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The Kids Are Alright

September 19, 2014

We have an exciting first for OPB! AEC Stellar Publishing, Inc. has gifted me a very entertaining e-book. The novel, Matter of Resistance, was written by first-time novelist, and former NASA rocket scientist, Ray Vogel.  Vogel is also the owner of the AEC Stellar Publishing.

A Marsian child is born against the backdrop of a war between Earth and Mars. Marsians refer to themselves as such because “Martian” is a bit of a loaded term for the human settlers of the red planet. The war stems from the strained relationships caused by political differences and the limited availability of Magnematter, a valuable, enigmatic Marsian resource. Earth’s war effort appears to be spearheaded by megalomaniacal corporations that may have usurped traditional government. The stakes and tension build over the course of more than a dozen years as the young Marsian, Isaac Raleigh, matures into a generational leader, while Earth and Mars race to develop the necessary means to accomplish their ends.

matter-of-resistance

This story was originally billed to me as YA (young adult) sci-fi. While it handily fills those shoes (gloves?), I feel the YA label does it a disservice. To be sure, Matter of Resistance is a champion of youth, and provides valuable messages for young readers.  Jimmy Kimmel recently called YA fiction, “fiction that people actually read.” YA suggests something indulgent. Matter of Resistance is enjoyable, but it is not indulgent. It combines compelling human characters, emotional and moral complexity, and some credible scientific postulation to boot.

I mentioned that Resistance is a champion of youth. In fact, the story is predicated on the idea that each new generation is meant to surpass the one that came before. Vogel even goes as far to suggest that on Mars, each generation experiences an exponential growth in intellectual capacity, due to Mars’ lesser gravity allowing humanity to evolve in ways that were impossible on Earth. This idea is represented by young Isaac, who, even as a newborn, seemed to have an uncanny awareness for the world around him and quickly grows into a charismatic leader of the Marsian masses. As the conflict escalates, it’s up to the tween-aged Marsian crowd to develop the technology needed to fend off Earth’s military forces. Vogel’s story urges us never to forget that the future is bound to end up in the hands of the younger generation and it would be unwise to forget that generation’s importance.

Vogel shows the ability to craft fine dramatic sequences. In one climactic chapter, the oligarchic Marsian council takes steps toward accomplishing a planet-wide togetherness (how quaint!). Just as things are at their rosiest, the colony is blindsided by the death and destruction of an Earthican attack. This happens near the mid-point of the novel and the rest of the story is gripping enough to leave you hoping for the best but expecting the worst as you thumb the remaining pages.

The Marsians are a truly impressive conception. Like Tolkien’s elves, it is clear that Vogel has a great love for his ideal beings. While the elves make for a good literary comparison, Vogel’s Marsians bear strong resemblance to Gene Roddenberry’s beloved Vulcans. They have a passion for logic and learn from an early age that emotion can only cloud objectivity. They learn these traits from an early age and quickly develop beyond the capabilities of even their parents. This suggestion is supported by the fact that only Isaac’s generation of Marsians get much of Vogel’s ink, even in the face of interplanetary war.

The Marsians speak very properly. I admit that in the early sections, I was not prepared for the the drawn-out manner of Marsian speech. It actually seemed to hurt the pacing at times. However, when Isaac comes face-to-face with Earth’s Major Arrechiga (screen-to-screen, that is), who speaks in contractions, it all pays off and helps illustrate fundamental differences between the two societies.

As a 162 page e-book, or 318 in paperback, Matter of Resistance is a pretty quick read. A morsel. That said, I feel Vogel’s debut effort makes a big impression and has the heft of a classic. Being a fan of Robert A. Heinlein, I’ve noticed parallels. If Heinlein were a chef, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress was the four-course meal, I would have no problem with Matter of Resistance being served afterward as a kind of Heinleinian dessert. This may be Vogel’s first novel, but we already know he can combine imaginative speculation with cunning sociological observations that evoke the late, great “Dean” of science fiction writers.

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