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REVIEW: The Martian Child by David Gerrold

REVIEW SUMMARY: An enjoyable tale that works best when it is not trying to be science fiction.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A single science fiction writer adopts an eight year old boy who thinks he’s a Martian.

PROS: Touching premise; fun writing style; it’s short so you can read it in one sitting.
CONS: Dragged slightly in the middle when the focus shifted from the adoption to wondering if Dennis really was a Martian.
BOTTOM LINE: A very good read. Recommended.

In the semi-autobiographical story, based on Hugo and nebula award winning 1994 novelette, David Gerrold tells the touching story of a science fiction writer that adopts an eight year old boy who was the victim of child abuse. The boy, Dennis, insists he is a Martian. The story describes the first two years of the adoption.

This story emotionally grabs you quickly and won’t let go. You can tell that Gerrold is drawing on his real-life experiences by the detail and realism he gives to the adoption process; the doubts, the fears, the joy and the pain. It’s a powerful and touching story that will tug at the heart strings of most people and definitely any parent. The story swerves a bit off target in the middle when the father starts believing that the boy might really be a Martian instead of just reacting to the unfortunate circumstances of his childhood. But, it is supposed to be a science fiction story after all.

There are numerous references to Gerrold’s real life in this story. The first picture of “Dennis” described in the book just has to be the one posted at Gerrold’s website. And several references are made to Gerrold’s other books, the Chtorr series, the Star Wolf books, The HARLIE stories, etc. The mentions of The Man Who Folded Himself even poke fun at the retro-fashionable picture of the author. There is even a footnote about Theodore Sturgeon (both Gerrold and Sturgeon wrote for the television show Land of the Lost) and some advice he gave Gerrold on writing. And since it was brought to my attention, I realize the things I like most about Gerrold’s writing are the same things I like about Sturgeon’s writings. It’s the way he phrases things, the images he conjures, the clear, crisp descriptions. He even describes (and mimics) his writing process for when the HARLIE stories included the dialogs with the AI; my favorite parts. This insight makes it clear to me why those parts succeeded for me – it’s because Gerrold was essentially using his keyboard to have a thought-provoking, introspective dialog with himself.

I might also say that this story reminded me in some ways of Gene Brewer’s K-Pax. Both stories are about someone claiming to be what they may or may not be. Both authors draw on their own lives to flesh out a main character. Both are light on the science fiction and draw emotional tales. And both are excellent.

The Martian Child is an enjoyable book that I whole-heartedly recommend.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

8 Comments on REVIEW: The Martian Child by David Gerrold

  1. Gerrold needs to stop adopting kids, and FINISH THE @#$%#$^#$^ WAR AGAINST THE CHTORR BOOKS!

    Whew. I feel better now.

  2. I can’t tell if you’re just being an insensitive boob or poking fun at the last question on Gerrold’s Chtorrr FAQ. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, boob. πŸ™‚

  3. Here’s some news on the movie adaptation.

  4. The novel should be renamed, “The Narcissistic Man.” Gerrold spends too much time taking shots at the shortcomings in the social welfare system. In fact, he exaggerates the living conditions of the group home that “Dennis” resided in for dramatic purpose. This makes Gerrold look like a superhero that saves an “unloved” child. Far from the truth as “Dennis” resided at one the most respected child welfare agencies in the United States, Children’s Bureau of So. Ca., prior to Gerrold’s adoption. I am very disappointed in Gerrold and his “Novel.”

  5. You’ll really be disappointed in the movie, then, when it comes out. They change it to make it more of a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie than an adaptation of Gerrold’s book.

  6. If the California dept of children services is the best in the nation, then we all have a lot of work to do everywhere. The social workers are underpaid and overworked, and the real experts on the group homes are the kids who have to live in them.

    Mr. Gerrold spoke at LAscon over thanksgiving weekend and he said that he never intended to write a book about adoption — only about how he fell in love with his son. I think if anyone tries to read this book expecting anything else, they’re going to be disappointed.

  7. :^)

    I don’t know much about the book although I feel I’ve read it awhile ago.

    They think the boy in the movie from the book “The Martian Child” who goes around with a box on his head is weird. Hardly in my world. Who wouldn’t want to hide from Flouresant lights,loud people talking,social confusion,chemical smells,.The idea of hiding in a box sounds like a good idea but not pratical in walking might hit the wall.

    Earphones and being in my own world is my best defense against the confusion of the world that surrounds me and pills. But nothing can ever take away the world sounding like static.

    I have a form of aspergers syndrome a form of autism and felt like a martian myself just being developmentally delayed. Other children got this weird lanquage they were talking and knew what every emotion was.

    Hollywood still seems to be afraid to admit eccentric people exist but I’m not going to wait around for the next decade for that.

    Hollywood seems to be stuck in its own box it’s doing alright but could be better.

  8. I’ve been a fan of Gerrold’s work for years now and I think I’ve read every one of his books. I was a bit annoyed to see him take time away from finishing the Chtorr series to write other stuff, but that other stuff is worth it. The Martian Child was especially touching. Don’t read it as a commentary about the social welfare system, just read it as a story about a grown man trying to figure out how to be a father.


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