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?