The Case for Mars, by Robert Zubrin, Reviewed

the case for mars

Subtitled, The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must, this extraordinary work by Robert Zubrin, with Richard Wagner, is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in Mars either as an observer or as, in my case, a writer of science fiction.

In researching for my novel about Mars, I’ve read a great deal of the literature both in books and online. Zubrin’s book has proved the most thought-provoking, and the most inspirational. An aerospace engineer and writer, he’s also the founder of the Mars Society and a driving force behind Mars Direct, a proposal designed to produce real reductions in the cost and complexity of such a mission.

The book is, in some senses, a technical manual for creating a project to get to Mars and colonise the planet. There is fascinating history revealed here. But, primarily, there is much technical detail of the chemistry, physics, biology and engineering involved in the process of reaching and staying on the red planet.

He is sceptical of the recent projects currently undertaken by NASA and singularly frustrated by the small-minded attitudes of the politicians in the USA who dictate the what and the where of space exploration. He is also scathing of some of the ideas put forward by contemporaries. But he backs up his concerns with evidence and rational argument.

I’m no scientist, though I have a more than average interest in space and the science of space exploration. I read, and took copious notes from, this book in order to be as technically informed about matters Martian to allow me to write a credible story set on the red planet. The content has certainly allowed me to feel I’ve done that, when taken together with the other research I’ve undertaken. This book, however, provides more than mere facts and formulae. It’s full of ideas about how certain difficult tasks might be achieved using current technology and knowledge, and how others may be managed in the future using developing technology.

For the amateur, the person without deep science training, this is not an easy book. In parts it describes processes and chemical reactions that will be well outside the experience of such readers. But the information is given in such a manner that, with a little application, the gist, if not an absolute detailed understanding, can be gained.

As part of my research, I also watched the recent movie, The Martian, as I’d heard its science was very good. It was entertaining, certainly, but some of the science was clearly not as good as it could have been. Since I’d employed certain aspects of folklore about Mars as elements of the story I’ve already produced in first draft form, I’m very glad I undertook this additional research prior to editing. Some of those elements I took as factual turn out to be based on fallacies. No matter; rewriting is an essential part of any fiction writer’s skill. And I shall now rewrite with the knowledge and confidence of an informed storyteller as a result of reading this excellent book.

There is passion as well as erudition in this lengthy read. The author clearly knows what he is talking about and has a deep understanding of the technical issues as well as the social aspects of colonising a distant world. He debunks certain fondly-held theories, explains why others are flawed and inoperable, and presents his own solutions to the many problems in terms that are credible and inspiring. If you have any interest in the only other planet in our solar system that may be made capable of sustaining complex life, I suggest you give this book a go. I’m very pleased I did.

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