Going to Mars Word by Word

Going to Mars Word-by-Word: the Landis Way

Lynette M. Burrows, Science Fiction Author; Lynette M. Burrows, action-suspense science fiction

The next stop in our Going to Mars Word-by-Word tour is Mars Crossing by Geoffrey Landis. Published by Tor Books in 2000, this is a first novel by an experienced and award-winning short story author. It was nominated for a Nebula and won the Locus Award for best first novel in 2001.  Hop aboard for a gritty, near future science fiction tale of what the exploration of Mars just might be like.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT

By 2028, two missions have been sent to Mars. Both the Brazilian and the American expeditions met with catastrophe and death on the Red Planet. A NASA-private venture hopes the third mission to Mars will be the first to return. Their plan relies on a return vessel sent to Mars years earlier, capable of manufacturing fuel for the return trip from the Martian atmosphere.

The mixed-gender, multi-national crew of six lands on Mars successfully but their celebrations are short-lived. A catastrophic failure kills one of the crew and causes irreparable damage to the return ship. And there is no hope of a rescue mission coming from Earth.

As a last ditch effort to survive, they set out to cross 4,000 miles of Mars to the north pole in the hopes that the abandoned Brazilian vehicle will be operational. Limited supplies and equipment, alien terrain, the ever present dust are only a portion of the hazards they face. The Brazilian vehicle can only carry two.

Using alternating viewpoints and flashbacks, Landis slowly reveals each surviving astronaut has a painful secret from the past. The isolation and desperation of their trek, combined with their secrets, creates tension and intrigue on every step of their journey. And one of the crew is willing to commit murder to ensure a place on the return trip to Earth.

HOW THE RED PLANET IS PORTRAYED

Mars Crossing conveys an authentic, fully-realized Martian landscape. The terrain crossed in the story includes familiar landmarks and a few surprises. Landis describes a place of beautiful desolation and isolation, a harsh and unforgiving land. It feels accurate. It feels real. And it’s no wonder, the author is in the know about real Mars exploration.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Geoffrey Landis wears many hats: He has published more than 80 short stories, nearly 50 poems, one one science fiction novel, and more than 400 scientific papers. His short fiction has numerous awards including a Nebula and two Hugos. See his bibliography here.

Landis can write authentically about Mars because he is a physicist at the NASA John Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. He is a member of the science team of the Mars Exploration Rovers mission that landed rovers Spirit and Opportunity on Mars. Opportunity is still working after nine years! Landis also worked on the Mars Pathfinder project. You can read more about the projects he has and is working on here.

CONCLUSION

For me Mars Crossing has a nice balance of characterization, science, and drama. The novel has been compared to the greats of the field. The most fascinating part of it were the intriguing questions it posed about sending humans on  interplanetary journeys:

Would you take a trip to Mars knowing that the two previous missions failed?

How would you decided who could go home and who would face certain death on the Red Planet?

What would you be willing to do to secure a seat on the trip home?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Have you read Mars Crossing? Won’t you share what you thought of it? If you haven’t read it, will you?

This is the final novel I had planned for this blog series. Yet there are many more novels I could explore. Tell me, would you like this series to continue?  If so, what novels or stories about Mars would you like for me to cover over the next few months?

Going to Mars Word by Word With Kim Stanley Robinson

Lynette M. Burrows, science fiction author; Lynette M. Burrows, action-suspense science fiction author; Lynette M. Burrows, author

The next stop in my blog series, Going to Mars Word by Word, is the Nebula Award winning novel Red Mars written by Kim Stanley Robinson, published by Bantam House Science Fiction in 1993. It is the first of a trilogy(Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars) about the red planet that explores technological, scientific, political and social changes that might occur in the process of colonizing and terraforming the Mars.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT

To say that Red Mars is the story of the colonization of Mars is to oversimplify. It is a multi-character saga about the first fifty or so years of the colonization and transformation of the planet.

We follow several major characters in the first one hundred persons (mostly scientists) sent on the long journey to Mars. Once they land and begin to study and understand Mars, conflicts arise between various characters and their visions of their future on the red planet.

As the overcrowded Earth sends more and more colonists, the struggle intensifies and ultimately ruptures into a violent revolution. The irony is that the damage the revolution does will probably speed the process of terraforming Mars and the Mars they loved will be no more.

HOW THE RED PLANET IS PORTRAYED

Kim Stanley Robinson paints the marvel that is Mars in loving detail. There are multiple viewpoints, travelogues and scientific expeditions from the trenches to the incomprehensibly high mountain tops. He portrays a Mars that is dead, at least on the surface. The aquifers in the story are unlikely to be found on the real planet. All-in-all Mr. Robinson builds an accurate, if fictionalized, Mars.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kim Stanley Robinson (1952- ) is a multiple award winning novelist. Born in Illinois, his family moved to California when he was two. He grew up playing in orange orchards that soon gave way to suburban development.

During college he began writing science fiction. He earned a Ph.D. in literature with a dissertation since published as The Novels of Phillip K. Dick.

Orbit 18 was the first to publish his short stories in 1976. His novels have garnered eleven major science fiction awards (Nebulas, Hugos, the John Campbell Award, World Fantasy Award, and Locus Magazine Awards). Please see a fan generate bibliography here.

Robinson is married to a working environmental chemist, is a stay-at-home dad caring for his two sons, a backpacker who loves the mountains, and has traveled extensively. The Mars trilogy is the result of a lifelong passionate interest in Mars and multiple years of research.

CONCLUSION

Red Mars is an ambitious novel that is recognized as a seminal work of science fiction. And I will not dispute that. It is a book that every serious science fiction reader or writer should read.

I read this book when it was first published and re-read it this past month. For me the characters are neither likeable nor believable and the pace is very slow. However, Mars is portrayed with a loving sense of wonder that I admire and enjoyed.

Resources:

Kim Stanley Robinson.Info

Wikipedia on Kim Stanley Robinson

I love to hear from you.

Have you read Red Mars? What did you think of it?

If you haven’t read this book, what ‘classic’ works of your favorite genre have you read?

Going to Mars: Word-by-Word Bear Style

Lynette M. Burrows, science fiction author; Lynette M Burrows author of action-suspense science fiction

Nominated for the Nebula in 1986 and the Hugo and Locus in 1988, The Forge of God by Greg Bear is our next stop in this series “Going to Mars: Word by Word.” It is a grim, relentless examination of what might happen if an alien society of machines wanted to destroy the earth without regard or consideration for any of her inhabitants or history.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT

Astrologists are stunned when Europa explodes. Chunks of the former moon hit Mars and Venus. Geologists are stumped when mountains suddenly appear in locations as diverse as the Australian Outback and the United States’ Death Valley. Oceanographers observe and track large meteor-like objects that enter the earth through the ocean’s trenches.

As the story unfolds scientists, politicians, and everyday people struggle to come to grips with the fact that the Earth is doomed to be destroyed by an unfathomable planet eater. Some of those people are tapped by a second race of robots to gather and load what they can onto space going arks.

Among the saved are those who stood witness to the earth’s destruction. “It is the Law.”

Awakened from nearly four hundred years of cryosleep, the survivors create a colony on New Mars. A select few of the survivors accompanied the robots to search the stars seeking to destroy the planet eaters. For this is how balance is kept.

HOW THE RED PLANET IS PORTRAYED

Only the last chapter of The Forge of God takes place on Mars. Despite the brief appearance, Bear does a good job of presenting the reader with a credible Mars, early in its terraforming. The colonists live in habitats with some functions occuring underground. Wearing cold suits, they can leave the habitat via air locks and breathe the cold, thin Martian atmosphere unaided as long as they don’t exert themselves. Lichen and mosses, seeded by the aliens, thrive on the planet’s surface. And the reader knows that while the colonists have a long way to go, they will survive.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Science fiction and mainstream author, Greg Bear (b 1951 – ) completed his first story when he was ten years old. He sold his first story at the age of fifteen and by age twenty-three he was selling regularly. His stories and novels have been translated into nineteen languages and have won numerous awards including Hugos, Nebulas and the French Prix Apollo.

The Forge of God is the first book in one of several series written by Bear and is in development by a film studio.

For more information and a complete list of works by Greg Bear please visit his website.

CONCLUSION

The Forge of God by Greg Bear could be excruciating in its merciless flight toward the destruction of earth, yet it isn’t. He isn’t heavy handed in his treatment of characters who greet the news of their fate with religious fervor, or stoicism, or panic. The appearance of the robotic saviors and characters who work to save art and history, who pursue life regardless, create a sense of hope. And Bear’s description of the earth’s destruction is wrenchingly beautiful and mesmerizing. It makes one wonder:

What would you do if you knew the earth would end in a few months?

If you survived, would you be on a needle-shaped ship seeking to destroy the destroyers?

 

RESOURCES

Greg Bear’s official website

Wikipedia entry on Greg Bear

 

 

Going to Mars, Word by Word with Man Plus

Lynette M. Burrows science fiction author, Lynette M Burrows action-suspense science fiction

The next stop on our Going to Mars, Word-by-Word tour is the Nebula award winning novel, Man Plus by Fredrik Pohl, published in 1976. By the mid seventies Pohl had been writing and publishing stories for almost 40 years. The writing reflects that. It’s smoothly written; a quick and entertaining read.

 

THE SET-UP

In reality the early 1970’s were a time of disco dances like the hustle, world wide unrest and fear of terrorist bombings, hijackings, kidnappings, and assassinations. There were economic worries and hardships and a huge energy crisis. The United States, USSR, and France were doing nuclear tests on their own soil. Space Mountain opened at Disneyland and Jaws by Steven Spielberg had its premier. The television show The Bionic Man was popular. Apollo 18 and Soyuz 19 rendezvoused in space. And the Viking 2 Mars probe was launched.

Man Plus takes place in the not-too-distant future when the overpopulated earth is on the brink a world war battling over the few remaining natural resources on the planet. The fate of humanity rests on the people and the project inside a building in Tonka, Oklahoma.

 

WHAT IT’S ABOUT

When former astronaut Col. Roger Torraway volunteered to be the understudy for astronaut Willy Hartnett, Roger never thought he’d actually be called upon. After Willy’s death, the President of the United States urged the team at the project to meet their deadline because computer projections predicted the world would soon be at war. Roger was mankind’s last hope. He was to become Man Plus, a cyborg engineered to survive and thrive in the harsh conditions on Mars.

Heavily sedated, Roger did not know when his nervous system, his eyes, lungs, heart, ears, nose, and skin were replaced or supplemented. To solve the power problem, they gave him wings of solar panels. When the surgeries were finally over, Roger had to learn to use his new senses. His large, multifaceted eyes could distinguish everything from infrared to UV light. With his bat-like ears he could hear all of life’s most minute sounds and easily heard conversations in the corridors outside his pressurized room. Roger also had to come to terms with who he was, was he still human? Would his wife still love him? Was his wife having an affair with his best friend, Brad, who was also the scientist responsible for much of Roger’s new body?

The remaining two thirds of the book are about Roger adapting to his new, alien self, to the planet Mars, and finding a way to be human despite everything. The computers now predict humanity will survive on Mars and are pleased they have been successful in their mission to save the humans as well as themselves.

The story is told from a kind of limited omniscient viewpoint with sentient computers as the ‘surprise’ narrator. The reader of today is not surprised. And on reflection, there are plot holes, inconsistencies, and questionable motivations throughout the story. So yes, the story has some flaws. But it was a story that captured many readers imaginations at the time it was first published. And, it may not be as far-fetched as it seems on first glance. Do you remember these stories that made the news?

Oscar Pistorius makes Olympic history 
Boy Gets Robotic Hand Made with 3D Printer 
Multiple-Organ Transplant Survivor Celebrates New Year 

HOW THE RED PLANET IS PORTRAYED

The descriptions of Mars in Man Plus are minimal, but not inaccurate visually. There are mentions of various metals and elements that I’m not versed well enough in the composition of Mars to recognize as correct or incorrect. The human characters erect tents for shelter and begin performing scientific studies and tests one would expect the first persons on Mars to do.

Roger’s reaction to being on Mars is delightful. “To Roger, looking out on the bright, jewel-like colors of the planet he was meant to live on, it was a fairyland, beautiful and inviting.” And a little later. “First he walked, then trotted, then he began to run. If he had sped through the streets of Tonka, here he was a blur. He laughed out loud.” He is so eager to explore Mars that he gets himself into trouble with his power supply. This is what I read books about Mars for, that sense of wonder and excitement.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Born in 1919, Frederik George Pohl, Jr. has been a high school drop-out, an American soldier (during WWII), and has had nearly every possible role in science fiction. He has been a fan, poet, critic, literary agent, teacher, book and magazine editor, and a writer. “Elegy to a Dead Planet” was his first published story and appeared in Amazing Stories in 1937. His volume of writing is phenomenal and he has won every major science fiction award and then some.

When asked about his process, Pohl has had this to say, “People ask me how I do research for my science fiction. The answer is, I never do any research. I just enjoy reading the stuff, and some of it sticks in my mind and fits into the stories. Maybe that’s the best way to do it.” from Locus Online

Between the duration of his career and the breadth of his career, there is no way to do him justice in this post. Please visit the resources listed below.  Be sure to visit his blog, The Way The Future Blogs, in which he discusses his travels (all over the world), sf writers he has known (there’s a lot of those!), and things that interest him (the list is endless).

 

CONCLUSION

I believe that Man Plus deserves it’s place in science fiction history. It deserved a Nebula at the time and it deserves being read today. It challenges you to think about what it is to be human, how we humans are going to deal with our burgeoning population and consumption of natural resources, and it questions our reliance on computers. Finally, it’s one more way that Man might go to Mars.

Resources:

Official website of Frederik Pohl 
The Way The Future Blogs
wikipedia on Frederik Pohl
A bibliography 

What books have filled you with that sense of wonder?

Do you think colonizing Mars, the moon, or another planet will help us deal with problems of overpopulation or disappearing natural resources?

If you liked this post, you may like the others in the Going to Mars, Word by Word series.