A Futuristic Space Race
Review of The Last Diaspora Book 2: Mission to Mars
By Laura Clark
As Earth shrank farther and farther away, the world of humans seemed less real, while the universe of the Gods grew in front of her. She had been raised to receive Odin’s prophecy through her runes, and she trembled now to think she might have done it all wrong.
I can almost guarantee you have never read a science fiction novel that blends a dystopian future with ancient Norse mythology, but Endless Ink’s most promising science fiction author, Mandy Gardner, has done just that. This is the welcome second instalment in Gardener’s The Last Diaspora series!
Aldi Mirous’ life begins in the dark. She is born into slavery and spends her childhood and adolescence in complete silence, with barely a minute of light each day. She is a Zirten, confined to a life in a cavernous system of pits, where her Masters take advantage of her ability to interpret ancient Norse runes. There is no joy in her life, but little does she know that life on the outside will also prove to be a challenge of a different sort… This is Earth, but not as we know it.
Two years after the Zirtans are freed from their enslavement, Aldi finds herself still alone. She is now a refugee in Kikora, a hopeless city of tents. Penniless, without a family or any possessions, she and the thousands of displaced people struggle to find food, shelter, and a purpose in life. It takes a chance encounter with a stranger and a vaguely worded, mysterious note posted on the door of a soup kitchen to change the trajectory of Aldi’s life forever: “Adventurers Wanted. Expenses Covered. All Welcome.”
The adventure, of course, is the titular mission to Mars.
I always love a story in which a dedicated group of skilled individuals work together to achieve a common goal, especially when that goal seems insurmountable. With its interesting protagonist and a motley cast of characters who welcome her into the fold of their gang at the Striped Dog Café, Gardner’s novel is ultimately one of hope. It tells the story of an underdog taking a risk to rise above adversity. Of looking around at the state of the world and deciding to build something better. It is a futuristic space race with very high stakes.
One of the things I enjoyed most was the dialogue, particularly that of Guru, the spaceplane’s quippy artificial intelligence. He’s programmed to keep the human crew company and provide useful (if sometimes a little teasing) support. Oh, and he’s British.
Overall, Mission to Mars is an entertaining read. The author has used a back-and-forth structure in which she intersperses present-day events with Aldi’s back story and the events leading up to the space travel. This duality is echoed throughout the novel as Gardner explores a range of thematic contrasts: the voiceless protagonist finds her assertiveness at a crucial moment; science and technology struggle against religion; a ruined planet verses a clean slate. These are big, meaty concepts which could have been more satisfyingly explored in a lengthier novel and I couldn’t help feeling like I wanted more.
At 141 pages, Mission to Mars is a quick read and the second book in a series, with three more books planned. If you are a fan of dystopian stories or classic science fiction, there is a lot to be enjoyed about this novel.