The Mars House: A Novel

This sci-fi romance (480 pages) was published in March of 2024 by Bloomsbury Publishing. The book takes you to a colony on Mars. Melissa read The Mars House and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.

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The Mars House

A Novel

Natasha Pulley

This delightful novel is a love story masquerading as sci-fi and fantasy cosplaying as speculative fiction. Whatever the mish-mash of labels it takes to describe it, it all works together like gang-busters.

In a not-too-distant future, London has become a drowned city. Our hero January Stirling was the principal dancer in London’s Royal Ballet. He’s handsome, incredibly fit, and has ‘an endless pig-headed ability to enjoy himself as long as he personally was mostly dry and had a camera to take pictures of the dolphins.’ When a catastrophic flood surge makes London inhabitable, he seeks asylum in Tharsis, a terraformed colony on Mars.

Here’s the thing about Mars: Its gravity is lower than Earth’s, which gives people like January supernatural strength compared to naturalized citizens on Mars. Even a gentle bump on the street could break someone’s bones. To prevent accidents (and accidental murder), Earthstrongers are required to wear metal exoskeletons as buffers between them and the Naturals.

January’s gentle soul is horrified by the idea of accidentally hurting someone — but he’s also beginning to chafe against the idea he’s dangerous, the notion that Earthstrongers are bad because of how and where they were made.

Enter one Aubrey Gale. She’s a politician verging on fascism with her push for all the Earthstrong to undergo a medical procedure of Naturalization. On the upside, it weakens their physical threat and bestows all the privileges of Mars citizenship. On the downside, it’s physically debilitating and might be deadly.

When a big event for the press goes horribly wrong, Aubrey and January are thrown together — and Aubrey makes January a lousy offer he can’t refuse: The two will be joined in marriage to boost Aubrey’s political career and secure January’s future. What could possibly go wrong?

Natasha Pulley has created two fully-rendered fantastical worlds. Her waterlogged vision of London is equal part horror and whimsy. Cruise ships float through the city, knocking the fancy bits off the Houses of Parliament. January commutes to the ballet theater via a ferry that picks him up outside his upper-story bedroom window.

The Mars colony is also fully rendered. Everything is supersized and soars into the sky. Genders have been abolished, and the population speaks Mandarin, Russian, and English. (Implants connect the language center of the brain to the internet, so the wealthy immediately understand other languages.)

Water is made in a factory, but there are indoor gardens and waterfalls galore. There’s a very spirited AI who lives in a tower. Giving away any delightful plot twists would be bad form, but there’s a gleeful pleasure in finding wooly mammoths, polar bears, parakeets, and giant dogs among the players.

Pulley also has things to say about climate change, immigration, and gender politics. But all that smart stuff unfolds through a story that includes powerful twins, a deadly dust storm, a love triangle, forays into linguistics, a mysterious disappearance that might be murder, and maybe a haunting. The way it all plays out is enthralling, and the resolution is surprising and immensely satisfying.

The simple, stupid truth was that all he wanted to do was go where there was food and heat. He was aching less with hunger than a kind of shock that it was so easy for everything to just collapse, for life to go from boring visits to the café and wondering if it was extravagant to get hot chocolate instead of coffee, to — this. He felt like he would agree to anything just to make it stop, even though he hadn’t even had that bad a time and it hadn’t lasted very long, and actually he was fine. He didn’t know the first thing about Tharsis, but he did know he didn’t have it in him to try and get to Riyadh or Lagos or Beijing. He wasn’t made of hard enough stuff for that. And the famous thing about Mars was that there was no water. That sounded pretty bloody marvellous. ‘Yes please,’ he said. ‘I’d like to go.’ — Natasha Pulley

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