Wildside Press, 2013, 242 pages
Trapped in the Warsaw ghetto in 1942, teenager Rachel Zilber escapes the horror by writing about the adventures of Zap-Gun Jack and Princess Anya of Mars. When her parents are captured by the Nazis, Rachel's transported into her make-believe world, but the danger is far from over. Together with Katie, a girl from the future, Rachel joins Jack and a rag-tag band of misfits to fight the evil Lord Ares III of Mars and restore Princess Anya to her rightful place on the Martian throne.
Combine a planetary romance with Nazi allegories and postmodernist conceit. Throw in a bunch of a wacky characters in the spirit of Edgar Rice Burroughs by way of Anne Frank. Add zany pulp sci-fi tropes almost at random. I really wanted to love Seven Against Mars, and I almost did. But the story zigged when it should have zagged at times, and the author couldn't quite decide how serious he wanted to be with his Hitler metaphors. The wildly varying mix of characters didn't always behave consistently. Nonetheless, I did enjoy this book.
Rachel Zilber is a fifteen-year-old Polish Jew living in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942. An avid fan of American science fiction, she escapes from her miserable circumstances by writing her own sci-fi stories on an old typewriter. When the Nazis come for her and her family, she runs and hides, and wakes up ... on Venus. Rescued by Zap-Gun Flash and Princess Anya Olympulska of Mars. Along with a girl named Katie, from a post-U.S. Texas that is now at war with Alabama in another alternate universe... one where Katie escaped from her own dystopian environment by reading the old pulp adventures of Zap-Gun Flash and Princess Anya of Mars, written by an unknown Polish writer from the mid-20th century...
“You sure do know how to write a love scene,” Katie murmured after a while.
“Not really,” Rachel said out of the corner of her mouth. “I’ve, uh, I’ve never been kissed. I think Jack and the princess figured it out for themselves.”
When the lovers surfaced for air the Martian princess looked around, waved shyly at Karolla, and narrowed her eyes when she saw the girls. “Jack, who are these people?”
“They’re Earthling tourists who somehow got themselves lost in the jungle. I’m just taking them back to their tour group,” Jack said.
But Anya hardly seemed to hear his explanation. Her eyes remained narrowed, focused on Rachel, who promptly broke out in a fresh sweat.
“What? What is it? What’s wrong?”
Anya walked up to Rachel, placed her hands on her Rachel’s shoulders and said something in a foreign language.
“What? What was that?” Katie asked.
Jack said, “You never talk Martian to me, honey.”
“That’s because you’re lousy at languages, my love.” Anya stared into Rachel’s eyes. “I called her my sister.”
“In Polish,” Rachel said.
“Oh, yeah,” Katie looked from one to the other. “You do look alike. A lot alike! You could be twins, almost! You both got that long, curly red hair and green eyes, and.…” She stopped because Rachel was blushing furiously.
Yes, the two girls both wound up in Rachel's fictional universe... and "Princess Anya Olympulska of Mars" is indeed Rachel's Mary Sue self-insert.
"Martian" = "Polish," Mars' capitol city is Krakowicz, and when they arrive on Mars, Rachel discovers that it is populated by warlike Martians and oppressed Hasidic Jews. Who she does not much like, as she's got all sorts of Jewish Identity issues, which evidently manifested in her fiction. Except that she never wrote Hasidic Jews into her stories. She soon discovers that while this may be "her" fictional universe that she and Katie have somehow been transported into, it has a life of its own and not every detail is under her control.
Mars has been taken over by the evil Lord Ares, who has nationalized the planet, begun suppressing dissenters and minorities, and is preparing a glorious invasion of Earth. (The word lebensraum is never actually used in the book, but it's clearly there in the subtext.) It's up to Princess Anya and her six companions to stop him.
Except that Rachel's parents are still back in Poland in 1942, and Katie's parents were last seen being taken prisoner by invading "Dixies." The girls want to rescue their own families. And Rachel still has her typewriter.
So, is this a tribute to the pulp sci-fi of the 30s and 40s, with a Jewish girl from Poland and a farmgirl from Texas replacing a Confederate officer from Virginia? Or is it a post-modernist mindfuck in which we will find out that everything is taking place in Rachel's head and she's back on Earth in a concentration camp?
It's the balance between pulp adventure and the grim implications of art echoing life where I felt Seven Against Mars didn't quite succeed in pulling off what the author was trying to accomplish. There is a lot of banter and heroic adventure and light-hearted hijinks on Mars, juxtaposed with starving escapees from Nazi concentration camps and a villainous yet buffoonish Hitler stand-in who's oppressing Jews on Mars.
The writing was uneven at times (several chapters made use of characters reflecting for several paragraphs on what just happened in order to jump ahead in time) and Katie was a bit of a one-note character, taking a swing at anyone who makes a joke about Texas. I could forgive the other characters for being a bit two-dimensional, since they were, after all, Rachel's creations. Or are they?
That said, read for what it is, a madcap Martian adventure starring a couple of spunky teenage girls, with some semi-serious historical allusions, it's an enjoyable read, and since the ending blares that Martin Berman-Gorvine is planning a sequel, I will almost certainly read the next one.
Have you read Seven Against Mars?
Verdict: A book that can't quite decide how seriously it takes itself, Seven Against Mars mixes Martians, Nazis, Hasidic Jews, Texas Rangers, rhyming Venusians, Belters, and Derrida (okay, not so much Derrida) in a fast-paced if bumpy adventure on a 22nd century Mars conceived of by a Polish girl from 1942. It's a little wacky, clever but maybe not quite as clever as the author thinks it is, but definitely fun, and worth reading 'cause it's also cheap!
My complete list of book reviews.