Monday, June 13, 2011

Life on Mars: Tales from the New Frontier: "On Chryse Plain" by Stephen Baxter

I’m still reading my way through Life on Mars: Tales from the New Frontier (Viking, April 2011), a new original Young Adult science fiction anthology edited by Jonathan Strahan that's packed with stories from a range of contemporary writers, including Ellen Klages, Ian McDonald, Nancy Kress, Cory Doctorow, Rachel Swirsky, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Nnedi Okorafor.

The fourth tale in the anthology is “On Chryse Plain,” written by prolific British hard SF author Stephen Baxter. Set on a colonized, frontier Mars about 150 years after the landing of NASA’s Viking One spacecraft, the story revolves around two old-fashioned, historically-ignorant Mars-born boys (Jonno and Vikram) who accidentally meet a spunky, innovative, field-tripping British school girl from Earth (Natalie Rivers) on the dusty, desolate plain of Chryse. Here are the opening lines:
“YOU haven’t even seen a picture of her,” Jonno said, panting as he pedaled.
“She’s called Hiroe,” Vikram said.
“Your bride-to-be in Hellas Basin!”
“Shut up.”
Jonno laughed, wheezing.
The flycycle dipped, and Vikram had to push harder to bring them back up to their proper altitude. It was always like this with Jonno. At fifteen he was the same age as Vikram, but a few centimeters shorter and a good few kilos heavier, enough to unbalance the cycle. He didn’t have enough breath to talk and cycle. But he talked anyhow....
A solid story that blends interesting science and technology, plausible characters and dialog, and modest but attractive prose. Baxter’s note at the end of “On Chryse Plain” is refreshingly short and does not labor to explain the tale.

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