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Book Review:  How to Live on Mars

Reviewed by: Brian Enke
Title: How to Live on Mars
Author: Robert Zubrin
Format: Paperback
Pages: 197
Publisher: Three Rivers Press (Random House)
Date: December, 2008
Retail Price: $13.95
ISBN: 0307407187

One of my favorite quotes from science fiction legend Ray Bradbury reads:

"Anything you dream is fiction, and anything you accomplish is science-- so, the whole history of mankind is nothing but science fiction."

How to Live on Mars: A Trusty Guidebook to Surviving and Thriving on the Red Planet, the latest book by Dr. Robert Zubrin, impacts the reader somewhere near Bradbury’s intersection of fiction and science… but where exactly? Or rather, in publishing terms, what section of a bookstore should feature this book? Non-fiction? Fiction? Science? Humor? I don’t envy the marketing department at Random House as they grapple with this dollar-laden decision. How To Live On Mars fits any of these categories and succeeds in all of them.

I’m not even sure if one should call How To Live On Mars a “novel,” a “satire,” or a “reference manual.” To be safe, I’ll continue to call it simply a “book.” No doubt, this small dose of common sense and simplicity would appeal to Zubrin’s protagonist, a desert-smart 22nd century Mars settler who happens to also be named Robert Zubrin.

In How To Live On Mars, the future Robert Zubrin tells you (as a new Martian settler lured to the frontier by promises of Great Wealth and Fame) everything you need to know to actually achieve Great Wealth and Fame. His step-by-step recipe includes everything from how to reach Mars (in case you were smart and bought the guidebook back on Earth before purchasing your cycler ticket), what spacesuit to buy, where to live, how to earn your Great Wealth and Fame, how to enjoy your Great Wealth and Fame, and most importantly, how to avoid distractions and mistakes along road to Great Wealth and Fame.

Simply put, if you’re interested in space exploration, How To Live On Mars should be on your “must-read” list. The science behind the fictional backstory is rock-solid, as one would expect from the author of The Case For Mars and Entering Space. Humorous prose delights the reader throughout most of the book, setting a lively pace that slows a step or two in the more technical sections (usually accompanied by adequate warnings). But don’t be fooled by the rolling-on-the-floor-laughing parts… this book contains nearly as much useful technical detail as The Case For Mars.

Incredible artwork adds a rare dimension, enhancing the text seamlessly. Renowned space artist Michael Carroll produced more than a dozen beautiful, original works for How To Live On Mars. I hope Random House will have the good sense to release a hard-cover, full-color edition so the depth of Carroll’s artistry can be fully appreciated. Carroll also used real-life Mars researchers within his artwork, so don’t be surprised if you see some familiar faces.

The best reason for reading and enjoying How To Live On Mars transcends the written words and images: the book lets you delve deeply into the mind of your future-Zubrin guide, a real space settler. You see future-Zubrin’s likes, dislikes, motivations, fears, and what he finds insanely funny or bizarre. This is priceless stuff. For Earthlings of the early 21st century, relating to a Martian of the 22nd century doesn’t come easy. The Martian way of thinking is foreign to most of us. Yet Zubrin (the author) successfully opens a portal into this future mindset, giving us a teasing, fleeting glimpse of what lies inside – and ahead.

One weakness in the book, a reliance on a mix of current and future technology and science, actually strengthens the book’s curb appeal. We need enough current tech and science to ground our thinking while we absorb the spectacular possibilities. Predicting the future is always fraught with peril. For example, when discussing spacesuits, future-Zubrin’s choices hinge on design details that will undoubtedly branch off in new directions within the next 10 years, let alone 100 years. Today’s clothing industry reaches into nearly every aspect of society, and this trend should continue. Rather than wearing bulky, unsafe Apollo-era suits, perhaps a fashionable 22nd century Martian wardrobe will include several cheap ensembles resembling long underwear or ski suits?

Such minor quibbles with tech details are easily forgiven. Again, future-Zubrin’s suggestions aren’t as important as the reason why he makes those suggestions. With the right Martian mindset, plug in any new technology or scientific assumption and you’ll reach an appropriate conclusion. Every brave soul who dreams of living on a new frontier and facing those life-and-death decisions will find How To Live On Mars a trusty reference and companion.

Oh, and don’t forget the Great Wealth and Fame! It’s waiting for you on Mars too… if you can avoid the flying chickens.

© 2009 Brian Enke

Space Books    Non-Fiction Books    Fiction Books    Children's Books


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