Exploring Mars Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow 

public domain image of Mars from space, Going to Mars book reviews, lynettemburrows.com

I posted a series of book reviews titled, Going to Mars Word-by-Word, in September 2012. It was a fun exploration of the portrayal of Mars in classic to modern science fiction. In real life, we’ve been exploring Mars in new and better ways since then.

The number of launches to Mars is too long, international and complex for a single post by a space enthusiast with limited aerospace knowledge. We’ll focus on a few of the NASA missions. 

Odyssey

Mars Odyssey launched on April 7, 2001 and arrived on October 24, 2001. It is an orbiting spacecraft that studies Mars’ surface. Its mission is to detect water, shallow buried ice, and to study the radiation environment. 

It is still operational.

Spirit and Opportunity

Spirit was a Mars Exploration Rover launched by NASA on June 10, 2003. Its twin, Opportunity, launched on July 7, 2003. About the size of a golf cart, they carried the same scientific instruments. They landed on opposite sides of the planet on January 4 and 25 (UTC), 2004. 

They searched for and characterized a wide range of rocks and soil for clues about past water activity on Mars. Scientists planned for the rovers to drive up to 40 meters (approx. 44 yards) a day for up to 1 kilometer (about three quarters of a mile). 

These mechanical geologists exceeded their creators’s wildest dreams. Spirit concluded its mission in 2010. Opportunity worked for almost fifteen years. Scientists lost communication with it on June 10, 2018, during a planet-wide dust storm. It drove 45.16 kilometers (28.05 miles). The findings of the two rovers showed scientists that a very long time ago, Mars had salty seas and may have looked a lot like water on Earth.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) blasted off in 2005. On March 10, 2006, the orbiter reached Mars. Its scientific instruments studied the planet’s surface from orbit. The mission was to seek the history of water on Mars with extreme close-up photography. 

The MRO’s last communication came on December 31, 2010. 

Mars Phoenix

The Phoenix Mars Lander launched on August 4, 2007 (UTC) and landed on May 25, 2008. It studied the Martian arctic, searched for evidence of a habitable zone, and assessed the biological potential of the ice-soil boundary.  

On July 31, 2008, NASA’s Phoenix Mars lander discovered water ice on Mars. The sample contained the same elements as water on earth. Elements we believe are important components of the building blocks for life. 

The Lander also observed snow falling from the clouds and found salts and minerals that suggest Mars ice had thawed in the distant past. The lander also exceeded its life expectancy. After five months, instead of 90 days, its mission ended November 2, 2008. NASA lost contact with the lander completely in 2010.

Curiosity

Artist's rendition of Curiosity Rover exploring Mars shows a collection of metal boxes on a platform with four wide all terrain wheels and a camera on a stalk above the over and a robotic arm extended to rock in front of the rover.

Mars Science Laboratory, also known as Curiosity, is twice as long and three times as heavy as the twins, Spirit and Opportunity. Launched on November 26, 2011, it landed on Mars on August 6, 2012 using precision landing techniques similar to the way the Space shuttle landings on Earth. Its landing inspired me to launch my blog series, Going to Mars Word-by-word.

This rover’s mission was to study martian rocks and soil in greater detail to understand the geologic processes that formed them and to study the atmosphere. Its design and power supply gave it an expected lifetime of a full martian year (687 Earth days.)

As of June 2022, Curiosity is still active.

Exploring Mars Today

According to NASA, there are five missions exploring Mars at present: Perseverance, MAVEN, Ingenuity, InSight, and Curiosity.

Other countries and space agencies have current missions on Mars as well. Some of these Mars missions are multiple nations and space agencies’s cooperative efforts.

For an international list of missions to Mars, see Space.com’s post or its brief history of Mars missions.

Going to Mars Word-by-Word

Illustration of a spaceship approaching the red planet, Mars, by Robert W. Burrows © 2013 for the post Exploring Mars on author Lynette M. Burrows' website

There are eight book reviews in this series. The first one reviews A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs and the last one is Mars Crossing by Geoffrey Landis. Wouldn’t itl be fun to explore the series to see if new information gained from exploring Mars changes my review?

What new information have you learned about Mars in the past ten years?

Image Credits

Middle image Curiosity Rover, NASA/JPL-Caltech, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Last image by Robert W. Burrows © 2013.

First Lines by Nebula Nominees

First Line Friday is a series of blog articles posted on the first Friday of every month. The first line of a story, we’re told, must hook the reader. Implied is that the reader will not buy the book if the first line isn’t great. These first lines by Nebula nominees represent the books and authors who are up for the 57th Annual Nebula Award® for best novel. The awards ceremony will be held later this month. Do these first lines hook you? Do you want to read more?


The first book cover representing the first  lines by Nebula nominees is the Cover of the Unbroken with is in tones of brown, a person with a sword in its scabbard stands in an archway arms stretched out, each braced on pillar with some tall dark non-organic form behind them.

A sandstorm brewed dark and menacing against the Qazali horizon as Lieutenant Touraine and the rest of the Balladairian Colonial Brigade sailed into El-Wast, capital city of Qazali, foremost of Balladaire’s southern colonies.

The Unbroken (Magic of the Lost Book 1) by Cherae Clark

Second book cover representing the first lines by nebula nominees is A Master of Djinn with steampunk gears overhead beyond which is blue sky. Below is a lone figure walking up an opulent and middle eastern looking staircase.

Archibald James Portendorf disliked stairs. With their ludicrous lengths, ever leading up, as if in some jest.”

A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark 

Third book cover for first lines by nebula nominees is the cover for Machinehood. with a bluish silver background with gears and lines as if it's a computer chip, in the fore ground is a white hairless humanoid robot with a feminine waist.

Welga stared a coffee the color of mud and contemplated the irony of the word smart.”

Machinehood by S.B. Divya 

The cover of A desolation called peace shows a massive triangular window with a diamond shaped framework and a lone man stading in the center looking out at a planet surrounded by a man-made space station-like structure

To think—not language. To not think language. To think we, and not have a  tongue-sound or cry for its crystalline depths.

A Desolation called Peace by Arkady Martine

The world fell flat. The world fell exhausted. The world fell to rainbow-colored static, which rang through Derena’s mind as she ran from her death.

Plague Birds by Jason Sanford

If you liked those first lines, I hope you’ll love this one:

Miranda Clarke guided her yacht, Lady Angelfish, alias Serenity, down the Illinois River, desperate to deliver the package on time.

If I Should Die by Lynette M. Burrows 

Pre-order now at your favorite online book seller.


Clarification

There are no affiliate links in this post. I don’t make a cent off of the books listed on this page. Usually these titles are pulled at random. They are here for your enjoyment. And to entice you to buy more books.

Do You Want to Read More?

Check out a previous First Line Fridays featuring science fiction books.

What do you think of these first lines by Nebula nominees? You’ll put an enormous smile on my face if you tell me in the comments below—

Have you read any of these books? Which first lines spoke to you? Which ones are now on your TBR list? 

The Man in the High Castle, a Review

Amazon Prime Video version

The Man in the High Castle is a book written by Phillip K. Dick and a television series (2015-2019) now on Amazon Prime Video. It is an American Dystopian alternate history thriller.  I’ve avoided reading the novel because it reportedly is similar to what I write and I didn’t want to inadvertently copy PKD’s work. After finishing If I Should Die, I took an opportunity to watch the series. I’m told the show is only loosely based on the novel. In this review I tried to keep spoilers at a minimum, but there is at least one. You may wish to skip that clearly marked section. 

Image shows a view of The Statue of Liberty and the New York Skyline. The statue wears a red Nazi sash and instead of a torch her upheld hand is in a German salute. The cover is an Amazon Original, The Man in the HIgh Castle.

The Set Up 

In The Man in the High Castle’s world, Giuseppe Zangara assassinated the United States President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. That sets up a situation where Axis Powers won World War III. Including Washington D.C. being turned into “The District of Contamination” by a Nazi atomic bomb.  

An aging Hitler still runs the Reich which rules Europe west of the Urals and the continent of Africa. It also occupies the portion of the United States that lies to the east of the Rocky Mountains, an area called the Greater Nazi Reich (GNR). Japan rules Asia and the section of the United States west of the Rockies, the Japanese Pacific States. The Rockies are a neutral zone. 

Image of the United States of America shows the eastern portion of the US in Red with the German cross over it. The rockies are gray, indicating the neutral zone. And everything west of the Rockies has a Rising Sun indicating the Japanese Pacific States as described in The Man from the HIgh Castle.

The story takes place in 1962 in locations in the United States and Germany. Former Americans in German and Japanese territories are attempting to adjust to their status as citizens of occupied territories as are the Occupiers who are all very far from their homes and bases of support.

The Plot

A major thread throughout the television program  (SPOILER ALERT) is the existence of reels of film that show an untold variety of outcomes of the war on parallel worlds. In some of the films the U.S. is victorious. In other films the outcomes are much worse than our story’s world. Some characters wish to protect and hide the films. They believe the information could help them free themselves from their occupation. Others characters want to destroy the films. And the Nazis scientists are experimenting with a way to move between the worlds. (END SPOILER ALERT).

There are many plot holes, impossible, and improbable situations. Once I got past the my mindset that the occupation of the U.S. couldn’t have happened in the way the story says, few of the holes and improbabilities bothered me. 

Be aware that there are cultural and historical  inaccuracies that could detract from your enjoyment if they are part of your mindset or culture. 

The Pacing and Sets

Overall, the story pacing held my interest. There is plenty of action and intrigue and danger. Warning: there are explosions and violent deaths, in my opinion they were handled pretty well. But if violence isn’t your thing, this isn’t the show for you.

The settings ranged from stark to opulent. Both the pacing and the sets (locations) worked well for me.

The Characters

The book cover for The Man in the High Castle has a female standing profile in the center with a Japanese man and a man in the uniform of a Reich officer flanking her. Behind them are two flags that represent the two occupied territories of the former United States of America.
The Man in the High Castle is available as an ebook, paperback, and audio book on Amazon and other retailers.

 The characters are diverse. There are multiple factions from underground rebels who seek to restore American freedom to former Americans being assimilated into their occupiers’ cultures. There are opportunists and there are sympathizers. Some have very clear loyalties. Some appear to switch sides. And some play all sides against each other. 

In this televised series, there are several interesting and strong female characters. And you know I liked that. 

What fascinated me the most about this show were the characters. Loyalties were divided, often within families. Betrayals and reversals and reversals of reversals happened. There were characters I grew to love who spiraled destructively and characters I hated that I grew to understand. For me, this is great story telling. 

The Man in the High Castle

The show was dropped by Amazon Prime after four seasons. I imagine production costs were reason enough but according to some sources there were “creative differences” also. 

I made a purposeful decision to not read the book before writing My Soul to Keep. Will I read the book? Absolutely, but I’ll still wait until after I’ve finished the Fellowship Dystopia series. There are enough similarities between the two stories that I don’t want to risk confusing myself. Do I think having watched the show will alter how I approach the third book in the series? I doubt it. In my opinion, there’s a huge difference between the foreign occupation in The Man in the High Castle and a take over from within like the one in the Fellowship Dystopia.

Also there’s a big difference between writing for television and writing a book. Besides with two books written, I’m pretty deeply immersed in the world of the Fellowship. Some of the critiques of the televised series will influence me in that I’ll try to avoid similar inaccuracies.

Do I recommend watching the show? If you love thrilling, alternate history with a science fictional bent…you will be hooked by the televised series of The Man in the High Castle.

Have you watched The Man in the High Castle? What did you think?

Image Credit: Middle image is by RedFoxJinx, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

First Lines from Other Worlds

I changed things up a bit for this First Line Friday post. First Line Friday is a series of blog articles posted on the first Friday of every month. The first line of a story, we’re told, must hook the reader. Implied is that the reader will not buy the book if the first line isn’t great. These entries are from Amazon, my personal library, or other online booksellers. For these first lines from other worlds I include the first 45-55 words of each novel. When you read these first words, do you want to read more?


The cover of The City in the Middle of night is mostly black silhouette of city buildings against pink silhouettes of buildings against a yellow sky running perpendicularly down the open edge of the book.

Bianca walks toward me, under too much sky. The white-hot twilight makes a halo out of loose strands of her fine black hair. She looks down and fidgets, as though she’s trying to settle an argument with herself, but then she looks up and sees me and a smile starts …

The City in the Middle of the Night  by Charlie Jane Ander

The cover of Machine has a dark blue to black background with a lighter blue to white tree like structure dotted with lights--possibly representing neurons in the white space of your brain--definitely other worlds

I stood in the door and looked down.

Down wasn’t the right word, exactly. But it also wasn’t the wrong word. All directions were down from where I stood, and almost all of them were an infinitely long fall.

Machine: A White Space Novel By Elizabeth Bear

The cover of Tiger Honor shows the white outlines of a tiger againsg a blue star field with two planets in the background. In the foreground a young man kneels on one knee and looks up into the heavens and other worlds.

When the mail arrived, it should have been the best day of my life.

Mail—physical mail—came once a week at best. The Juhwang Clan of tiger spirits made our home on the world of Yonggi for the past several centuries. Our ties to the land dated back…

Tiger Honor by Yoon Ha Lee 

The cover of The Light Brigade has large typeface so the author's name and the title fill the cover's foreground, behind the letters is the non-gender specific soldier in armor standing in a white light that fades to a dark blue a symbol for other worlds

They said the war would turn us into light.

I wanted to be counted among the heroes who gave us this better world. That’s what I told the recruiter. That’s what I told my first squad leader. It’s what I told every CO, and there were … a couple. And that’s what I’d tell myself, when …

The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley

Cover of Afterland has the Author's name at the top in the center is a twig with four green leaves hanging down from it and continuing to end in a pink flower against a blue sky with white fluffy clouds a story from other worlds here on earth.

Look at me,” Cole says. “Hey.” Checking Miles’s pupils, which are still huge. Shock and fear and the drugs working their way of of his system. Scrambling to remember her first-aid training. Checklist as life buoy. He’s able to focus, to speak without slurring. He was groggy in the car, getting away. …

Afterland by Lauren Beukes 

A Reminder

There are no affiliate links in this post. I don’t make a cent off of the books listed on this page. Usually these titles are pulled at random. They are here for your enjoyment. And to entice you to buy more books.

If you liked those first lines, I hope you’ll love this one:

Cover of the Book Fellowship, a companion to the Fellowship Dystopia, has a deep brown background with rust brown Fellowship shield over which there is a yellow and orange 2-D church spire, in front of which the silhouette of a young man runs toward the camera. Other worlds sometimes happen on earth.

Fellowship.

One word and Ian Hobart’s world teetered into not safe.  The reporters’ voices fell, the remainder of their conversation now muted by the clack and ratchet and ding of their typewriters. 

Fellowship, a companion novel to the Fellowship Dystopia Series
by Lynette M. Burrows

Don’t forget, book two in the Fellowship Dystopia, If I Should Die, will be on preorder next month. Read book one before then. And watch this space for a sneak peek or two into the action-packed story of book two.

Other Worlds on Your TBR?

Did you enjoy these first lines from other worlds? You may also enjoy previous First Line Fridays.

Which of these books is now on your TBR list?

What You Can Read in Troubling Times

No doubt about it, these are troubling times. Tired of the pandemic, tired of politics and hate and war? Even novels include troubles that can be painful to read when you feel like the plane of life is going down. Never fear, here are things you can read in troubling times. Things that will soothe your soul.

Poetry

Remember studying poetry in school? Unless you already loved words, you probably didn’t enjoy the poetry you had to analyze. That’s worse than unfortunate, because there is great beauty and peace and inspiration in some of those poems.


“If,” by Rudyard Kipling


“Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou


“The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman


Smart” by Shel Silverstein

What poetry do you find inspiring or uplifting?

Read Picture books

There are so many great picture books. If you have children, you probably have a favorite or two. If you don’t have children, don’t be ashamed. They can be meaningful reads. 

The cover of the worrysaurus shows a comical, worrying, dinosaur-like creature sitting on a rock, the perfect read for troubling times

On a hot and sunny morning under lovely clear blue skies, a little Worrysaurus was opening his eyes.

The Worrysaurus
written by Rachel Bright, illustrated by Chris Chatterton

The cover of the Day I swapped my dad for two goldfish shows an illustration of a young boy showing off his goldfish to a disapproving mother, a romp that you can read in troubling times.

One day my mom went out and left me at home with just my little sister and my dad.

The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish
written by Neil Gaiman , illustrated by Dave McKean

The cover of Commander Toad in Space is an illustration of a green rocket with a one person bubble holding, who else, Commander Frog.

There is one ship, 

one mighty ship,

long and free,

that goes across the skies.

Commander Toad in Space written by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Bruce Degen

This is a delightful play on Star Wars. A little more advance than a regular picture book and a whole lot of fun for a Star Wars fan to read. 


Do you read picture books? Which one is your favorite?

Read Middle Grade Books

As with picture books there are so many great middle grade books, I couldn’t possibly list them all, but here are a couple to get you started.


Illustrated cover of Matilda is a colorful illustration of a young girl sitting on a crate reading and thinking about a book with lots of books on the floor around her.

Matilda’s brother Michael was a perfectly normal boy, but the sister, as I said, was something to make your eyes pop.

Matilda by Roald Dahl 

The cover of a wrinkle in time has the title and author name against a starry night sky with illustrations of the Mrs Ws along one side, children floating thru space above it, and the children approaching a tall building with a very large door.

It was a dark and stormy night.

In her attic bedroom Margaret Murry, wrapped in an old patchwork quit, sat on the foot of her bed and watched the trees tossing in the frenzied lashing of the wind.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle

Meg and her brother travel through time and space to save their father but Meg can save him only if she digs deep enough inside. I’ve written about this book before as the movie that wasn’t. Except now it has been a movie.


Ease Your Worry Lines

Find the type of reading that helps you, calms you, makes you smile. It’s what you can read in troubling times. Reading those books won’t take away your worries, won’t ease other people’s suffering, but it will put your head in a better place. And when your head is in a better place, you’ll be think more clearly, be the calm sea for someone else.

 What are your go-to reads for the days when the world is too heavy?