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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?

Fools Risk Magic

Happy April Fools’ or, if you prefer the older name, Happy All Fools’ Day!  This is one of my favorite holidays of the year. Not because of the silly tricks and deceptions people pull on each other, but because it reminds me to take risks. I’m not talking of risking money or life and limb but about risking your heart and soul. The kind of risk that might mean pain and rejection. You might end up feeling foolish or stupid. But if you don’t take the risk you will miss the opportunity to make magic happen in your writing and in your life.

TAKE THE RISK

Years ago, after an acrimonious divorce, I was a single parent struggling to balance a job, parenting, and a life.  I decided that meant I had to protect myself from risks. But centering everything around my middle-grade son meant I was holding him too close and denying myself adult-level conversations. So I took my first risk and joined a brick and mortar dating service.

I chose a service where I could keep the risk low. All members of this service underwent background checks and no one got my last name or phone number unless I first approved it. First dates were arrange via snail-mail notes sent through the service. And I had a lot of dates. No commitments, just dinner and a movie. That was the way I wanted it. Low risk.

Then, I received a note illustrated by an artist. His invitation to meet also included a suggestion that we could tell stories together. I was intrigued.

I met him at a local Tex-Mex restaurant. His name was Bob. The awkward ‘tell-me-a-little-about-yourself’ exchange segued into a discussion of the creative process. I was amazed that he ‘got it.’  We talked until we were the last remaining customers and the restaurant was locking the doors.

I knew our next conversation would be equally fascinating. But days passed into a week and he didn’t call. I bemoaned this fact to my girlfriend who suggested that I ask him for a date. Oh, no. I couldn’t risk it. I wasn’t that progressive, nor that confident. But when she suggested I write him a thank you note for the lovely dinner, that was a risk I could take. And I did.

He called the day he got the note. He’d also enjoyed the conversation and had thought we’d had a lovely time, until the evening ended. We had left the table and gone to the front desk, where he had paused to pay the bill. When he turned around, I was gone.  Vanished.

When he told me that I realized I could not remember saying goodnight. Yup. My risk-aversion had raised its fearful head and ‘we’ skedaddled out of there!

Fortunately, Bob risked a second chance. More dates followed. We risked showing each other our true hearts, our fears, and our dreams. And by taking that risk, the magic began to happen.

RISK YOUR HEART & SOUL

Having been foolish enough to think that I could live a life without risk, it seemed only natural to marry on April Fools’ day. And, of course, it was only natural to share our story with our friends.

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

Written by Lynette M. and Robert W. Burrows. Illustrated by R. W. Burrows. We partied after the honeymoon.

That was the beginning of our story. We’re still writing and illustrating. And it’s still magic. But we couldn’t live this story until we each took a few risks.

Writing is a lot like that. Your scribbles (or pixelated words) can fill volumes, but until you risk your heart and soul your story won’t come alive.

EMBRACE THE RISK

Be willing to be a fool.  Don’t let your fear of showing too much censor your words.  Unfetter your emotions, your memories, your pain, and your joy. Let it spill onto the page. Put your heart and soul on the line. Embrace the risk. It will change your life. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll make . . . magic.

 ~oOo~

Share the magic!

What risks have you taken in your life?  In your writing?

P.S. Because this post was date related, the next “Going to Mars: Word by Word” post featuring Greg Bear’s _Forge of God_ will be presented Monday, April 8th.

Oh, and  I won’t respond to your comments until April 2nd.  I’ve got an anniversary to celebrate!