Archive for the ‘Mars’ Category

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Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke

December 2, 2012

The Book: Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke. Originally published in 1951, the edition read was published in 1954 by Pocket Books, Inc.

Sands of Mars

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.

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Stowaway to Mars by John Wyndham

January 10, 2012

The Book: Stowaway to Mars by John Wyndham. Originally published as Planet Plane in 1936 under the name John Beynon. The edition read was published by Fawcett (T2646) in 1972.

The Setting: Britain, Earth. Space. And Mars. Go figure. The year is 1981.

The Story: A rich daredevil jet pilot, in the spirit of Lindbergh, builds a jet plane/rocket to Mars. His small crew is carefully chosen, but there’s a stowaway… a stowaway to Mars! And the stowaway is a woman! Oh women, always stowing away to Mars, always driving men crazy by their mere presence and inviting rape by being alive. Anyway. After 6 months in space, they land on Mars and things are not what they expect. Oh, and is that a Russian rocket landing over there?

The Science: Early in the voyage, everyone is very concerned about fuel. The weight of the stowaway increased the amount of fuel used on take off, and since everything was carefully calculated, there was great concern about whether their would be enough fuel to launch them on their return journey. Turns out that a few people don’t return from Mars, so it’s really no big whoop after all. But I appreciated that bit of realism.

The Reaction: In general, this is an okay book. It’s amusing to read about going to Mars in 1981. But, somewhere during that space journey, things go south. There are a few attempted rapes on the stowaway (and there are only 5 crew members…) and then there’s a few page lecture from a sympathetic non-raper about how women are, pretty much, trouble. And I was really hopeful that the woman would get a strong rebuttal, but no. Just a very short, “no I don’t think so.” Which is something, I guess. At least the woman was strong and self reliant and smart.

The Cover: No art credit. I’m bored by this cover. It’s a space vehicle of some sort, but doesn’t seem to have any relation to the one described in the book. Yawnville.

Next Up: Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne

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“Son of Two Worlds,” by Edmond Hamilton.

November 6, 2011

The Book: “Son of Two Worlds,” by Edmond Hamilton. Originally published in 1941 by Thrilling Wonder Stories, the story was read in the anthology 3 from Out There published by Crest Books in 1959.

The Setting:  Mars and Earth. The future.

The Story: A Mars-born human must go to Earth to defend his now-dead father’s mine against hostile takeover – intrigue ensues.

The Science: This story posits the idea that a people with psychic powers would use them for hunting. That makes total sense! I mean, if you could take down a lion with your mind, wouldn’t you? Of course, the hunted develops defenses, as they have in this story. But still. Not possible… yet.

The Reaction:  An up and down story. I thought the main character was pretty inconsistent and the intrigue a bit too much. But when there was action, that was good. Not worth the time though.

The Cover:  Richard Powers, artist. Cool, spacey stuff. Great spaceships flying around. Very nice.

Next Up:  “Mother Earth” by Isaac Asimov.

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“The Years Draw Nigh” by Lester del Rey

October 16, 2011

The Book:  “The Years Draw Nigh” by Lester del Rey.  Originally published in Astounding Science Fiction in 1951, the edition read was in the anthology Mortals and Monsters published by Ballantine in 1965.

The Setting:  A far future, Mars.

The Story:  The last of a fleet of intergalactic exploration ships returns to home base.

The Science:  This story starts with the idea that the human race has developed a way to rejuvenate itself – no one need grow old. People can live forever returning to youth when old age begins to creep back. The interesting thing about the idea as played here is that people are no longer choosing rejuvenation. The world, apparently, is dying and there’s no hope for anything better. So people are choosing to let their lives end naturally when they could have it otherwise. An interesting take on the eternity machine idea.

The Reaction:  This is a nice story. It worked well, with good characters and ideas. It’s melancholy, even morose, but it’s the right tone. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that the tone should be morose, ultimately. I didn’t follow the leap the story made of 1+1=failure when it seemed to me that 1+1 could= a new hope.

The Cover:  ISFDB says the cover is Richard Powers, and it is even signed on the side, but it doesn’t have that cool feel Powers usually has. It’s got a collage feel and a sort of clockwork robot. This cover means nothing to me.

Next Up: “And It Comes Out Here,” by Lester del Rey

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Outpost Mars by Cyril Judd

September 23, 2011

The Book:  Outpost Mars by Cyril Judd (pseudonym of C.M Kornbluth and Judith Merril).  Originally published as a 3-part series in Galaxy Science Fiction in 1951, the edition read was published by Dell in 1952.

The Setting:  The future. Mars, obviously.

The Story:  A colony of idealists are accused of stealing drugs from a drugs processing plant. Also, psychic, murderous Martian dwarves.

The Science: Okay. So. Sometimes babies die, right? Sometimes it’s genetic. Well, this book says that some people have a lethal gene, and that when two people who carry a lethal gene love each other very much and make a baby, that baby dies. On earth. On Mars it lives, eats a drug, and is psychic. The doctor in the book theorizes that cosmic rays, maybe, or gravity, contribute to the ability of the mutant baby to survive. But, frankly, it all sounds like a load of bull hockey so that there’s some cheap explanation in the closing pages of the books.

The Reaction:  Oh boy. This book. It’s something. I think there’s probably too much going on here. Too much us vs. them, too much random weirdness (oh, you’re also psychic? That’s handy for the plot!). I don’t have any good reason why you should read this book.

The Cover:  Cover art by Richard Powers. And certainly a redeeming aspect of the book. Sure, I’m not sure it makes any sense in terms of the story, but check out that landscape, and that spacesuit. Far out.

Next Up:  The Screaming Woman” by Ray Bradbury.

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The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

April 4, 2011

The Book: The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. Originally published by Doubleday in 1950, the edition read was published by Bantam Books in 1966.

The Setting: Mostly Mars, the future. Also, a little, Earth.

The Story: A series of short stories and vignettes chronicles the fall of Martian culture, then the rise and fall of human society on Mars.

The Science: Science is not really the strong point of this book. It’s much more social. That said, the Martians fend off/murder several expeditions of human explorers with/because of their mind powers. However, the humans ultimately win because of disease. Chickenpox wipes out nearly the entire Martian race – near enough so that it doesn’t matter if any are left. The people can come and take over. Interestingly enough, no disease travels in the opposite direction.  Decimation (understatement: decimate technically means only 10% reduction) by disease is common on earth, and would probably be a very serious issue if mankind ever encountered biologically similar alien life forms.

The Reaction: A good set of stories with an interesting variety of focuses. Classically Bradbury with an interest in the social and lack of interest in exactly how and why things work the way they do. 

The Cover: Elegant, simple, evocative of Mars and Earth. Two thumbs up.

Next Up: Pebble in the Sky by Isaac Asimov

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“The Blue Bottle” by Ray Bradbury

February 4, 2011

The Book: “The Blue Bottle” by Ray Bradbury. Originally published by Planet Stories in Fall 1950, the story was read in Long after Midnight published by Bantam in 1978.

The Setting: Mars.

The Story: A man seeks for an ancient and mysterious blue bottle.

The Science: I mean, it’s set on Mars, but it’s not really science fiction, it fantasy. A bottle that contains whatever you most desire? That’s fantasy.

The Reaction: Even at only 12 pages, I felt ripped off by this story. It was kind of dull and simplistic. I wasn’t really feeling the characters and the magical blue bottle kind of annoyed me. Bah.

The Cover: Still the same as before.

Next Up: “Punishment without Crime” by Ray Bradbury