If you’ve attended a science fiction convention, you’ve heard of Filk Songs. For those of you who haven’t heard of them, Filk songs are kind of hard to define. Even wikipedia has difficulty! For now, we’ll say that a filk song is lyrics and music that is sung at a science fiction and fantasy convention.
Here’s a quick sample of a Filk Song:
I Hate Little Firelizards by Julia Ecklar
The guys on the television show Whose Line Is It Anyway? (the U.S. version), took science fiction and music to a whole different level. I hope you enjoy the zaniness of improv stars: Ryan Stiles, Colin Mochrie, and Wayne Brady.
Greatest Hits of Science Fiction
For those of you who are wondering what happened to the Going to Mars Word by Word post this month — thank you so very much for your responses last month. You voiced your preference and I am every so grateful for that. Worry not. I’m taking a couple of months break while I finish a re-write. Going to Mars Word by Word will resume during the fall.
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. Opportunityis 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 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?
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.
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.