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Visiting Mars, in fiction and nonfiction

By Margaret Shapiro,

Want to know what it would be like to travel to or live on Mars but figure you may never make the trip? (Optimistic estimates put a first sojourn in the mid-2030s.) No problem: Here is a sampling of books about this neighboring planet, from science fiction classics to coffee-table books. Recommended by scientists and others with a special interest in Mars, these offerings should be enough to interest even armchair-only space travelers.

— Margaret Shapiro

Science Fiction

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. This oldie but goodie (published in 1950) is a collection of linked short stories about humans fleeing Earth and what happens to them and the intelligent, humanlike Martians they encounter on the Red Planet.

Police Your Planet by Lester del Ray. Colonized Mars is a filthy, crime-ridden cesspool. Into the mess arrives ex-cop, ex-reporter Bruce Gordon, who ran afoul of authorities on Earth and has been sent to Mars with a knife and no ticket home. Plenty of trouble ensues.

The Martian Race by Gregory Benford. When a catastrophe prompts the U.S. government to end its manned mission to Mars, a consortium of countries offers a $30 billion prize to the first group to get to Mars and back. This sets off a race between a group funded by an American tycoon and a European-Chinese consortium. Both get there, but it’s not clear who will make it back from a planet that seems barren and devoid of life.

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. Published in 1898, this novel takes place on Earth, as evil, creepy-looking Martians flee their planet and land here. All ends well, but the vision of tentacled, big-headed Martians caused a panic when Orson Welles put an adapted version on the radio in 1938.

The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. The novels that make up this trilogy (“Red Mars,” “Green Mars,” “Blue Mars”) span almost two centuries, starting in 2026, of a human colony on Mars and the jealousies, wars and rebellions, and some scientific developments that occur.

Mars Crossing by Geoffrey Landis. Landis, a NASA scientist, imagines a shuttle crew arriving on Mars in 2027, after two similar Earth efforts vanished. When their return vehicle goes bad, the group treks across the forbidding planet to find a return capsule abandoned by one of the past missions. If usable, it will be too small to ferry them all home.

NONFICTION

The Case for Mars by Robert Zubrin. An aerospace engineer and a founder of the Mars Society, Zubrin has been one of the most vigorous proponents of manned exploration of Mars. In this book, updated recently, he lays out his argument.

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach. Writing in a humorous style, Roach examines the issues that humans will confront in extended space travel, from sex and bathroom issues to psychological health. The information is based on simulations run by space agencies.

Landscapes of Mars: A Visual Tour by Gregory L. Vogt. This tabletop photo book comes with 3-D glasses for some photos that give readers a you-are-really-there feeling. In addition, there are drawings, photos of probes and close-ups of much of the Mars landscape.

Postcards from Mars by Jim Bell. Another photo book, this one by a planetary scientist who was in charge of the photography done by the Mars rovers. He has edited and cropped thousands of shots from those intrepid robots into some pretty stunning scenes.

A Traveler’s Guide to Mars by William K. Hartman. A participant in the Mars Global Surveyor Mission, Hartman uses photos and data to walk readers through the landscape of the Red Planet. “It’s a Baedeker guide to Mars! What more can I say?” commented Penny J. Boston, a speleologist who was a member of NASA’s Caves of Mars project.

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