More literary than sci-fi | BookishFirst

More literary than sci-fi

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Hao Jingfang's "Vagabonds", translated by Ken Liu, is a 600 page gut punch of a novel. It is billed as a blend of literary and science fiction, although in this case I would argue that it leans much more heavily on the literary fiction side of things. The novel follows a group of teens who grew up on Mars and are sent as a delegation to Earth for five years. The novel picks up as this group of teens returns to Mars, focusing most often on the life of a girl named Luoying. While Luoying's struggles to re-assimilate to Martian life make up many chapters of the novel, the story actually covers the key founders of the current Martian society and the struggles of this still relatively new nation. Luoying, having been one of only a handful of people to see how another society lives, returns "home" to discover that neither Martians nor Terrans (as Earthlings are called) have a good understanding of each other, but the societies have more in common than either likes to admit.

We learn the struggles of Martian life as Luoying processes her myriad feelings on the changing economic and political landscape of Mars. Overall, the story is given to deep introspection and this can become a little repetitive for the reader. For readers craving an action-packed storyline, it is unlikely that they will stick with this one. It has moments of beauty and genius, and the social commentary transcends time and space, but I doubt this is the kind of novel that the typical sci-fi fan is looking for.