Sunday, May 8, 2011

Tales from the new frontier: "Attlee and the Long Walk" by Kage Baker

Finally, I started reading 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 Kage Baker, Alastair Reynolds, Nnedi Okorafor, Stephen Baxter, Nancy Kress, Cory Doctorow, Rachel Swirsky, and Kim Stanley Robinson.

The first tale in the anthology is “Attlee and the Long Walk,” written by the late Kage Baker, who passed away in early 2010. It’s about a human girl named Attlee Bonser, who takes a long walk on a partially terraformed, colonized Mars in order to prove her courage and improve her status in the Martian Shadowcats, a YA social organization. In the process, she gains unique insight into the legend of The Old Roach and the origins of the Shadowcats. Perhaps more importantly, she finally realizes the limitations of the social and economic dynamics of the larger human collective on the Red Planet, understands her value as an individual, and seizes an opportunity to determine her own future. Here's the opening lines:
IT was close and foul in the shed as the kids packed in, giggling. Attlee wrinkled her nose. Some of the stink came from the sacks of chemical fertilizer being used as seats, and some of it was the goaty sweat of children, but most of it was the ever-present methane fug of the Long Acres....
“Attlee and the Long Walk” is followed by a fascinating author’s note, in which Baker reveals that her female character is named for Clement Attlee, Labour Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1945 to 1951.

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