If books are supposed to be mirrors into the human psyche, the dystopian genre is the fun carnival mirror. Dystopian novel often set up premises that might be very unlikely to happen in the real world (what? Kids kill each other in an arena every year? Sure, why not) and we accept it because that’s what part of this genre is. But just because it has a “dystopian” sticker on it doesn’t mean the author can ignore ALL the fundamentals of psychology, sociology, and economics. But let me tell you, Woolston really tries and, freed of those pesky ideas of human behavior or math, MARTians is the result.
The basic premise: Not to be confused with “The Martian” by Andy Weir, a well-researched, award-winning book that combines real science with a stunning narrative and follows an astronaut marooned on Mars, MARTians by Blythe Woolston is a dystopian novel about big box corporations will eventually rule the world and be the sole reason for our society falling into the abyss.
The plot: Ugh. Okay, so Zoe, our main character, is a junior in a public school that is underfunded with a teacher that is perma-drunk. One day, the Governor closes all public schools in order to shrink government spending and BOOM! Just like that, Zoe is now a successful graduate of the system and is two job offers: to work at AllMART or Q-MART for an entry-level position. Which, as things go, is better than the alternative; a lot of her classmates are sent directly to prison after graduation.
Zoe goes home, and, amidst their perfectly staged home, Zoe’s mom tells her she’s abandoning her for the city and that this is their last night together, but now she doesn’t feel guilty since Zoe has a job. Yay Zoe.
Zoe decides to work for AllMART. She meets a lot of people with unbelievable personalities and ends up moving into an abandoned mall with other homeless kids. There is literally no plot after this, just a meandering of scenes depicting vignettes of her working, interspersed with tv ads for AllMART and scenes from the local news show that is misogynistic even by Mad Men standards.
The assessment: Ugh. Okay, so the pros first. It’s a short book and and prose is quirky. In fact, the writing was good enough that I was willing to finish the book despite the fact that I really disliked EVERYTHING about it.
The cons: everything else.
Woolston has a serious axe to grind with a lot of things, though big businesses are at the top of this list. Since the world isn’t so much a world as it is a physical example of rhetorical outrage, the world is just…awful. All consumers are slaves to advertising but have no money.
There’s no familial bonds with ANYONE and the government seems to be laissez-faire except for stuff like drug-mind-control. And keeping the prison population up.
Overshadowing the horrific world-building, the truly GIGANTIC problem with this book is the complete lack of a reason to read it. There is no character development and no plot. There’s some stuff about tuna, the newscasts…none of them actually add to plot or to character development. And Zoe herself…would be a really interesting character if she was supposed to be a robot who was programmed to act human. Then this book, written the exact same way, might have been worth one more store. But she wasn’t.
tl;dr: The entire book seems to be a vehicle for the author to show how much they think libertarianism wouldn’t work and how awful consumerism is but then forgot to add a plot or characters worth caring about.
I think a lot of this is based on the idea that Woolston tried incredibly hard to make a main character who was truly not special, and in a sense, succeeded. But it makes for an uninteresting plot.
Want to read MARTians anyways? Good for you. Do that and tell me what you think! You can find it here: Book