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 the first novel by an experienced and award-winning short story author. It won a nomination 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 the exploration of Mars the Landis way.
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, create 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.
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 was 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 decide 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?