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?

8 thoughts on “Going to Mars Word-by-Word: the Landis Way

  1. This one sounds really good! Plenty of conflict between the characters, and a backing of real science.

    1. I enjoyed it. I had some doubts about the science, but I met Landis some time back and knew he’d worked on several of the rovers to Mars, so I figure it’s as close to real as possible. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by Jennette!

  2. I’d like this series to continue. I’ve added more than one book featured to my TBR list. I likely wouldn’t have found them if I hadn’t heard about them here. Mars Crossing is another I’ll likely to adding to the list.

    There’s no way I would go on a trip to Mars knowing the previous two expeditions had failed. I’m not a risk taker 🙂

    1. Thanks for letting me know your preference, Marcy.

      Yeah. I’m with you. Unless there was a _really_ good plan, I wouldn’t go after two failed missions. Seems kind of a no brainer. 🙂

  3. This book sounds interesting. Please, say it isn’t the last of the series. I enjoy reading your take on space-themed SF novels. Expand beyond Mars, if you must, but I’d love it if you continue.

    I’d have to be pretty darned confident that the third trip was going to be successful. I’m with Marcy, though–I’m not a risk taker, so I’d sit that one out.

    1. Oh, thank you, Diana. I really appreciate your letting me know how much you like this series of posts. I will take everyone’s answers into consideration and I’ll let you know my decision the first of next month.

      LOL. Sit out a trip to Mars when you know that two others failed? You betcha! I’d be staying home, too. But, there isn’t anyway to make a trip to Mars “safe.” So, I hope that someone is brave enough to do it. 🙂

  4. I’m afraid I have to side with Marcy on this one. As you already know, I am not a huge risk taker. Especially up in the atmophere. LOL. Wow, Landis wrote like crazy, didn’t he? That guy really used his imagination. So I’m taking it this is science fiction Lynette. But could it also cross-over to the fantasy fiction side? I know you’d go to Mars girl. Glad I knew you when. I hope you return in one piece. But watch it. I’m stalking you now!:)

    1. I decide to step outside, I decide to Step. Out. Will you follow me there?? LOL!

      I suppose any science fiction has a little bit of fantasy in it, but this story is considered a hard science, science fiction story. But Landis is definitely not heavy handed about it. There’s plenty of science, but it doesn’t stop the story to tell you all the gritty details. It’s woven in. For a first novel, he did a fine job of focusing on the story.

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