Where I Got It: Review copy through NetGalley (thanks!)
Who I Recommend This To: Curious about the insides of alien pets? If you jumped up and down in excitement, then this book is worth your time.
Publisher: Strange Chemistry (2013)
Length: 304 pages
Series: Zenn Scarlett Book 1
Set at the Ciscan Cloister Exovet Clinic on Mars, Zenn is in her final few weeks of training, and testing, to become an exovet. Throughout the book, she sees to the biological needs of the cute and fuzzy, the regurgative and smelly, the large and faithful, and the deadly and swift. At 17, she is dealing with several stressers on top of trying to pass her finals: her mother was lost in an unprecedented exovet accident years ago and her father left her with her uncle at the Cloister to search for answers; she herself has been having odd spells that leave her in the lurch at the oddest moments; and of course, there is the potential entanglements of a first romance in the making. On top of that, the lease is almost up on the Cloister’s lands and the bulk of people on Mars feel there is a better use for the lands than pandering to the needs of infirm and sickly alien beasites.
Zenn herself is often thoughtful, driven, and focused on the animals (though many wonder why she isn’t more interested in the local available boys). She often feels a stronger connection to the animals she tends than to any human outside the Cloister. The story is full of intriguing alien species, and their ailments. Add to that, some cool vet tech, and you have a bio nerd fest in the making. I also enjoyed the mystery of the various ‘accidents’ involving the beasties. townies push hard from every direction to shut down the Cloister, not renew their lease, and use the land for agricultural purposes. Indeed, Christian Schoon is an author to keep an eye on as I expect his writerly talent will increase with each book.
While there are many things about this book I enjoyed, the underlying plot could have used a little more polish. The driver for much of the book was that the bulk of the farming populace of Mars had an underlying fear and detestment for all things ‘alien’, which meant the Cloister was shunned by the bulk of the community. Truthfully, I had trouble buying into this premise as they are humans living on an alien world and many of them use or have alien items and/or animals on their farm. But once I turned off the part of my brain that kept saying the basic plot didn’t carry the weight of the entertainment value for me, I was able to focus on the cool tech, the aliens, and the sometimes vomitous situations Zenn found herself in.
One of the things I love about science fiction is when the author captures the feel of the location (like Mars) and that the location itself shapes the culture of the inhabitants. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein is a great example of this. Ray Bradbury’s Mars stories are not; he builds a great story and characters, but they could be placed anywhere including your nearest small town on Earth. Zenn Scarlett wavered back and forth on this; the requirements of living on Mars forces the communities to live under atmospheric domes, hence forcing a cultural norm of bubble communities. However, many of the characters talk and think like your nearest small town agricultural center. With that said, I still had one repeated nerdgasm after another over the biodiversity on display.
What I Liked: Cool tech; lots of alien pets; Zenn was an easy character to connect with; the immediate crisis was solved while leaving a bigger, over arching mystery for another book.
What I Disliked: The underlying plot did not hold water for me; sometimes felt a little to small town Earth for me to believe we were on Mars.
What Others Think: