Ghosts of Mars by by Stuart White and Jennifer Jamieson

Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s I had a strong awareness of science fiction, but also the way the major powers were striving to get to the Moon and then beyond.  There were not many science fiction stories for children in the early days, but there was a huge amount for adults.  As a young library assistant, I devoured both crime and sci-fi stories and many of them were published in a yellow library edition by Gollancz, of which it has been said: “its main postwar strengths were detective fiction and sf: from the early 1960s to the late 1980s it was the premier UK publisher of sf books in hardcover, both native and US

In the 1970s we started seeing more books written specifically for the young reader and a particularly popular series was the  “Tripod” series by John Christopher.  However the growth in Sci-Fi was really expanded by TV series such as Dr Who, Blake’s Seven and Star Trek, but this was then overwhelmed by the franchise that is “Star Wars”.  With a renewal in the desire to return to space, we have seen another surge in books with a space setting and they are now reaching out to their new younger audiences.

Eva, the thirteen year old heroine of this story, has a lot to put up with; her mother died when she was young, she is a type 1 diabetic and she has the dubious distinction of being the first human to be born on Mars.  As she faces discrimination by some of the other children, she relies on the support of her father and her AI companion to help her cope.  So, when her father and his team go missing she decides she has to go and find them.  Linked to this we have the ‘ghosts’ that Eva starts to see, one of who looks remarkably like her late mother, the question is, are they hallucinations or are the real? If they are real, then who are they and why are they trying to make contact with Eva?

This is an fast paced story with a strong female character who has to overcome so many difficulties.  The issues around her type 1 diabetes are profound because, after an accident, the colony does not have supplies of insulin and Eva has to depend on outdated technology to keep her alive.  We gradually see that as the story continues, that the organization running the colony are only in it for the profit they can make and the infrastructure is facing collapse.

The book reminds me of the series  “The Martian Chronicles” by Ray Bradbury, which I watched on TV many years ago.  There is the same question of identity and belonging, something that Eva really struggles with.  We all assume that there is no advanced life form on Mars, so it is ‘safe’ to build colonies for the human race, but has that always been the case?  Whilst this is a great adventure story for young people, it also asks a range of questions about the way some groups feel that they have the right to expand wherever they like; in the same way that countries and large corporations have done throughout history.

This exciting and thought provoking read will make a great addition to the Science Fiction Genre for middle grade children.  It will also provide inspiration for the many young people who enjoy STEM subjects.


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Author Bio

Stuart is an award-winning author and secondary school teacher. He has a Masters Degree in Creative Writing and founded, and now runs, WriteMentor. In 2020 and 2022 he was placed on the SCWBI Undiscovered Voices longlist and named as an Honorary Mention for his novels ‘Ghosts of Mars’ and ‘Astra FireStar and the Ripples of Time’. In 2023, he won the WriteBlend award for his middle grade debut, Ghosts of Mars.

Stuart was included in The Bookseller’s 2021 list of Rising Stars in the publishing industry.


With a Type 1 Diabetic main character, Ghosts of Mars explores how life beyond Earth, and the fame and scrutiny that come with it, affects the young people involved, who didn’t sign up for life on Mars. Ten percent of author profits go to Diabetes UK.


Book Details

Length: 280 pages

Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction

Age Category: Middle Grade

Date Published: 12 September 2022 (UK)

Goodreads Link:

The StoryGraph Link: 




City of Rust by Gemma Fowler and Karl James Mountford

I have been a fan of science fiction since my teens, when I discovered authors such as John Christopher, with his Tripods trilogy.  Working as a library assistant when I left school gave me the opportunity to explore a whole range of genres and publishers and for Sci-Fi the lead publisher was definitely Gollancz (with their iconic bright yellow covers).  It as unfortunate that for many people the subject became less popular as we faced the reality of moving into space and the area of fantasy seems to become the replacement genre. Luckily there has been a move back towards Sci-Fi at all age ranges.

Chicken House, 97890655436

The story is set in a future world where humanity has found that the only way to deal with the amount of metal rubbish is to send it in to orbit around the earth, where it joins the space debris accumulated from satellites and rockets.  The heroine is Railey, a young girl who lives with her grandmother and has ambitions to be a champion drone racer, with the help of her bio-robotic gecko called Atti.  Things have been getting more difficult as her engineer/inventor grandmother begins to suffer memory loss and making a living is even more difficult.  When Railey is chased by a bounty hunter and thinks that her gran has been killed, she has to make a run for it; finding herself rescued by the members of a space junk vessel.  As they uncover a plot to  crash a huge ‘trash bomb’ into the earth, their loyalties are tested and they find themselves questioning the world that they live in.

The world that Gemma Fowler has created is one that has been completely overwhelmed by the amount of metal that has been discarded and it has become a dystopian place of those that have (and live in Glass City) and those that have not and live in places such as Boxville, named from the shipping containers which provide homes.  There is a real sense that we should be treating this as a window into our future if we do not do something to change the disposable world that we live in.  Scarily we have had news within the last week or so about a rocket crashing into the Indian ocean; very much a case of life imitating art!  There are elements in the plot that take me back to some of my favourite films, with the drone racing being very familiar to those who love the Star Wars series.  However this is a totally original take on the society that we live in.  There have been several books in the past that are situated in rubbish tips and but this goes several stages further and shows us as destroying the space that surrounds us.

There are some fascinating characters who are trying to find their way in this terrible world, but I think that my favourite has to be Atti, the gecko.  He is a mix of real animal ,but with the addition of bionic improvements, and he actually talks; above all he has a really positive attitude that you can’t help but love.  The ending of this story resolved the danger that the young people have faced, but we are left with the slightly open ending, which allows us to hope that we will have further adventures as they start their lives as ‘Junkers’, cleaning up the space around them.


Gemma Fowler


photo is on her website