Redworld: Year One: Too many issues with plot, character, and setting

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Redworld: Year One by A. L. Collins illustrated by Tomislav TikulinRedworld: Year One by A. L. Collins, illustrated by Tomislav Tikulin

Redworld: Year One by A. L. Collins illustrated by Tomislav TikulinI really wanted to like A.L. Collins’ MG sci-fi book Redworld (2018). An inventive and independent 13-year-old girl (Belle Song) in the year 2335 arriving on a terraformed Mars with her family and a “Home Helper” intelligent robot and having to adapt to a new world, a new (and unexpected) life farming, new neighbors (including several alien ones), and a host of dangers such as water raiders and feral animal hybrids? It sounded like nothing so much as a modern-day Heinlein juvenile, say Farmer in the Sky or (more obviously) Red Planet, two books I loved as a kid. Sign me up!

Unfortunately, my desire to like Redworld combined with my nostalgic yearning for a whiff of those early reading years could only carry me so long, and eventually disappointment won out over both, thanks to a flat setting, a character who became somewhat grating, and a host of implausible plot points.

The setting, as noted, is Mars of 2335, but to be honest, I’d be hard pressed to know that beyond the direct references to it. Granted, it’s a terraformed Mars, but aside from a few stock references to dust storms and lighter-than-Earth gravity, I never felt like I was on Mars. Or anywhere that wasn’t Earth. There just wasn’t enough there in terms of detail or vividness or otherworldliness. The book felt like it could have been set on Earth with only very minor and trivial changes, a few scattered phrases, names, and descriptions, and that’s about it. It seemed a huge missed opportunity.

Belle herself is likably bright, independent, and impetuous at first. But her impetuosity and its consequences began to feel repetitive and formulaic. And to be honest, annoying, as she never seemed to be affected by past events. It was as if every adventure happened in a vacuum. After getting one of her close friends captured by violent criminals, and potentially injured or even killed, one would think she’d at least have been somewhat affected by that experience. But there’s no sense of that the next time she does something “impetuous” (read “stupid”). Or the time after that. Or the time after that. Not to mention at some point you’d think her parents would realize that just saying “don’t do anything dangerous” wasn’t exactly cutting it.

Strong plotting could have compensated somewhat for character issues, but there were far too many implausible moments in Redworld beyond her parent’s lack of reaction and Belle’s lack of responsibility. The farmers are troubled by water raiders whose “hidden lair” is simply unbelievably close to the farms themselves and which Belle just stumbles upon. I actually went back to reread thinking I had missed something that would explain she’d somehow had traveled farther than I’d thought. But not the case. I had to do the same, also in vain, when she was threatened by a pack of feral animals, unable to understand why she wouldn’t cry for help or why her parents were wholly oblivious. These were not at all isolated cases, but I don’t want to belabor the point. Suffice to say by the end my margin notes consisted of writing several times “seriously?” The plot wasn’t helped by repetitive “recap” moments, making it obvious the different sections were written (maybe published) separately or perhaps serialized — I have no idea why an editor didn’t simply remove them.

There is a worthy underlying theme of bigotry and, to a lesser extent, environmental stewardship, that runs through, but even for a MG book it’s pretty heavy-handed and weakly resolved. And Collins does play with structure a bit by interspersing Belle’s journal entries throughout, but as they mostly recapitulate what we already know, or can assume, they felt unnecessary.

Honestly, beyond the superb illustrations by Tomislav Tikulin, I’m sorry to say that it’s difficult to find much positive to say about Redworld. And certainly, with so much good MG and YA out there, I just can’t recommend it.

Published February 1, 2018. Belle Song and her family are aliens on a new world. The Songs came to Mars to seek a new life, but living on the red planet isn’t easy. The land is rough. The people are strange. The weather is unpredictable, and water is always in short supply. However, adventure is never far away. Belle adapts to her new life on Mars, faces dangerous Water Raiders, explores wondrous ancient sites, and has other amazing adventures on Redworld. From the rich imagination of author A.L. Collins comes a fantastic sci-fi western story of growing up on the Martian plains.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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One comment

  1. I was reading your review wondering if this had originally been released as connected short stories (perhaps via a crowdfunding platform like Patreon), and in your later paragraphs you address that indirectly. It sounds like it has all the bad habits of serialized work.

    If it were truly serialized with each adventure, say, one month apart, the main character making the same mistake over and over might be slightly less noticeable.

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