Tag Archives: mars

Book Review: The Martian Chronicles

Book Name: The Martian Chronicles
Author: Ray Bradbury
First Published: 1950

Ray Bradbury was an American fantasy, science fiction, and mystery fiction writer. He was known for his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 and for the science fiction and horror stories gathered together in The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man. Many of Bradbury’s works have been adapted into television and films and he has left his stamp on the science fiction and fantasy genres.

Bradbury was born in the mid-west, but his family moved back and forth between Waukegan, Illinios and Tucson, Arizona for most of his formative years. When Bradbury was fourteen, his family settled in Los Angeles, California and he remained in the Southern California area for much of his life. Bradbury was a reader and writer throughout his youth. He claimed that he was inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series and wrote a fanfiction based on those tales at the age of twelve. He credits this series as the inspiration for The Martian Chronicles and notes that he likely would never have written about Mars at all if it was not for his love of the Burroughs’ series.

Bradbury cited H.G. Wells and Jules Verne as his biggest science fiction influences, followed by Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon, and A. E. van Vogt. As Bradbury matured, he drew more from the style and works of Alexander Pope and poet John Donne. When later asked about the lyrical nature of his prose, Bradbury replied that it came, “From reading so much poetry every day of my life. My favorite writers have been those who’ve said things well.” He also has said, “If you’re reluctant to weep, you won’t live a full and complete life.”

Bradbury did not attend college. Instead, he sold newspapers once he graduated from high school and spent much of his time reading. “Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.” Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 at the UCLA’s Powell Library where he rented a typewriter in one of their study rooms. The rental rate for completing the entire novel was around ten dollars since the rental of the manual typewriter was ten cents per half hour. He preferred to write on a typewriter instead of computers because that was what he was used to.

Ray Bradbury lived at home until the age of twenty-seven when he married his sweetheart, Marguerite McClure. They had four children together. He was an active member of Los Angeles Science Fiction Society where he made his first connections in the writing community of Los Angeles. From these connections, he began to meet publishers and gained a following for his work that now spans the globe. Bradbury is credited with writing 27 novels and over 600 short stories. More than eight million copies of his works, published in over 36 languages, have been sold around the world.

In his later years, Ray Bradbury became a well sought out speaker at literary events in the Southern California area. He never obtained a driver’s license and did not enjoy travel. It was well known on the speaker circuit, if you wanted Ray Bradbury to speak at your event, you should arrange to have a driver come and get him. I regret that I did not take the opportunity to meet Mr. Bradbury in person before he passed away in December of 2011. He was a favorite on the literary speaker’s circuit in Southern California and I personally know many writers that consider him to be an inspiration.

“Science is no more than an investigation of a miracle we can never explain, and art is an interpretation of that miracle.” – Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles

The Martian Chronicles is a collection of short stories based on the colonization of the planet Mars by people fleeing from an atomic devastated Earth. There is conflict between the aboriginal Martians and the colonists as they adjust to life on the new world. The stories are tied together by short vignettes, creating a loose novel in three parts.

The first third of the book tells of the first attempts by humans to land and explore on Mars. The native Martians endeavor to prevent them from returning. In the fourth story _And the Moon be Still as Bright, it is discovered that the Martians have been decimated by a plague brought by the humans, much the way that the American natives were brought down by European disease by the conquistadors. This sets the stage for the second part of the book when the humans colonize the deserted planet and set about making it into a second Earth. The final part of the book occurs after a global nuclear war on Earth cuts off contact between the two worlds. The few surviving humans that remain on Mars become the new Martians and the circle of life continues.

the-martian-chronicles-book-coverMy first exposure to The Martian Chronicles was during the 1980s when the mini-series starring Rock Hudson came out in 1980. Hudson played one of the colonists from the fourth Martian expedition who later returned with his family to colonize Mars. I have never forgotten the scene when Hudson playing Col. John Wilder takes his children to a Martian canal and points at their reflection in the water. “There are the Martians.” He tells them. One day there will be humans to do this and not all that far in the future.

I have always loved the ERB series, John Carter of Mars, and between the two, a love for stories about the red planet has grown in me. After The Martian Chronicles mini-series, I made a point to seek out the original book. While I enjoyed the written stories, I think that in this case, I prefer the mini-series, although Ray Bradbury himself thought it boring! You can still see all three episodes today on YouTube. ONE TWO THREE

The science behind the stories is sorely outdated. Back when Bradbury wrote the stories, it was believed that Mars had more atmosphere and it would be more hospitable to human life. Today, we know that living on Mars will be much more difficult than simply getting there and setting up homes. We will need to combat a rampant CO2 atmosphere, low gravity and live without the protection of a magnetic planetary field. Still, this is a classic science fiction tale and several of the stories in the collection are well worth reading. My personal favorites are: “Rocket Summer”, “Ylla”, “-And The Moon Be Still As Bright”, “The Off Season”, and “The Million-Year Picnic.”

Mars Inspires Writers

As a science fiction writer, the planet Mars has always intrigued me. It is a new world full of vast plains, mineral wealth, and the possibility of humanity having a second planet to call home. The technology to go there is already here, it simply will take the inspiration and guts for us to get there, along with the courage to develop the red planet into a proper home.

I’ve written several short stories that take place on Mars and often times I use photos or stories from scientific journals as inspiration for my tales. I stumbled upon a series of full sized posters were developed to inspire new settlers to go to the red planet. The posters are available for free at NASA. They were originally commissioned for an exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex in 2009.  Below are smaller versions of my favorites. If you like the images, be sure to go to NASA and see them all. Download one or two for your walls. Maybe they will inspire you to write about Mars as I do, or even to go there one day yourself.

P01-Explorers-Wanted-NASA-Recruitment-Poster-600xEXPLORERS WANTED ON THE JOURNEY TO MARS

Boasting the solar system’s biggest canyon, putting Earth’s Grand Canyon to shame, is Valles Marineris. There you can experience the blue sunsets while the twin moons, Phobos and Deimos, sail overhead. Can you imagine being one of the first people to explore such a glorious place? It would be breathtaking.

P04-Surveyors-Wanted-NASA-Recruitment-Poster-600xSURVEYORS WANTED TO EXPLORE MARS

Mars is covered by many robots that are measuring the planet and taking samples. Yet, once people arrive the land will need to be partitioned and sold to settlers much as it is here on Earth. Land will be designated as cities and townships. Acres set up for farms and mines. For this, surveyors will be needed. Much as George Washington, the first President of the United States, was a surveyor for the American colonies in his youth, people with these skills will also be needed on Mars. Could this be you?

P06-Technicians-Wanted-NASA-Recruitment-Poster-600xTECHNICIANS WANTED TO ENGINEER OUR FUTURE ON MARS

One of the skill sets that will be needed on Mars at once are technicians. They will be needed to repair the machines that keep people alive in the hostile environment. They will be the ones working in the supply ships that will run between Mars, Earth, and the Moon. Such jobs should be in high demand. Will you be one of those people who go there to work your trade?

P07-Some-User-Assembly-Required-NASA-Recruitment-Poster-600xASSEMBLY REQUIRED TO BUILD OUR FUTURE ON MARS

Machinists and mechanics will also be professions in high demand on Mars. Builders of homes, of factories, mines and more will pave the way for future immigrants to the red planet. Already, people in these fields are applying to go one way to Mars even today. They bank on their ability to build what they will need to survive on the red planet without having to return to Earth. It takes courage to face a life on a new world, much as settlers a few centuries ago faced one-way trips to the Americas from Europe.

P08-We-Need-You-NASA-Recruitment-Poster-600xNASA NEEDS YOU

Reminding us of the famous Uncle Sam poster of another era, this final image looks you right in the eye and asks if you have the courage and desire to reach for Mars. Could being a technician, teacher, builder or even a parent raising a child there be in your future?

I hope that you have found inspiration for your own stories with these fun images from NASA. That they inspire you to dream about a new world and what life there might be like. If these images help ferment a few new science fiction stories for you, as they have for me, all the better.

Book Review: The Martian

Book Name: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
First Published: 2011

Author Andy Weir was born and raised in Southern California. His father is an accelerator physicist and his mother an electrical engineer. Weir grew up reading classic science fiction. His favorite authors were Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. When he was 15, was hired by Sandia National Laboratories as a computer programmer. While Weir has studied computer science at UC San Diego in California, he has not obtained a graduate degree. Instead, he has been working as a programmer for software companies such as AOL, Palm, MobileIron, and Blizzard.

Weir has been writing stories since his mid-twenties. His first short story, The Egg has been adapted into YouTube videos. His first novel The Martian began as a free series on his website in 2009. As the story progressed, his readers gave him pointers and helped him with the scientific aspects of the story. The Martian is based on real life science and the Ares missions are ones that have been proposed to NASA. As time went on, many of his readers asked if he would make the story available on kindle. He then offered it on Amazon for 99 cents. The novel ended up being on the Kindle bestseller list. Later, Weir was approached by a literary agent and sold the rights of the book to Crown Publishing Group. The print version debuted #12 on the New York Times Bestseller list. It has gone on to be made into a major motion picture by the same name and starring Matt Damon. The twentieth-first Century Fox film was released in October of 2015.

Weir is reportedly at work on a second novel. He currently resides in Southern California.

“Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.”
― Andy Weir, The Martian

Ares 3 is the latest mission to Mars. The six-person crew is there to study for 31 days before flying home. During a freak wind storm, astronaut and botanist Mark Watney is left behind and believed dead when he is impaled by a flying antenna during the evacuation. Due to the way he fell and was covered by sand, his suit was able to retain its pressure. When Watney comes to, he is able to return to the “hab”, a tent-like habitat and care for his injuries. He has no way to contact the ship or earth to let them know that he has survived.

It does not take Watney long to realize that even though he has survived his accident, it will be four long years before Ares 4 returns to Mars. While the Hab has enough air and water due to generating it, he does not have enough food to last that long. When going over the supplies, he discovered a package of real potatoes that was being saved for Thanksgiving dinner. Using his skill as a botanist, Watney creates compost from his own human waste and the martian soil and using the potatoes in the package as a seed crop. Soon, his hab is a mini-potato farm making him plenty of extra food.

In order to contact NASA, Watney realizes that the pathfinder probe is not too far away and he travels to it. When it is uncovered from the sand, its solar panels give it enough power to turn on. Watney devises a way to communicate with NASA via this primitive system until they can reprogram a connection in his rover to type back and forth. Watney is no longer alone and learns that a mission to rescue him is being planned.

Watney plans to drive his rover 2000 miles to Schiaparelli crater where the Ares 4 craft is waiting and making fuel for the next mission. He modifies one of the rovers for the mission, adding solar cells and an additional battery.

During this time, a freak accident creates a tear in the Hab and an airlock breaches. Watney’s second harvest is destroyed along with his compost. He does not have supplies to start his farm anew. He is once again threatened with starvation. NASA attempts to send him a resupply ship, but due to their haste, the rocket is destroyed in liftoff. Thanks to the Chinese, a second rocket is made available, but NASA is unsure if this second attempt will work.

A young astrodynamicist named Rich Purnell, discovers a “slingshot” trajectory that could get Hermes, the original spaceship that the crew is using to return to Earth, to whip around the Earth to gain speed and return to Mars faster than a second ship could. The chinese rocket could be used to send the supplies to Hermes so they and Watney would have enough air and food to survive, but this method would add an additional 500 days to their journey.

The space director is unwilling to risk the lives of the entire crew, but Captain Lewis learns of Purnell’s plan and decides to force the issue after taking it up with her crew. They are all willing to take the additional risk and the extra time in space if it will save their crewmate and friend.

Watney resumes his work on the rover and sets off on his long trek across the Martian surface to Ares 4. He faces many challenges along the way, each one of them coming close to killing him. The journey takes months of hard labor and loneliness. Meanwhile, Hermes is traveling back to Mars to get their man.

Will martian Mark Watney be rescued? You will need to read the book to find out.

The Martian Book CoverI read The Martian last year on a whim. I had heard good reviews on the story, but Weir was an unknown author to me who started out by posting his novel on a blog! While I am a supporter of independent authors, I am one myself after all, I was not sure if I was ready for a hard science SF novel. Well, my socks were blown off by this book and I fell in love with it. While the characters were not particularly deep, the sheer force of the depiction of living on the planet Mars with present day technology was astonishing. The planet Mars is as much a main character as Mark Watney and it is a powerful antagonist. As the logical mishaps befallen our astronaut, you start to root for the geeky Watney and his quest to stay alive long enough for NASA to rescue him. I could not put the book down.

The Martian is also a success story from an independent author point of view. This is Weir’s first novel and it was more a hobby to him than a career choice. By his own account he was not in writing to make a living. He hit the jackpot with his kindle book that snowballed into a traditional publishing deal and now a movie. It is every indy author’s dream and a one in a million circumstance. Kudos to Mr. Weir. I greatly look forward to his next novel.