The Journey to Mars Girls : A guest post by Mary Turzillo

Well hello everyone! I do hope that you are all reading something fantastic! I have something slightly different on offer here. I was approached recently to read and review a brilliant piece of YA fiction, "Mars Girls" by Mary Turzillo. I will posting my review of this soon but for now I have a guest post by Mary on her journey to writing this novel, you will enjoy this I have never read a more honest piece about creativity and inspiration.

The Journey to Mars Girls:

by Mary Turzillo

My journey to Mars Girls began when I was seven years old. I looked up from the worn path that led from my grandparents’ house to the boathouse where I lived with my mom and dad. I had been searching for arrowheads and trilobites in the dirt. The sky was different that night, shimmering with curtains of light. I stared for a long time, realizing that the world, holistically, was a lot stranger and a lot more awe-inspiring than I had previously imagined. The fossils, the arrowheads, the aurora borealis were unimaginably wonderful. More, above and beyond were the stars. And there was that strange star that shone somehow more brightly red than others. I’m not sure I first noticed Mars in that moment but I do think of that night as the beginning of my fascination with all things scientific.

Shortly thereafter, as my granny and I were walking home from the frozen custard stand, we spotted a red Radio Flyer wagon filled with 20 volumes of The Book of Knowledge. It was not exactly an encyclopedia, but more like — well, a book of all the things that might interest a seven-year-old kid. My granny bought the whole set for me for a dollar (I’m showing my age, I know).

In The Book of Knowledge — and my edition was about twenty years out of date — I learned about the solar system, and the fact that the lights in the sky were, as my husband puts it, places, places people could go. (TV was not my primary source of information back then.) Mars particularly seemed to beckon. At the time, Venus looked more promising — a big swampy planet. That idea was later put to rest.

I could tell you about my paper-doll space colonies. Yes, my women space explorers wore mini-skirts. I hadn’t quite conceptualized the necessity for spacesuits at age eight. (This was pre-Apollo.) I could tell you about reading Asimov and VanVogt and Gamow, about descending on the local drugstore every Friday to get whatever SF book or books were on the spinner racks. I could tell you about Sputnik, about the moon landings. I could tell you about the quotation under my high school yearbook picture: “I want to go to the moon.” I could remember how I barely squeaked by with a B- in college calculus, which made me veer off into a major in Government, because I realized science fiction wasn’t just about science, it was also about how the future would work politically.

Flash forward to my meeting Geoff Landis, the man of my dreams, a real-live NASA scientist, who also wrote science fiction, and who gave me a birthday present that changed my life: a trip to watch Mars Pathfinder land on Mars on Independence Day, 1997. He even had an experiment (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Materials_Adherence_Experiment) on Sojourner, the Pathfinder rover. In fact, if memory serves me right, I got to hold that experiment on my lap as we drove it to an airport in Florida on its way to Mars. (Maybe it was the prototype. Not sure.)

I connected with many Mars enthusiasts at that conference, including the charismatic Dr. Robert Zubrin (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Zubrin_). It was an exciting, nail-biting time. In a big auditorium in Pasadena, I got to watch and listen as scientists and JPL engineers followed the landing of the package that contained Sojourner. You understand, Mars missions are only about 33% successful. Most of them crash.

But Pathfinder landed beautifully, bouncing (like my Mars girl Nannoannie in her Marsplane, the Origami Firefly), until the airbags deflated, the leaves of the lander opened, and Sojourner rolled out. There were no TV cameramen there on the Red Planet to record the landing, but the instruments told all. And the lander had a camera that recorded Sojourner’s adventures, including her kissing a rock that my husband got to name — Yogi.

Dr. Robert Zubrin founded the Mars Society, and I signed my name on a big document to be a founding member. The Mars Society ( http://www.marssociety.org) works to get humans to Mars and to colonize it. I attended several annual conferences, and delivered papers at some. Not all presentations at these meetings were about engineering and planetary geology. Many were about how habitats could be built, how humans could survive the trip to the Red Planet, how colonies could become self-sustaining. There were also papers about legal matters above Earth’s atmosphere, about the possible governance of a Mars colony, of music, art, and literature about Mars, and as the arts might develop on Mars. There were even papers about the spiritual and religious importance of humanity’s search to explore the universe.

This was what I had been looking for my whole life. I had a driving curiosity about the solar system. I didn’t just want pretty fantasies of space opera, I wanted realistic portrayals of how we humans could actually live on another planet.

So Kapera Smythe was born in my imagination. She’s Kiafrican (which means she has African ancestry), and she’s a smart, tough, no nonsense little girl born on a beautiful, hostile planet. She has leukemia, contracted because Mars lacks a protective magnetic shield to block cosmic rays.

Spoiler alert: Incidentally and for the record, Andy Weir’s hero Mark Watney in his excellent The Martian (2014) discovers Sojourner on the surface of Mars and uses it to rescue himself. But Kapera, my heroine, discovered it for a similar purpose in“Mars Is No Place for Children,” my 1999 Nebula winner. I’m not sure how many times it will bear being discovered again. Maybe in reality someday.

Kapera’s friend Nanoannie, who is the other girl of Mars Girls, is a crazy, imaginative, romantic teen. She lives with her scientist-entrepreneur parents on a Pharm, an outpost kilometers from other humans, where her parents are developing pharmaceuticals that can’t be created on Earth. She has no face-to-face contact with any human being except her own family, and the Smythes, who by chance live within rover-driving distance.

She is insanely in need of contact with the human world. At this rate, she will die unmarried and never experience any of the glamorous life she naively imagines exists in big Martian cities.

I read The Diary of Anne Frank in preparation for writing “Mars Is No Place for Children,” the first story about Kapera, because I wanted insight into the thoughts of an isolated girl who is in mortal danger. Both Kapera and Nanoannie have a bit of Anne Frank in them, strange to say. Anne was able to imagine a world where she would be free and safe, and she became romantically attracted to the only age-appropriate male available, a doomed romance, but understandable. Nanoannie is always looking for a cool guy. I realize she sometimes seems a bit boy-crazy. But why not? Choice of a life partner is the most important task we humans take on as teen-agers. Career comes second. To follow in the footsteps of her parents seems cut out for Nanoannie. But why can’t she explore more exotic lifestyles?

Maybe you’ve been there. Learning Excel somehow isn’t as cool as dreaming of modeling for Versace. Business math is less exciting than the babe or guy with that mysterious kanji tattoo.

And Kapera? Kapera’s a smart cookie, and her main life-task is to survive: to survive leukemia, to survive being kidnapped, and to survive losing her parents. Male companions? Well, maybe in a few years. When she gets this job done.

Anyway, I studied everything I could about how people could live on Mars and what they would do there. I learned about the stresses the Mars environment would place on humans. (Incidentally, this is not a terraformed Mars. Nannoannie and Kapera are dependent on environment suits — not spacesuits, which are for vacuum and no-gravity).

I’ve rambled on too long. I plan to write about the Facer religion, but let’s leave Nanoannie and Kapera for now.

Read Mars Girls. Tell me what you think.

As always please leave me a comment so that we can discuss.

Keep safe and happy reading

Up next: Tough Travels - Assassins