I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson
Series: Chronicle of the Dark Star #1
Published by Walden Pond Press on February 14, 2017
Genres: Middle Grade, Science Fiction
Format: Print, Print ARC
Source: the publisher
Buy on Amazon
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-Chang 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.
Praise for LAST DAY ON MARS
“Emerson’s writing explodes off the page in this irresistible space adventure, filled with startling plot twists, diabolical aliens, and (my favorite!) courageous young heroes faced with an impossible task.” –Lisa McMann, New York Times bestselling author of The Unwanteds series
“Last Day on Mars is thrillingly ambitious and imaginative, a rousing space opera for any age, meticulously researched and relentlessly paced. A fantastic start to an epic new series.” –Soman Chainani, New York Times bestselling author of The School for Good and Evil
“This is perfect science fiction: a terrifying yet very cool vision of the future, lots of technological awesomeness, mind-bending alien mysteries, a mission to save the human race—and two funny, resourceful, very real kid heroes who I’d follow to the edges of the universe.” –Tui Sutherland, New York Times bestselling author of the Wings of Fire series
“A hugely enjoyable blend of adventure, humor, science, and kids trying to find their place when humanity itself doesn’t have one.” –Emma Trevayne, author of The Accidental Afterlife of Thomas Marsden
“Action-packed science-fiction adventure.” —Brightly.com
Check out this awesome Educator’s guide, which combines elements of science, science fiction, and creative writing.
Inside the Author’s Head
Welcome to the blog! Just from the synopsis, you can tell Last Day on Mars is going to be an intense book. Can you first tell readers where the idea came from for it?
I’d had a file floating around on my computer from 2006 called School Ship. It was about kids who were on a ship to another star system and were being raised and schooled by robots. I didn’t really have a story beyond that. Then in 2012, I was talking to my publisher, Walden Pond Press, about what I wanted to write next; my first middle-grade novel with them, Fellowship for Alien Detection, was in production. Two things happened. First, on a weekend drive, I got into a conversation with my wife and kids about the eventual death of our sun, and it really freaked out my daughter. The idea that this planet that we live on would someday no longer exist scared her even more than the idea that we would all someday die. So I started thinking about being a young person and having to leave a place forever, but not only that, the place you called home ceasing to exist. I remember being really distraught about moving when I was ten years old, and that was only one town over. The second thing was I saw the movie Prometheus, and I mostly hated it, but I loved the promise of it, the idea of bigger forces in the universe that we can barely fathom. The concept started to take shape, and I wrote two fledgling chapters (I always write before I outline), neither of which made it into the book. The first was a sort of journal entry from the alien character you meet in the prologue, and the second was a scene where Liam and his family have gathered on the roof of their building (in a Mars colony) to watch the Earth fall into the sun. His parents are crying, his sister acting defiantly nonplussed, and nearby some people are popping champagne. Liam feels caught, a knot growing tighter inside. That scene revealed to me that while I wanted to write an adventurous science fiction story, this would also be a story about moving, about how we react in the face of the unknown, and where we put our faith and find courage.
What kind of research did you have to do to prepare yourself to write a story on a planet that’s not our own? From your website, I know it took four years to develop this book. How much has the story changed over that time?
The story has changed quite a bit. In the original proposal. The events on Mars were only supposed to be the first third of Book 1 (Last Day on Mars is the first book of a trilogy, Chronicle of the Dark Star). But as I got into it, I quickly realized that there was an entire story to tell just on Mars. Then I got the idea to do a sort of single-day structure that would add immediacy. The basic story about Liam and Phoebe has stayed pretty much the same throughout. One thing that’s been the same all along is the tone; there’s a melancholy that hangs over the whole thing, as we join up with these characters when their whole lives on Mars are coming to a close.
I did quite a bit of research. I used to be a science teacher, and I’ve always been a space enthusiast, as well as a big sci-fi reader. I wanted readers to really feel like they were on Mars, and so I wanted to evoke the landscape and the living conditions with as much of a gritty, realistic feel as I could. I tried to balance the big wonder of other planets and space with the claustrophobic experience of space suits and dangerous atmosphere and cramped space ships. At the same time, the story takes place almost two hundred years in the future, so I wanted to give our technology a reasonable push forward, but not so far that every problem was solved. Whenever possible, I tried to find something being researched now to fuel the future technology. For example, the force field that protects the colony is based on some experiments going on right now at the University of Washington, and the rocket types and speeds are based on theoretical concepts that exist today. But then my goal with every science-related sentence was to make it concrete and understandable for a ten-year -old. That way, when the more fantastical alien elements come in, there’s a nice push and pull between the known and the unknown.
How did your studies and experiences in life help shape who you are as a writer?
I always dreamed of being an author, but then I really didn’t like my English classes in high school and college. So I majored in biology and ecology instead. That learning has always influenced my stories. And it led to a really lucky career break in Boston, where I was living after college (I moved there to be the drummer in a band). I lucked into my science-teacher job and my whole life took a turn at that point. I found that I loved working with kids, and then I fell in love with the books they were reading. My inspiration took off from there. That experience, and those kids, have been a part of every book I’ve written, and I still teach when I have time. The other big and ever-growing influence on my writing is having kids of my own, and being a parent. In Last Day on Mars, Liam has a part of me, but so do his parents.
Night owl or early bird? How does it help with your writing process?
I’m occasionally a night owl, but only for music, not writing. When I get in the writing zone, I’m an early bird. The best days are when I get up and get something on the page before I check email or read social media or anything else. Sadly, this is a rare occurrence. Honestly, most of my best writing happens between 1-5pm, after the clutter of the day is pushed aside, around the third cup of coffee.
If you could live in one ‘book world’ which one would it be and why?
Lyra’s Oxford (from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series). I think I’d be better off with a daemon setting me straight. I talk to myself enough as it is.
And finally, what other projects, if any, are you working on?
I have a new YA manuscript in the pipeline, hopefully for 2018. It’s different than my prior books, older, darker, sort of terrifying, and honestly, I’m still sort of stunned that it came out of me, but I can’t say any more about it just yet. And then at the totally other end of the spectrum I’ve been developing a young middle-grade series, also science-y and science-fiction-y, but for seven-year-olds. I hope to be able to share more about both projects later this year.
I got to meet Kevin Emerson a few years ago at a Texas Teen Book Fest and have been kind of partial to his books ever since. But, even if that weren’t so, I know I’d have wanted to pick up this book – the synopsis is everything I love in a good science fiction story. The fact that it was a middle-grade book made it all the more sweeter, because I LOVE the ever-expanding world of middle grade. It’s becoming more complex and full of stories. I guess it’s because my own child will soon be reading these books (and already is in some cases) and because as a “middle grader” myself, I didn’t have many options, but I love that more and more authors are focusing on producing quality stories targeted at this age group.
The story starts out just where the title tells us – humans are in the final days of their lives on Mars. The earth is long gone, and Liam’s parents only wistfully remember it. It was fun to imagine this in real life, only because we are just now exploring sending humans to Mars, something that will likely happen in my daughter’s lifetime, if not my own. So, while it was sad to think of this beautiful planet gone from human existence, except for memory, it was a completely plausible science fiction canon. Of course, the teens of the story don’t understand why their parents miss Earth, because they never got to experience it, but once they are faced with the threat of losing their own home, I think they start to get it. This to me is a deeper idea of growing up and leaving the idea of home behind. No matter what, there is a point that even when you come back, that idea of home is not the same. Once you cross this imaginary line of adulthood, it changes you and changes the way you perceive the world.
I love how this felt like a mix of genres – not only was it sci-fi, but it almost felt dystopian and even survivalist in nature, as Liam and Phoebe went on their quests. That added to the depth and set up the series well. While I would have LOVED to see the established world being created, it is clear why THIS is the beginning of the books. Even so, Emerson did an excellent job of world-building. I understood clearly why they were there, why they were leaving, and there was enough reality that I believed I actually was on a foreign planet.
There is a LOT of action in this book, a lot of chaos. As the synopsis suggests, Liam and Phoebe, and their parents are among the last of the humans to embark a final starship to leave the planet. But of course, chaos ensues, making for our story. There was a lot more depth to the things I thought we’d experience in the book, including dimensions, time travel, and the space-time continuum. It definitely had markers of a certain L’Engle book I learned to love in middle school. The book left enough surprise and mystery to catapult me into the next story, which I hope won’t take as long to come out as this story took to make, because I definitely want to know where we’re going next.
But most of all, I love that humanity’s future was all set on a far-off star, something unfamiliar and unknown. Because, isn’t that really how all our days are, even when we think we know what tomorrow will bring?
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