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Seven Against Mars

Seven Against Mars - Martin Berman-Gorvine Oy vey! This one teeters right on that 3.5-star fence. Will I round it to 3 stars or 4? I don't even know yet as I start writing this review...

The premise is so crazy, absurd, and yet potentially tragically awesome that I have to give the author mad props for even trying to pull it off. Combine a planetary romance with Nazi allegory with metafictional pretension. Rachel Zilber is a fifteen-year-old Polish Jew living in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942. An avid fan of American science fiction, she escapes from her miserable circumstances by writing her own sci-fi stories on an old Corolla typewriter. When the Nazis finally come for her and her family, she suddenly finds herself... on Venus. Rescued by Zap-Gun Flash and Princess Anya, the very characters she's been writing about.

Yup, this is one of those stories where an author winds up in her own fictional universe. And better yet, the red-headed Polish — oops, "Marpolski"-speaking "Princess Anya of Mars" has a remarkable resemblance to a certain red-headed Polish girl.

That's right, much to her embarrassment, Rachel meets her own Mary Sue self-insert.

Now, the obvious guess is that this story is meant to be a mindfuck and it will all turn out to be taking place inside Rachel's head, while the poor girl is actually being shipped off to a concentration camp. I will not spoil the ending. I will, however, say that the story gets more and more elaborate as more characters from the "real world" insert themselves into Rachel's universe, and she learns that it really is a shared universe. Kaitie, a Texian girl her own age, from a far-future post-apocalytic Texas, enjoys as one of her few luxuries the old science fiction stories of a 20th century female Polish science fiction writer. And when "Dixies" overrun her parents' farm, she too winds up on Venus, meeting the author of her favorite stories.

So we're already operating on several meta-fictional levels here, and things just get weirder. Rachel, Kaitie, Jack, and Anya go on a solar-system spanning adventure, picking up a few more companions, before arriving on Mars, where they have to stop the evil Lord Ares, who is turning Mars into a disturbingly fascistic planet and making plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, Rachel and Kaitie, having figured out that they have somehow bent time and space, naturally want to rescue their own parents from their own times and places.

Seven Against Mars is mostly a zany pulp adventure with a side of rather heavy-handed allegory, and the latter actually kind of works if you keep in mind it was all conceived in the first place in the mind of a fifteen-year-old girl, but the post-modernist winks register as the author trying to remind us he's being clever. (Okay, the rhyming Venusian bugbear named "Karolla" was cute.) Does it work? Well, it works more as a pulp adventure than it does as a metafictional fable. The book can't quite commit itself one way or the other. I know I shouldn't complain about deux ex machinas when the entire novel is literally based on a deux ex machina (Rachel's typewriter), but the author (the actual author, Berman-Gorvine) pulled an awful lot of sudden inexplicable plot devices, Heel Face Turns, and "Where'd that come from?"s out of his authorial arse to keep things moving, as well as indulging in a few too many infodumps where characters narrated what happened to explain a scene jump. And at times, it seemed like the characters were too involved in being "schticks" and not reacting enough to the actual, sometimes very grim, events.

That said, it was awfully fun, and at least half-clever.

Although I'm sooo tempted to chop a star just for that ham-handed cliffhanger at the end. Though in fairness, it's not a loose thread left dangling in this story, just an obvious "Tune in next time..."

Okay, so I liked it and found it quite readable, so you get 4 stars, Mr. Berman-Gorvine. Yeah, I will probably read the sequel. If you like the idea of John Carter replaced by a nice Jewish girl and a mouthy Texian gal, Seven Against Mars is worth reading. Especially since the ebook is darn cheap. I've also got a soft spot for small indie publishers. (And by "indie" I mean an actual publisher, not the euphemism for "self-published" that all the "indie"self-published authors are using nowadays.)