Wanting is only human. Humans are only wants. My purpose is to see tiny seeds of wanting that I can magnify and satisfy. Then, because I am human too, I will want stuff. The cycle is so beautiful. I will belong.
—MARTians, Blythe Woolston
The first line of Blythe Woolston’s MARTians—Sexual Responsibility is boring—made me laugh out loud. By the end of the book, I wanted to run screaming into the woods and never come out again.
Zoë Zindleman (numerical ID 009-99-9999) and her mother are the last people left in their housing development. For months now, they’ve lived in their own house like ghosts, never leaving personal possessions in sight, always taking care to keep the house in a pristine showroom state.
When the public school system is privatized overnight, Zoë and her classmates all graduate a year and a half early. Some of her peers head straight to prison—Everyone needs an entry-level position. Everyone needs to start somewhere, get that practical experience, and develop natural skills. Even if, like Abernathy’s, the natural skill waiting to be developed is cruelty.—while Zoë is one of the lucky few to receive two entry-level application invitations. Zoë is also the only student who receives a graduation present from the homeroom technician: an old book with brittle pages. It’s strange to be singled out, and it’s a strange gift—Zoë even wonders if her teacher could have accidentally given her an item meant to be thrown away—but she doesn’t ask questions.
After an interview process that includes blood-testing—The cells inside will whisper about what I ate for dinner and if I have a secret inclination to be diseased. Corporations have the right to know those things about me, just like they have the right to my school records, aptitude test scores, and psychological profile.—Zoë is offered and accepts a position at AllMART, an enormous big-box store that sells everything from floral arrangements to handguns, that offers services ranging from massage therapy to childcare.
The terrifying thing about MARTians is that it’s not all that removed from what our world looks like today. It hits a little TOO close to home for comfort—and that, I assume, is exactly what Woolston was going for. She writes about the importance of identity and how easily we allow our own selves to be erased; how far we will go, how much we will take, in an effort to avoid rocking the boat.
She writes about consumerism and commodification, about corporations and power, about apathy and fear, about lack of connection and lack of communication and lack of voice. She writes about the media as a dulling opiate, but also as an entity that perpetuates and spreads contempt for others, as well as contempt for ourselves. She writes about the danger that comes from getting information from only one source, and about the danger that comes from a disinclination and disinterest in thinking, questioning, stretching, trying. She writes about how everything is seen and treated as disposable, even—maybe especially—life.
It is excellent, excellent, excellent, the sort of book that challenges and possibly changes a reader’s worldview. I’ll be re-reading Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles—the book that Zoë’s teacher gives her—soon, and then I’ll be reading MARTians again. I’m excited to see the parallels between Bradbury’s wasteland and Woolston’s.
Please read it. Read it and then talk with me about it. Because if I’m going to sit here and feel disturbed and nauseous about the state of the world and the directions in which we could be headed, I don’t want to be alone.
In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.