Books for a Mars Landing

So we’re on Mars again! I didn’t watch the feed from NASA, but I saw the amazing landing video (seriously, if you haven’t seen it, go look. I’ll wait) and have been avidly sucking up all the photos being posted on the mission’s website.

Looking at pictures we’ve taken on the surface of another planet always moves me to tears. I can’t believe we’re really out there, down there, sitting on dirt that is not of this world, looking up at another sky. It looks so much like Earth, and yet, with all that red rock and that faded orange sky, so unlike, so alien.

I’m a lapsed physics geek. For a while I wanted to go into astronomy, dreaming of working for NASA or SETI. Why? Science fiction, plain and simple. So today, I’m presenting a list of books inspired by our return to Mars.

(Honourable mentions, disqualified for being too obvious: War of the Worlds; Dune; the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson.)

1. Mars Crossing by Geoffrey Landis. This author has the right credentials — he actually works for NASA! His first and so far only novel (though he has also written critically acclaimed short stories), Mars Crossing is a near-future hard science fiction story of a manned mission to Mars. When the newly landed crew discovers the fuel tanks meant for the return journey have been corroded, they must embark on a trek across the planet if they are to have any hope of getting home. While normally I like my science fiction a little on the softer side, it’s amazing to read a novel about Mars written by someone who really, truly knows what it would be like to be there.

2. Space Family Stone/The Rolling Stones by Robert Heinlein. This 1952 “juvenile” (YA) novel features a spacefaring family that makes a stop on Mars and acquires a creature called a Martian flat cat. Obviously this story has a much lighter tone, and takes more liberties with science, but it’s great fun and I remember it fondly.

3. Contact by Carl Sagan. Mars doesn’t feature at all in this novel, but let me explain. Sagan is another writer with ironclad science credentials. Contact is a near-future vision of a SETI scientist who discovers the first communications from beyond our solar system — a first-contact story that could happen tomorrow. That’s inspiring on its own. What Sagan does so well here is convey a sense of wonder, that core aspect of science fiction that’s so rare in real life…except when we land on Mars.

4. Hammered by Elizabeth Bear. A little further in the future, but still a future that’s plausible and not too depressing. Bear writes about a hard-ass female ex-soldier who’s dragged kicking and screaming into a government program. Sound cynical and dystopian? Yes, but there’s also hard-won hope and that sense of wonder again. Bonus: Hammered is the first in a trilogy.

Your turn! What are your favourite novels featuring Mars or a near analogue? Or, which science fiction books can you recommend that most inspire a sense of wonder?

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8 responses to “Books for a Mars Landing

  1. Love it!
    Erm, I read mostly fantasy, so will have to go with something that is essentially fantasy, but is actually the result of colonisation of another planet (not necessarily in our universe – OK, I’m stretching!): The Ruins of Ambrai by Melanie Rawn. It’s one of my all time favourites from years ago, but she never did write the third book in the Exiles trilogy.

  2. Thanks for the recommendation, Ellen — one more for the ginormous TBR list!

  3. Great idea for a book list, Siri!

    This is YA, but I read and enjoyed Diane Duane’s A WIZARD OF MARS (the ninth book in her Young Wizards series) earlier this year. It certainly read like Duane did her due research on Mars.

    Also for the obvious list, Ray Bradbury’s THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, which I’ve only heard of and never read. I assume Mars features in it…

    Oh, also Dan Simmons’ ILIUM/OLYMPOS, a science fiction Iliad with the Greek “gods” on Olympos Mons (a really cool idea, I read the first book a long while ago and don’t feel qualified to review it at this time… ah memory!).

  4. Rabia – Bradbury! I knew there was an obvious classic I wasn’t remembering! Probably because I haven’t read it either. ;)

    I have read most of the Young Wizards series, but haven’t picked up the Mars one…yet. Hadn’t heard of the Simmons books, though. Thanks!

  5. Rabia – Bradbury! I knew there was an obvious classic I wasn’t remembering! Probably because I haven’t read it either. ;)

    LOL. Yeah, I realize that my SFF reading has several huge gaps in it. I put together a reading list to help plug in some of the holes. THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES is on it. :)

    Also, *spoilery* but Mars also comes into play in a short story that I serialized on my blog: Wired

    I so love all things space. :)

  6. An SFF reading list is a great idea! Have you blogged about it anywhere? I’d love to see what’s on it. :) I’ve been gradually reading some of the classics I never got to despite being an English major (currently enjoying Jane Eyre), but there are certainly gaps in my SFF reading too.

  7. I started with NPR’s Reader-Picked Top 100 Fantasy and Science Fiction books (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/11/139085843/your-picks-top-100-science-fiction-fantasy-books). They also have a link to the 200-plus finalists. I came up with 52 books from there, and then I’ll cross-check with the Hugo and Nebula award winners.

    I figured that alone would give me a good start. :D

  8. Ooh, that’s clever. I’ve only read about 30 of the top 100 list, so there’s a lot still to explore. I did go through the award winners at one point too, but I think most of them are still on my monster TBR list…. So many good books, so little time!

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