Jim Marlowe barely remembers leaving Earth with his family many years ago. He considers himself a Martian Colonist and loves his life on Mars. He is not looking forward to going to school on Syrtis Minor, but he knows that he is of the age where he has to go. The only thing that he insists on is that his pet/friend, Willis, a "bouncer" or Martian animal that is round, furry and sticks out appendages when he wants to see or move around, come with him. His parents are forced to admit that there is nothing in the school rules that say he cannot take Willis, so Jim wins out.
On his way to school with his friend, Frank, they stop off at Cynia Station to wait for the ice to harden. Bored, the two boys decide to go and see the Martian city that lies just outside of the station. They are pleasantly surprised to meet and speak with some Martians, as they usually ignore the human colonists. There Jim makes friends with Gekko, a Martian, but insists that Willis must come with him when Gekko tries to persuade Jim to leave him there. Jim has cause to regret his insistence that Willis accompany him when their new headmaster, Marquis Howe, arrives to take over the school. It is instant hate between Jim and Howe, who infuriates Jim by confiscating Willis and caging him up in his office. Then Jim finds out that Howe is trying to sell him to the London Zoo! Jim persuades Frank to help him rescue Willis and Willis plays back a conversation between Howe and the General where the two boys learn that the Company (the Earth conglomerate who owns the colony) is determined to save money by making the colonists stay on one half of the planet where they will live in bitter cold, -100 below freezing, for one Earth year and then have a normal year, etc. Jim and Frank are determined not to let this happen. They carefully plan their escape and they are off to save their families! What Jim doesn't realize is that he and Willis will do much more than save his own little colony - the fate of all humankind on Mars rests on him and his little round friend...
This book was originally published in the '60s and we obviously have more information Mars since then, but Heinlein's speculation on what Mars may be like does not detract from the story at all - in fact, it is rather fun to read about what he thought Mars would be like. Heinlein's characters are engaging, if a little flat. I do not feel that he took very much time to develop any of the characters so they would become fully fleshed out, but the plot is very fast paced and full of action. This is a great book for children who are in 4-8th grade and their parents/older siblings will enjoy it, too. Many readers will feel that it is a kind of science fiction Harry Potter book and I think that the young readers will really enjoy it.
This report prepared by Debbie
This is one of Heinlein's earliest works, the story of two boys named Jim and Frank who live in a community of human beings on Mars, together with their pet "bouncer", a kickball shaped Martian animal named Willis. When Jim and Frank get sent off to boarding school on a different part of Mars it's only natural that they take their pet with them, but all three get in trouble with the strict headmaster. Along the way they uncover a plot to prevent the colonists from migrating to the equator during the cold Martian winter, and help lead an insurrection against the evil company which is trying to save a buck by stopping the migration.
The last forty pages or so of the book, describing the revolt, is very interesting, but most of the book is regretably slow. Jim and Frank walk along the desert. Jim and Frank visit the Martians, and fall asleep for a while. Jim and Frank run away from school, walking some more in the desert, etc. Like most early Heinlien books, the characters of Jim and Frank are about as two-dimensional as you can get. And at some points, Frank is called "Francis", which made me confused as to whether or not he was a girl.
This report prepared by Steve