For those unfamiliar with the novel, or who may have forgotten the synopsis from the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award entry some time back, Labyrinth of Night is a young adult science fiction novel following the struggles of Amber Jacobsen — the first and so far only child on Mars — to prove her value to the other settlers by (among other things) resolving an old and largely forgotten mystery.
In this short excerpt, Amber and her parents are camping out in their beat-up rover, as they travel from their home (one of the old tuna-can habs left behind by the early exploratory missions) to the main settlement, Port Lowell. Amber, having just turned 14 a few days earlier, is finding herself increasingly bored with life on the frontier:
Amber awoke with a start, feeling dangerously exposed under the transparent curve of the rover’s front window. She had lived all her life surrounded by walls or a suit, seeing the surface only through a small viewport or a helmet visor. This broad, clear view of the sky always made her feel vulnerable.
She wondered what time it was — just above the horizon was one of the morning stars, which the daily astronomy report said would rise about an hour before the sun. Dawn was near.
She reached out both hands towards the faintly blue star, touching her wrists together and forming a cup as if to cradle a precious jewel. “Earth”, she whispered.
Aaron, lying on his reclined seat with his back to Amber, stirred.
“I am now.”
Amber paused and collected her thoughts, feeling about her throat for the Earth pendant and remembering that she’d left her necklace behind at the hab. “Why are we here?”
Aaron rolled onto his back. “We’re going to Port Lowell. You know…”
“No, not here here. Mars. Why are we on Mars? Earth has everything. Mars has nothing. Why would anyone want to come here?”
He stretched, crossed his arms behind his head, and stared silently out the window for a time. “Because we’re explorers. That’s who we are. That’s what we do. From the time we are babies, able to crawl, we—”
“Right, right, okay, I know all that,” she interrupted. “I’ve heard that speech a hundred times. I’ve given that speech a hundred times, in my class videos. I mean us: you and me and Mom. Why do we have to stay on Mars? The planet’s being explored, and permanently settled — that’s what you wanted, why you stayed behind. Right?” She let the question hang for an instant, but her father didn’t take the bait. “So why stay? Don’t you want to go back to Earth now?”
“No,” he said simply. “I used to think we’d go back some day, but now? No. There’s nothing back there for us — our lives are on Mars now.” He sighed. “Look, sweetheart…I know life on Mars isn’t everything we would like it to be. But this world is growing and things will change for you. Maybe sooner than you think. You just need to tough it out for a while longer — Mars is bound to get a whole lot more interesting in the near future.”
“Yeah. Sure, Dad.”
She drifted off to sleep, but Aaron sat awake, mulling over what to tell her, and when. He knew Lindsay would be upset if he told Amber about the offer — there was no point bringing it up yet, when there might be no need.
It’ll all work out, he thought. He checked the hab’s status on his MA before nodding off again, as the sky began to lighten in the east.
Excerpted from “Labyrinth of Night”, © Thomas L. James and Carl C. Carlsson