Mission to Mars: The Reader’s Shelf | March 15, 2013

Given the excitement surrounding NASA’s successful landing last August of Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory, and the ongoing reports of its discoveries, now is the perfect time to explore the red planet.

How did the Mars Science Laboratory come to be after two major robotic mishaps at NASA? In EXPLORING MARS: CHRONICLES FROM A DECADE OF DISCOVERY (Univ. of Arizona. 2012. ISBN 9780816528967. pap. $17.95; ebk. ISBN 9780816599691). Scott Hubbard explains the history of Mars exploration from his personal experience. Tasked with getting the Mars Program back on track, the “Mars Czar” describes in great detail the inner workings of NASA, from engineering to politics. He also surveys what it takes to do science on another planet, the team behind the missions, and their decade of success.

Popular science writer Mary Roach answers the questions of what it takes to send the human body into outer space—and how much normalcy can be given up in the process to survive there in PACKING FOR MARS: THE CURIOUS SCIENCE OF LIFE IN THE VOID (Norton. 2011. ISBN 9780393339918. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393079104). Her no-holds-barred and lighthearted approach to the serious and mundane aspects of astronaut life makes this well-researched popular science work a hilarious, albeit occasionally gross, read as the ever-curious author delves into the immense efforts it takes to keep people healthy and happy in space.

What’s next for Mars? Rod Pyle’s DESTINATION MARS: NEW EXPLORATIONS OF THE RED PLANET (Prometheus. 2012. ISBN 9781616145897. pap. $19; ebk. ISBN 9781616145903) details past and planned future missions to Mars. Pyle, a documentary producer and science writer, also provides a useful introduction to the planet’s geography and geology and the history of human preoccupation with the red planet. Filled with interviews from the staff at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and anecdotes from passionate scientists and researchers, Pyle’s accessible and explanatory work offers a wonderful insider feel.

Humankind has conquered Mars, or is it the other way around? Originally published as short stories and novellas in the 1940s, Ray Bradbury’s classic works are collected in this grand master edition, THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES (S. & S. 2012. ISBN 9781451678192. pap. $7.99). Here, Mars is a world of great new beginnings for Earth, full of wonder and an ancient, dying race. It is a place to protect and preserve—from humanity’s destructive nature. Bradbury’s nostalgia for the future has a haunting quality, and his lyrical writing and innovative ideas still captivate.

RED MARS (Spectra: Bantam. 1993. ISBN 9780553560732. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780553898279) begins Kim Stanley Robinson’s monumental trilogy of terraforming Mars (continued in Green Mars and Blue Mars). Scientists and engineering colonists are sent to fulfill the destiny of humanity by making the Martian landscape habitable. Multiple characters narrate as they lead the mission, influenced by their rivalries and relationships, as well as the intense politics surrounding the ethics and opportunities of terraforming a planet.

A professor from Earth is a pawn for the gods on a Martian battlefield in Dan Simmons’s 21st-century version of the Trojan War, ILIUM (HarperTorch: HarperCollins. 2005. ISBN 9780380817924. pap. $8.99; ebk. ISBN 9780061794988). As Zeus reigns from Olympus Mons on the red planet, sentient robots from Jupiter investigate the chaos there, while a group of humans left on Earth try to find out the truth behind the machines that serve their every need. An expert blending of sf tropes like quantum teleportation, artificial intelligence, and time-shifting complexities and literary themes from Homer, Virgil, Proust, Nabokov, and Shakespeare.

Deadly challenges await the first astronauts of the International Mars Mission in Ben Bova’s space opera adventure MARS (Spectra: Bantam. 1993. ISBN 9780553562415. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780795308802). Bova’s realistic account of space exploration details the mission’s inception, political hurdles, and eventual launch. On the red planet, the politics continues and threatens to overtake the mission after geologist Jamie Waterman forgets the first public message back to Earth and utters a Navaho expression instead. As this near-future adventure unfolds, environmental challenges and disease are as devastating to the crew as the discoveries they make.

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Neal Wyatt About Neal Wyatt

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ's online feature Wyatt's World and is the author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers' advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader's Shelf should contact her directly at Readers_Shelf@comcast.net