there in the facility.
Offstage is just how violence is handled in this novel. It’s a war novel, lots of people have died and are dying, Alice is fully aware of this and of the implications for her lifespan, which is unlikely to be much longer than the kids in 1959’s Die Brücke. However, although she does encounter a number of corpses, no human dies in front of Alice.
Mars Evacuees is also a colonization novel from the perspective of the colonized. It’s NOT the sort of adventure in which the invaders have conveniently centralized their command-and-control systems such that a single well-targeted strike will eliminate the invaders. As Alice gloomily realizes partway through the novel, the Morrors are, like Europeans in the New World or Angles and Saxons in Britain, on Earth to stay. Whether humans will retain any part of the Earth depends on convincing the Morrors that humans are more useful than inconvenient1.
All of which sounds pretty gloomy. The novel manages to avoid glum because the protagonist, who (while not happy about impending draft and death in combat) is surprisingly upbeat. The prose is functional enough and the plot moves along at a nice pace, new crises arriving whenever the old crises are in danger of being resolved.
How it all works out for humanity and the Morrors is left to the sequel, but I am intrigued enough to track it down.
1: And to a lesser extent, on convincing humans that cooperation with the aliens who decided to appropriate a good section of the planet makes more sense than fighting to the death.