It is a world shrouded in mystery—a planet pocked by meteors, baked by ultraviolet light, and covered by endless deserts the color of dried blood.
To this harsh and unforgiving planet travel the twenty-give astronauts of the international Mars mission. Now, as the landers touch down and the base dome is inflated and the robotic explorers are sent aloft, they must somehow come together in a struggle of discovery and survival.
Battling deadly meteor showers, subzero temperatures, and a mysterious “Mars virus,” these intrepid explorers are on their way to the most incredible and shocking discovery of all.
Praise for Mars
“A sweeping Michener-style saga of the first expedition to our neighboring planet . . . the ultimate summer escape.”—People
“In Mars, Ben Bova re-creates for us much of that first excitement we felt in reading about the possibilities of space flight or, later, witnessing the earliest manned exploration.”—Los Angeles Times Book Review
“The definitive novel about our fascinating neighbor.”—Arthur C. Clarke
“An intelligent, entertaining story that may also serve as a rallying cry.”—Omni
“Mars is an exemplary summer read . . . [with] adventurous, brilliant, over-the-edge characters [and] a convincing imaginative core in Bova's carefully imagined, striking, and spooky portrait of the planet.”—Voice Literary Supplement
About the Author
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SOL 1: MORNING
It was said in Russian first and then immediately repeated in English.
Jamie Waterman never felt the actual moment when they touched the surface of Mars. The descent vehicle was lowering so gently that when it finally set down on the ground Jamie and the others realized it only because the vibration of the rocket thrusters ceased. Beyond everything else, Vosnesensky was a superb pilot.
All sense of motion stopped. There was no sound. Through the thick insulation of his pressure suit helmet Jamie could hear nothing except his own excited breathing.
Then Joanna Brumado's voice came through his earphones, hushed, awed: "We're here."
Eleven months ago they had been on Earth. Half an hour ago they had been in orbit around the planet Mars. Then came the terrifying ride down, shaking and bumping and burning their way through the thin atmosphere, an artificial meteor blazing across the empty Martian sky. A journey of more than a hundred million kilometers, a quest that had already taken four years of their lives, had at last reached its destination.
Now they sat in numb silence on the surface of a new world, four scientists encased in bulky, brightly colored pressure suits that made them look as if they had been swallowed alive by oversized robots.
Abruptly, without a word of command from the cockpit above them, the four scientists began to unstrap their safety harnesses and get up stiffly, awkwardly from their chairs. Jamie slid his helmet visor up as he squeezed between Ilona Malater and Tony Reed to get to the small round observation port, the only window in their cramped compartment.
He reached the window and looked out. The other three pressed around him, their hard-shell pressure suits butting and sliding against one another like a quartet of awkward tortoises trying to dip their beaks into the same tiny life-giving puddle.
A red dusty desert stretched out as far as the eye could see, rust-colored boulders scattered across the barren gently rolling land like toys left behind by a careless child. The uneven horizon seemed closer than it should be. The sky was a delicate salmon pink. Small wind-shaped dunes heaped in precise rows, and the reddish sand piled against some of the bigger rocks.
Jamie catalogued the scene professionally: ejecta from impacts, maybe volcanic eruptions but more likely meteor hits. No bedrock visible. The dunes look stable, probably been there since the last dust storm, maybe longer.
"Mars," breathed Joanna Brumado, her helmet practically touching his as they peered through the window.
"Mars," Jamie agreed.
"It looks so desolate," said Ilona Malater, sounding disappointed, as if she had expected a welcoming committee or at least a blade of grass.
"Exactly like the photos," said Antony Reed.
To Jamie, the red desert world beyond the window looked just as he had expected it to look. Like home.
The first member of the team to leave the landing ship was the sturdy construction robot. Crowding against the small observation window with the three other scientists, Jamie Waterman watched the bulbous, blue-gray metal vehicle roll across the rusty red sand on its six springy wheels, stopping abruptly about fifty meters from where their lander stood.
Watching the square-sided machine with the bulky liquefied air tanks atop it, Jamie thought to himself, Russian design, Japanese electronics, and American software. Just like everything else on this expedition.
A pair of gleaming metal arms unfolded from the truck's front like a giraffe climbing to its feet and began to pull a shapeless heap of plastic from the big storage bin on its side. The robot spread the plastic out on the sand as precisely as a grandmother spreading a picnic tablecloth. Then it seemed to stop, as if to inspect the shiny, rubbery-looking material. Slowly, the lifeless plastic began to stir, filling with air from the big tanks on the robot's top. The plastic heap grew and took form finally a rigid hemispherical dome that completely hid the robot from view.
Ilona Malater, pressing close, murmured, "Our home on Mars."
Tony Reed replied, "If it doesn't leak."
For more than an hour they watched the industrious little robot building their inflated dome, fixing its rim firmly to the dusty Martian soil, trundling back and forth through a mantall flap to get reinforcing metal ribs and a complete airlock assembly from the landing vehicle's cargo bay and then weld them into place.
They were all anxious to go outside and plant their booted feet on the rust-red soil of Mars, but Vosnesensky insisted that they follow the mission plan to the letter. "The braking structure must cool," he called down to them from the cockpit, by way of legitimizing his decision. "The dome structure must be finished and fully pressurized."
Vosnesensky, of course, was too busy to stand by the observation port and watch with the rest of them. As commander of the ground team he was up in the cockpit, checking out all the lander's systems while he reported to the mission leader in the spacecraft orbiting overhead and, through him, to the mission controllers back on Earth, more than a hundred million kilometers away.
Pete Connors, the American astronaut who copiloted the lander, sat at Vosnesensky's side and monitored the construction robot and the sensors that were sampling the thin air outside. Only the four scientists were free to watch the machine erect the first human habitation on the surface of Mars.
"We should be getting into our backpacks," said Joanna Brumado.
"Plenty of time for that," Tony Reed said.
Ilona Malater gave a wicked little laugh. "You wouldn't want him to become angry with us, would you, Tony?" She pointed upward, toward the cockpit level.
Reed cocked an eyebrow and smiled back at her. "I don't suppose it would do to upset him on the very first day, would it?"
Jamie took his eyes from the hard-working robot, now fitting a second heavy metal airlock into the dome's curving structure. Without a word he squeezed past the three others and reached for the backpack to his pressure suit, hanging on its rack against the far bulkhead. Like their suits, the backpacks were color coded: Jamie's was sky-blue. He backed against it and felt the latches click into place against the back of his hard suit. The suit itself still felt stiff, like a new pair of Levis, only worse. It took real effort to move its shoulder joints.
In the jargon of the Mars Project their vehicle was called an L/AV: landing/ascent vehicle. It had been designed for efficiency, not comfort. It was large, but most of its space was given to capacious cargo bays housing equipment and supplies for the six explorers. Atop the cargo bays, on the airlock level, the hard suits and backpacks for outside work were stored. There were four fold-down seats in the airlock level, but the compartment felt terribly crowded to Jamie when he and the three other scientists were jammed into it, especially when they were bundled inside their cumbersome hard-shell suits. Above the airlock level sat the cockpit with the cosmonaut commander and astronaut second-in-command.
If they had to, the six men and women could live for days inside this landing vehicle. The mission plan called for them to set up their base in the inflated dome that the robot was building. But they could survive in the lander, if it came to that.
Maybe. Jamie thought that if they had to spend just a few more hours cooped up in this cramped claustrophobic compartment, somebody would commit murder. It had been bad enough during the nine-month flight from Earth in the much roomier modules of the parent spacecraft. This little descent vehicle would quickly turn into a lunatic asylum if they had to live in it for days on end.
They donned the backpacks using the buddy system, as they had been trained to do, one scientist helping the other to check out all the connections to the suit batteries, heater, and air regenerator. Then check it all again. The backpacks were designed to connect automatically to ports in the pressure suit, but one tiny misalignment could kill you out on the surface of Mars.
Then they began to check the suits themselves, from the heavy boots to the marvelously thin and flexible gloves. What passed for air outside was rarer than the highest stratosphere of Earth, an unbreathable mix of mainly carbon dioxide. An unprotected human would die in an explosive agony of ruptured lungs and blood that would literally boil at such low pressure.
"What! Not ready yet!"
Vosnesensky's deep voice grated. The Russian tried to make it sound mildly humorous, but it was clear that he had no patience with his scientific underlings. He was fully encased in his blazing red suit, backpack riding like a hump behind his shoulders, ready to go, as he clumped down the ladder from the cockpit. Connors, right behind him, was also in his clean white hard suit and backpack. Jamie wondered which genius among the administrators and psychologists back home had assigned the black astronaut to a gleaming white suit.
Jamie had helped Tony Reed and now the Englishman turned away from him to face their flight commander.
"We'll be ready in a few moments, Mikhail Andreivitch. Please be patient with us. We're all a bit nervous, you know."
It was not until that exact moment that the enormity of it hit Jamie. They were about to step outside this metal canister and plant their booted feet on the red soil of Mars. They were about to fulfill a dream that had haunted humankind for all the ages of existence.
And I'm a part of it, Jamie said to himself. Maybe by accident, but still I'm here. On Mars!
* * *
"You want my honest opinion? It's crazy."
Jamie and his grandfather Al were hiking along the crest of the wooded ridge that overlooked the freshly whitewashed mission church and the clustered adobe houses of the pueblo. The first snow had dusted the mountains and the Anglo tourists would soon be arriving for the ski season. Al wore his bulky old sheepskin coat and droop-brimmed hat with the silver coin band. Jamie felt so warm in the morning sun that he had already unzipped his dark-blue NASA-issue windbreaker.
Al Waterman looked like an ancient totem pole, tall and bone-lean, his craggy face the faded tan color of weathered wood. Jamie was shorter, more solidly built, his face broader, his skin tanned an almost coppery brown. The two men shared only one feature in common: eyes as black and deep as liquid jet.
"Why is it crazy?" Jamie asked.
Al puffed out a breath of steam and turned to squint at his grandson, standing with his back to the sun.
"The Russians are runnin' the show, right?"
"It's an international mission, Al. The U.S., the Russians, Japanese, lots of other countries."
"Yeah, but the Russians are callin' most of the shots. They been shootin' at Mars for twenty years now. More."
"But they need our help."
"And the Japs."
Jamie nodded. "But I don't see what that's got to do with it."
"Well, it's like this, son. Here in the good old U.S. of A. you can get on the first team because you're an Indian — now don't get mad at me, sonny. I know you're a smart geologist and all that. But being a red man hasn't hurt you with NASA and those other government whites, has it? Equal opportunity and all that."
Jamie found himself grinning at his grandfather. Al ran a trinket shop on the plaza in Santa Fe and milked the tourists shamelessly. He harbored no ill will for the Anglos, no hostility or even bitterness. He simply used his wits and his charm to get along in the world, the same as any Yankee trader or Florida real estate agent.
"Okay," Jamie admitted, "being a Native American hasn't hurt. But I am the best damned geologist they've got." That wasn't entirely true, he knew. But close enough. Especially for family.
"Sure you are," his grandfather agreed, straight-faced. "But those Russians aren't going to take you all the way to Mars on their ship just because you're a red man. They'll pick one of their own people and you'll have spent two-three years training for nothing."
Jamie unconsciously rubbed at his nose. "Well, maybe. That's a possibility. There are plenty of good geologists from other countries applying for the mission."
"So why break your heart? Why give them years of your life when the chances are a hundred to one against you?"
Jamie looked out past the darkly green ponderosa pines toward the rugged, weather-seamed cliffs where his ancestors had built their dwellings a thousand years ago. Turning back to his grandfather he realized that Al's face was weathered and lined just as those cliffs were. His skin was almost the same bleached tan color.
"Because it draws me," he said. His voice was low but as firm as the mountains themselves. "Mars is drawing me to it."
Al gave him a puzzled, almost troubled look.
"I mean," Jamie tried to explain, "who am I, Al? What am I? A scientist, a white man, a Navaho — I don't really know who I am yet. I'm nearly thirty years old and I'm a nobody. Just another assistant professor digging up rocks. There's a million guys just like me."
"Helluva long way to go, all the way to Mars."
Jamie nodded. "I have to go there, though. I have to find out if I can make something of my life. Something real. Something important."
A slow smile crept across his grandfather's leathery face, a smile that wrinkled the corners of his eyes and creased his cheeks.
"Well, every man's got to find his own path in life. You've got to live in balance with the world around you. Maybe your path goes all the way out to Mars."
"I think it does, Grandfather."
Al clasped his grandson's shoulder. "Then go in beauty, son."
Jamie smiled back at him. He knew his grandfather would understand. Now he had to break the news to his parents, back in Berkeley.
* * *
Vosnesensky personally checked each scientist's hard suit and backpack. Only when he was satisfied did he slide the transparent visor of his own helmet down and lock it in place.
"At last the time has come," he said in almost accentless English, like a computer's voice synthesis.
All the others locked their visors down. Connors, standing by the heavy metal hatch, leaned a gloved finger against the stud that activated the air pumps. Through the thick soles of his boots Jamie felt them start chugging, saw the light on the airlock control panel turn from green to amber.
Time seemed to stand still. For eternity the pumps labored while the six explorers stood motionless and silent inside their brightly colored hard suits. With their visors down Jamie could not see their faces, but he knew each of his fellow explorers by the color of their suits: Joanna was Day-Glo orange; Ilona vivid green; Tony Reed canary yellow.
The clattering of the pumps dwindled as, the air was sucked out of the compartment until Jamie could hear nothing, not even his own breathing, because he was holding his breath in anticipation.
The pumps stopped. The indicator light on the panel next to the hatch went to red. Connors pulled the lever and the hatch popped open a crack. Vosnesensky pushed it all the way open.
Jamie felt light-headed. As if he had climbed to the top of a mesa too fast, or jogged a couple of miles in the thin air of the mountains. He let out his breath and took a deep gulp of his suit's air. It tasted cold and metal dry. Mars lay framed in the oval hatchway, glowing pink and red and auburn like the arid highlands where he had spent his childhood summers.
Vosnesensky was starting down the ladder, Jamie realized. Connors went down next, followed by Joanna, then Tony, Ilona, and finally himself. As if in a dream Jamie went slowly down the ladder, one booted foot at a time, gloved hands sliding along the gleaming metal rails that ran between two of the unfolded petals of the aerobrake. Its ceramic-coated alloy had absorbed the blazing heat of their fiery entry into the Martian atmosphere. The metal mesh seemed dead cold now.
Jamie stepped off the last rung of the flimsy ladder. He stood on the sandy surface of Mars.
He felt totally alone. The five human figures beside him could not truly be people; they looked like strange alien totems. Then he realized that they were aliens, and he was too. Here, on Mars we are the alien invaders, Jamie told himself.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Mars"
Copyright © 1992 Ben Bova.
Excerpted by permission of RosettaBooks.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
What People are Saying About This
"Mars is a book that puts Bova at the forefront not only of hard SF writers but also establishes him as one who can write a novel of character with the best of them."
"Mars is a gripping, realistic tale of man's first expedition to the red planet. Don't miss it."
"There's a lot of fine territory, and Bova covers it in grand style."
Exclusive Author Essay
I grew up in the narrow streets and row houses of South Philadelphia, in a blue-collar neighborhood where the richest guy we kids knew was a petty Mafioso who ran the local numbers racket. One day in 1941 we were taken out of our junior high school classroom and packed into a bus. Our teachers told us we were going to visit the city's science museum. We all groaned and griped, but in those days of iron discipline we had no choice but to go to the museum. It was called the Franklin Institute (in Philadelphia nearly everything is named after either Ben Franklin or William Penn) Science Museum. Dullsville, we thought.
They took us into a round auditorium with a domed roof and made us sit -- quietly, or else. In the middle of this planetarium was some kind of machine that looked like a giant black ant. (This was long before sci-fi movies that featured giant insects, by the way.) I noticed that the lights were getting dimmer and dimmer. In a few minutes it was completely dark. I literally could not see my hand in front of my face. Scary. A man's soft tenor voice started telling us that it's difficult to see the stars from the streets of the city. To really the stars, you have to be way out in the country, or maybe on a ship in the middle of the ocean. "Then," he said calmly, "you can see the stars in all their true splendor." With that, he turned on the planetarium projector (the giant ant). Thousands of stars suddenly appeared above us. We all gasped.
The planetarium director had turned on the stars. He turned me on, too. In that instant of wonder and beauty I got hooked on astronomy. It was the turning point in my life. I returned to the museum on my own. The director, Dr. I. M. Levitt, became a friend, a mentor. Through him I learned that there were people who wanted to build rockets that could take us to the Moon and worlds beyond. I found that there were futuristic stories of what it would be like to go into space. I became interested in astronautics at a time when "flying to the Moon" was regarded as the ultimate impossibility, and science fiction was disdained as cheap pulp trash.
I began to write my own stories about the future, trying always to base them solidly on the known scientific facts of the day. In 1959, when I sold my first science fiction novel, the editors were so impressed with the astronomical background of the story that they asked me to write a nonfiction book about astronomy. While I wrote fiction and nonfiction books, I also worked on the first American program to launch an artificial satellite into orbit, Vanguard, two years before the creation of NASA. Later, I edited Analog Science Fiction magazine, and then Omni -- all because of that mandatory class trip to the Franklin Institute and I. M. Levitt. In 1972 I had the great joy of dedicating one of my nonfiction books to him, The Amazing Laser.
Today, more than 100 books later, I am still writing about the marvelous future that awaits us in space, still basing my fiction on the latest scientific discoveries. In novels such as Mars, Moonwar, and The Precipice, I am taking readers on a Grand Tour of the solar system, showing how the human race will expand through the solar system in the coming years. In my nonfiction books, such as The Story of Light, I try to show how our growing understanding of science helps us to live longer, healthier, more productive lives.
It's a never-ending quest. The first novel I ever wrote, in 1949, was never published because publishers thought its plot too odd: It was based on the idea that the Russians go into space before the U.S. does, so the Americans launch a crash program to get American astronauts to the Moon before the Russians get there -- too crazy for publishers in 1949. Twenty years later, Armstrong and Aldrin won the space race for the U.S. It took the real world 20 years to catch up with my science fiction. Now, when I start a new project, I wonder if I can finish the book before the scientists beat me to the punch.
Writing about science and the future is exciting, and great fun. I hope reading about it is, too. (Ben Bova)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Realistic portrayal of foray to Mars. A very REALISTIC story about man's first trek to mars. The story is dutifully speculative fiction. Painstakingly thoughtful on all the circumstances that would surround such a voyage, from earth-bound politics to interpersonal relationships of the travelers themselves. Lets also not forget the science which Bova provides in generous amounts. If you love mars and you love scientific fiction about space exploration then you will love this book. I feel the author made a hard choice in keeping away from fantasy and he sticks to it through and through. Its hard to explain without giving away spoilers. Overall, I felt somewhat unsatisfied with the result. While the work is done masterfully for what it is I felt a tad bit cheated in the end. That said, I will state unequivocally that I was glued to this book throughout my reading. I found myself compelled to keep picking it up and the writing is done well so I was able to plow through it quite swiftly despite its length. So kudos to the author for keeping me quite interested from start to finish. I did not like the politics of the book or the interpersonal relationships. Which I suppose you were not supposed to like as they serve as potential sources of conflict for the main character. They were done fine. However, I feel like the author kept threatening to derail the mission because of various political problems on the ground or petty jealousies among the chief characters. All of this would be quite good, and it served a purpose of putting this space exploration in a realistic world - yet I felt that the author shied away from really raising the stakes with these things. And because the politics and interpersonal relationships only seemed to threaten thing in a weak way I felt that the peaks and valleys of the story were less dramatic. I guess it felt a bit like the story was sacrificed for the mission. So I wonder if the book could have been shortened if we took out some of the these elements. I would say this story is really a 3.5 star rating. And yet, I feel duty bound to leave you with the notion that I could truly not put down the book. So if you are at all interested in Mars missions and realistic science fiction, I would definitely check it out.
this was the slowest book, the characters were overstated. too much character development and not enough sci-fi. haven't even finished the book, but am on last two chapters and still no major story surprise or excitement.
I had read this book years ago, and I don't remember too much about it. What I do recall is that I especially liked how he described the first manned expedition to mars having a hard time adapting to being in such an isolated environment: more isolated than on any place on earth. Nothing for miles around, no trees, insects, etc. Just rock and dust as far as the eye can see. I remember it also being a bit too long, but liked it never-the-less.
A great example of realistic science fiction! I thought that this was a very good read. A little slow at times (as others have stated), but Mr. Bova keeps the exploration and discovery aspect very well balanced with character development. I especially liked the background chapters (how did this person get into the Mars program, what drove them to become the best in their field). I've not read all of the Grand Tour series, but if the remaining books are of this quality, then I have a lot to look forward to.
If you can squint past the pancaked layer of sexism and other brazen stereotypes that pepper this book that could be no more clearly written for 15-year-old boys than it is, the story is a passably interesting and relatively scientifically accurate account of what a peopled expedition to the Red Planet might actually be like. The story kept me reading, even while the dialogue was tired and the characters made me want to smack them.
This is not among the author's best work. The story is like reading 'Peyton Place' goes to Mars.
Science was good, but not nearly as deep as I hoped. Way too much politics.
This book was what got me into sci-fi in the 6th grade many years ago. I bought the eBook this Christmas ('13) when I received some B&N gift cards. It's still a great book but this eBook version has a lot of spelling and punctuation errors which can detract from your experience. I gave it four stars instead of five because of these errors, which could've easily been spotted by an editor before releasing the eBook.
Can't wait to rip into it now that it's NOOK'D
Ben Bova has created a realistic rendition of the first exploratory expedition to Mars. His attention to detail and reality makes the story feel real. He describes the trip to Mars, the landing on and the surface of Mars, and traveling on the planet's surface so realistically that the reader is pulled into believing that he/she is participating in the trip and the events Mr. Bova recounts. The first plot revolves around academic/political in-fighting which sounds like Mr. Bova may have participated or been the victim of something similar. The second plot surrounds the discovery of something in the wall of the great canyon and provides the hero with the compulsion to return (as he does in the next book: Return to Mars). Ben Bova's style is reminiscent of the sci-fi writers of the fifties and sixties and is so smooth as to permit a complete read through in one day. Recommended to all hard-science sci-fi fans.