Engdahl had me from page one:
I never wanted to go to Mars. So many girls plan to be flight attendants, or ship’s technicians, or if they’re going to get a degree, they hope to land a position in the Colonies just as soon as they can qualify; and not only because of the fabulous salaries. I was never like that. In our senior year, we used to talk about college and jobs, and all the things we wanted to do with our lives—though of course we knew that for most of us, Europe or Africa or maybe Tahiti would be the extent of our travels. Even then, what I wanted was to live in a house overlooking the bay, with the sparkling blue water in front and dark trees behind, near the town where my mother’s folks had always lived. And since teaching was a career that would let me do that, I did not intend to let anything stand in the way of getting my Oregon teaching credentials as soon as I possibly could.
Recent high school graduate Melinda Ashley is looking forward to a summer with her longtime boyfriend (and secret fiancé), Ross, when her father gives her a surprising graduation present: A trip to Mars. At first, she plans to decline, but her desire to spend time with her father combined with Ross’ idiotic reaction to her once-in-a-lifetime opportunity act to change her mind.
On the way there, she meets a second-generation Mars colonist named Alex.
On the whole, I had mixed feelings about the book. I’ll begin with what I really, really liked. I loved Melinda’s voice -- it was fresh and original and genuine. Sometimes I wanted to strangle her, but I never wanted to stop reading.
Sylvia Louise Engdahl makes an excellent argument for space colonization. As I’ve always been firmly in the We-Should-Deal-With-Our-Problems-Here-Before-We-Go-Spreading-Them-Around-The-Galaxy-Or-Even-Further camp, I consider myself to be an especially hard sell. But she did it. She responded to pretty much every argument that I could come up with, and even some that I hadn’t thought of. That isn’t to say that her vision of colonization doesn’t include problems – people on Earth tend look down on colonists, and as the colonists aren’t yet self-sufficient, the Earthers are constantly complaining about their tax-dollars being spent on what they see as a useless enterprise – but by addressing the problems, her argument is that much more convincing.
My one complaint on this front is that the only character who disagrees with the colonization of Mars is extremely unlikable, so it feels like Engdahl set her up just to knock her down, rather than actually attempting to explore both sides of the issue.
Journey Between Worlds is a reprint – it was originally published in 1970, and had been out of print for some time. A lot of times, I find that older sci-fi sounds dated – the science, the jargon (real or created), the dialogue. For the most part, this one didn’t strike me as such. It wasn’t terribly science-heavy, and while major scientific advances have clearly been made, Melinda’s world isn’t all that different from ours. I found it easy to relate to her. And to her world.
My main problem, though –- and this is a big one, considering that this book is a romance –- is that I never really bought either love interest. I didn’t find either one convincing, and I didn’t find myself rooting for Melinda and Alex to work it out. That may have been because Melinda tells the reader what ultimately happens within the first few pages. Then again, I know exactly what happens between Jane and Mr. Rochester, and I root for them every single time.
Ross is a total loser-jerkface. I can deal with that. But Alex, whom I assume the reader is supposed to like, comes off as condescending and unattractively self-righteous. It bothered me that he told Melinda that her friend was a bad influence –- she was, but I felt it wasn’t his place to do so –-
A) Melinda would have figured it out eventually, and
B) If you are interested in someone romantically, it is SO not your place to act parental. That’s just icky.
I would have liked him more if he had let Melinda had come to her own conclusions about Mars –- he was always trying to show her the error of her ways, rather than let her find her own way. (That isn’t to say that I didn’t agree with him. In most cases I did, which made my feelings all the more frustrating.) As much as I liked Melinda, I never understood where Alex’s attraction to her stemmed from –- if it was that she has ‘potential’, that would make him even more obnoxious than ever.
Mostly, I wished that she had stayed on Mars because she loved Mars AND Alex, rather than just loving Alex and being resigned to being on Mars. (Think of The Blue Sword – half of the romance in that book is between Harry and Corlath, sure, but the other half is between her and Damar.)
Regardless of my mixed feelings, I’m totally going to read Engdahl's other books. I’m especially excited about Enchantress From the Stars, so I bumped it up a bunch of slots in my TBR pile. Hopefully I’ll get to it soon.