Monday, November 2, 2020

Arabella of Mars (Adventures of Arabella Ashby#1), by David D. Levine (author), Barrie Kreinik (narrator)

Macmillan Audio, August 2016

This is set in a universe where there's atmosphere in space, and vessels that are a cross between airships and sailing ships ply the routes between the planets. We're told that Venus has swamps, in the good old tradition from before we knew what was under its clouds, but this story is about Mars.

This Mars is dry, but has a breathable atmosphere, and an intelligent native species that is crablike in appearance, but much larger, and upright. And, since this is 1813, and it was Isaac Newton watching bubbles rise that led to the airships and spacefaring sailing ships, Europeans have colonized Mars.

There's no real explanation of how this came about. But, despite what some readers will be thinking, it is a lot of fun.

Arabella Ashby, 16 years old, and her older brother, Michael, as well as their younger sisters, were all born on Mars. They live on their family's estate, which grows the woody plants that are the family's main source of income. It's their mother's opinion that Arabella has been learning entirely too much from her Martian nanny, and isn't at all learning to be a proper English lady. After one final outrage (Arabella is slightly injured playing a Martian strategy game with Michael and the Martian nanny), Mrs. Ashby announces she's taking the girls back to Earth.

This is boring, frustrating, too hot, and very heavy for Arabella, and she doesn't like any of the suitable young men her mother introduces her to, but it's survivable--until word arrives that Mr. Ashby has died. Then, Arabella visits her cousin, Simon Ashby, and his wife, and accidentally plants the idea that the unscrupulous Simon can eliminate Michael and essentially steal the inheritance, which is entailed on the male line.

Arabella starts running, planning to send a message to Michael to warn him that Simon is on the way, and after a series of delightfully improbable events, she has enlisted as "Boy, 2nd class" on the Marsman (think Indiaman, ships of the British East India Company) under the name Arthur Ashby. Her skill with automata, well established earlier in the story, is a major enticement for the Captain, Prakesh Singh, who has an automaton navigator. He'd like someone willing to learn to use and maintain it, and resistance in his existing crew is unhappily strong.

Soon she's learning to sail space, the rules of life among men on ships, with all the expected adventures--including a privateer attack, and a mutiny on board--as well as learning the finer points of navigation and the operations of the automaton. But all the events that make the trip more exciting, also delay this otherwise very fast ship, and the murderous Simon is going to get to Mars ahead of her.

And then there's a native uprising on Mars.

This really is a lot of fun, improbable as it all sounds. Also, Levine doesn't hesitate to comment, deftly and effectively, on the sins of colonialism, and lack of respect and understanding of different and especially "primitive" cultures.

Definitely worth a read or a listen.

I bought this audiobook.

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