The Book: Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke. Originally published in 1951, the edition read was published in 1954 by Pocket Books, Inc.
The Setting: Space and Mars. Mostly Mars.
The Story: A science fiction author and popular journalist travels to Mars for a story, but finds himself.
The Science: Aside from the complexities of space travel and living on Mars (which feel realistically addressed in this book), there are a couple of notable science-y things that happen. One is that the protagonist discovers a species of Martian plant which releases pods of oxygen into the atmosphere. Widespread cultivation of the plant is planned as a long term method of re-forming the atmosphere to make it comfortable for human life. This is neat. I liked this a lot. Plants do exchange gasses regularly, so it seemed both plausible and convenient.
The Reaction: Not what I was expecting from a book that proclaims “An interplanetary adventure!” on the cover. Sure, there are aliens. Sure, the protagonist finds himself in mortal danger a couple of times. But mostly, the main character is learning about himself and discovering new interests and old connections. Yet it was still a very good read. It felt genuine. Reasonable, even.
The Cover: Cover painting by Robert Schulz. A dome, a rocket taking off, a couple of guys in tin-can spacesuits, a rocky alien landscape… what more can a girl ask for? Dreamy. Just dreamy.