The book is aptly named; the vast majority of it taking place on a future Mars colony during the last day of its existence--just before it is due to be abandoned by humanity. The bulk of the story is told through the eyes of Liam Saunders-Chang, the young son of a scientist couple who are frantically attempting to perfect the teraforming technology that humanity will need as they flee the premature death of their solar system. Liam comes across as an otherwise "normal" kid for his time period--fond of sports, generally rule-following, confused over subtle shifts in his relationship with his best female friend, and fielding a love/annoyance dynamic with his angsty older sister.
Liam's viewpoint presents a convincing generational divide. Born on Mars, he is having trouble mentally letting go of the only home he's ever known. At the same time, he has difficulty understanding the sad nostalgia his parent's generation has for the recently sun-seared cradle of humanity. Earth, to him, is just a series of videos, images, and ideas far removed from his everyday life. He is well aware the predictability of said life is about to be irreparably altered--but there is no way anyone could foresee how much his life will become directly intertwined with humanity's struggle for survival.
The Last Day On Mars is refreshing--consistently inclusive of viable science-based details--without traipsing into tedium. The prose takes itself seriously, while still laced with a pleasant, airy sort of efficiency. Emerson offers an interesting prelude to set the tone of his work; this portion written in a past-tense, limited omniscient point-of-view that caters well to his audience without patronizing.
"The light was located on a map, or something like a map. Picture a regular map spread out on a table, only now picture it bleeding up and down through the air, and also forward and backward in time. Like a map of your neighborhood, but also of Tuesday. And next week, and a hundred years ago...
Let's just call it a map.
This map was in an office, (not exactly an office either, but close enough,) and its blinking caught the attention of a nearby being. She was known as a chronologist, and she was as similar to a human being as her map was to a human map, and her office to a human office. If you picture her having dark blue, somewhat translucent skin, and wearing black robes, that will be fine for the moment."
Readers may need to be patient with the setup as Liam's big last day on Mars begins, but once the action eventually kicks in, the pacing is brisk. The characterization is sometimes a bit sparse, especially in terms of Liam's parents, who readers may have difficulty obtaining a realistic feel for. And for those who like a bit of stand-alone resolution in their reading... I'm sorry to report you won't find that here. The book ends with more questions than answers--essentially securing it as the start of a compelling series.
A wide range of sci-fi fans should be able to appreciate this story, which doesn't underestimate the younger tier of its target audience. This reader is certainly looking forward to the next installment.