With her 2012 Kirkus-starred novel, Saving Mars, author Cidney Swanson has crafted a sci-fi tale meant to appeal to fiction lovers and lovers of the red planet alike: “Because I didn’t want to assume my readers would be Mars-o-philes like me, I felt it was very important to imbue my main character and her world with things that would feel quite everyday,” she says. To date, that appeal has been noted by both fans and critics—Kirkus Reviews said, “Swanson paces this story beautifully, weaving exposition tightly into the plot as disaster interrupts everyday routines. Despite the strangeness of the Martian environment, the novel quickly establishes the humanity of Jess and other characters.”
The characters’ humanity tends to readily draw in readers and was one of the reasons that the book landed on Kirkus’ Best Indie Books of 2012 list. “My favorite reviews,” Swanson says, “come in two flavors: ‘I don’t like sci-fi but I loved this book,’ and its cousin: ‘This reminds me of the sci-fi I grew up on and loved!’ ”
Swanson’s obsession with the genre—which she states on her website has been lifelong—is evident and has garnered her much success. Swanson, agented by Michael Carr of Veritas Literary Agency, now works full-time as a writer, and Book 1 of Swanson’s Ripple Series spent over two weeks on Amazon’s Best Sellers in Teen Books list, no small feat. Blogs like The Bearded Scribe and An Eclectic Bookshelf have taken notice too, and Swanson’s own blog—conversational, convivial, fun—yields frequent visitors and contributors, with many participants in her regular giveaways.
And there is something decidedly classic sci-fi about Saving Mars—Swanson cites Bradbury as an influence—which makes for a ripping good tale. The novel details the adventures of Jessamyn Jaarda as she travels to Earth to replenish a dwindling food supply on her native Mars, and it puts the character of Jessamyn front and center. Her characterization as strong-headed, compassionate and flawed differentiates this book from a lot of disposable YA genre fiction. To describe her own writing, Swanson says, “The characters and their relationships, and how they sort through danger and heartache, are what ultimately keep readers turning pages.”
But make no mistake—there is plenty of action here for readers to chew on, as evidenced not only by brisk sales, but the enthusiastic support she’s found for her work. “I think most of us humans get goose bumps looking up at a dark sky sprinkled with diamond dust,” Swanson says, “and I wanted to capitalize on that shared experience.” Space battles with lasers, a fully realized futuristic world, even a bit of budding romance: All the things readers hope to take away from books like these are here, in spades.
Saving Mars strikes the difficult balance between shared experience and the speculative work that readers of sci-fi pine for. Once Jessamyn arrives on Earth, she encounters the “Re-Body Movement,” where humans swap consciousnesses among themselves, so that much younger people inhabit the bodies of older folks and vice versa. Though treated suspiciously by Jessamyn, it’s not difficult to see Swanson’s young-souls-in-grown-bodies interest as it relates to books: “I never stopped reading YA even after I ‘grew up,’ ” she says on her website. “I love stories that are full of action and where the characters change and where there is hope. So much adult fiction is just depressing. I’ve never really enjoyed it. Plus, books were my life when I was young, so I hope to do a teensy bit of paying that forward.”
Fortunately for readers, Swanson is paying it forward with Saving Mars, its recently released follow-up, Defying Mars, and her upcoming third installment, Losing Mars.