This review of A Martian Poet In Siberia by Duncan Hunter was written in 2002 for the British Science Fiction Association magazine, Vector.
1st Books Library, 2002, Paperback, 176pp, £11.58, ISBN 1-4033-2357-7
What an unexpected little gem of a book!
A Martian Poet In Siberia is the unprepossessing tale of a limited and delicate Martian colony, the only known survivors of a massive meteor impact on Earth that has wiped out all humanity, if not quite all life. It’s a solid, if not a new, sf idea.
Han, the book’s narrator, has lived all his life on Mars but joins one last small expedition that hopes to try and recolonise Earth. That’s pretty much the entirety of the plot, but within such a simple summation lurks a beautiful short novel (more of a novella really).
The book is supposed to be a memoir left behind by Han and his fellow Martian settlers on Earth for the future. It intersperses remembrances of Han’s upbringing on Mars with snippets of ‘historical’ information and longer musings upon the meaning and possible future of humanity.
Han is of mixed parentage and ancestry but clearly it is his Chinese lineage that has moulded him the most – that and spending his life on an entirely dead and deadly world. His narration is of a measured and philosophical nature – no ravening rays and implacable invaders here, he muses more about his own alien-ness in coming to a devastated but quickly recovering Earth he has never seen from a barren Mars he knows well.
Han is wistful and open-minded rather than seized by any driving pioneer spirit to repopulate the Earth, recognising the astonishing luck that has preserved them thus far and which will be needed for them to continue. He is humble before the all-too-well-known unconscious power of the universe and in recognising the fragility of the life within it. This is a mode of telling rather underused in Western science fiction I think, because often unsuited to the positivism and brazen sense of wonder underlying more traditional American and British SF.
The author, Duncan Hunter, lives in Hong Kong and the whole of this book has an Oriental flavour, from the philosophical musings to the poetry. It’s a very gentle, quiet and understated tale replete with ideas enough for a book twice the length. Given humankind’s parlous state of affairs in A Martian Poet In Siberia I think it sets exactly the right tone: cautious and introspective, but hopeful.
This is an understated and heart-warming piece of writing that deserves republishing as soon as possible for a much larger audience.