The Strange (2023, Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers) 3 stars

1931, New Galveston , Mars: Fourteen-year-old Anabelle Crisp sets off through the wastelands of the …

The Strange

3 stars

The author's notes of this book pitch it as Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles meets True Grit, which I think is quite accurate. If I had to sum up the premise, it's "shitty teen blackmails local fuckup to help her recover a stolen recording of her mother through a journey across a desert filled with weird horror".

The Mars of this book feels very much like an extension of the American west. Here, the first Mars landing was in 1864, there's some wars with Germans over territory (a WW1 analog?), and folks are mining and settling Mars when this book takes place in 1931. This book doesn't concern itself with things like breathable atmosphere or domes, and instead is much more vibes-based about Martian dirt. When a spacesuit does show up it's a classic horror element rather than anything about breathable air. (In some ways this retro future conceit reminds me of Malka Older's The Mimicking of Known Successes where despite being a space city on Jupiter, it feels like a direct extension of Sherlock's foggy London.)

I enjoyed this even as I found the protagonist Annabelle a bit insufferable, and the vibes-based space science a little hard to wrap my brain around. I particularly enjoyed the horror elements (ghost gardens! angry war machines! possessed space suit!) and the retro robots whose programming is on physical cylinders that are inserted and removed from them. I also love a good abandoned colony story too.

(Also, here's a few other content warned thoughts.)

Content warning native americans, genocide mention