“Waking Mars” is an appealing game. A driven-story adventure that puts you in the (space) boots of the first man exploring Mars, turning him into the hybrid of a makeshift Martian farmer and an exo-botanist… can only be a good foundation for a sci-fi book. Rock paper shotgun made an amazing work on reviewing the game and the science that lies beneath it. Wired.co.uk did it too !
Now I invite you to continue that (perhaps already started) journey on the fourth planet of our solar system. There aren’t and there certainly won’t be any books on the game “waking Mars”, but modern literature already published one to ease our need of red rocks, and snouting aliens.
A novel called The Martian Race (click to find it on amazon), written by Gregory Benford presents us the conquest of Mars from the point of view of an astronaut, depicting the preparation to go to Mars, the way back and (maybe) forth and its exploration. The text is written in a precise and accurate way, involving scientific accuracy, and emotional sensibility. The author, an astrophysicist well known for his collaboration with the NASA, is surely a man of letters AND science. The” hard science thing”, with the absence of cheesy Art’s delusions, is still there and it seemed like I was walking the line the writing of the ios’ game had already traced in my mind! I’m sure that if Benford had played the game he would have been hooked… or he would have been hiring a lawyer to get a percentage of the game‘s benefits (aka the preconditioned USA citizen reflex).
The shift of character is not a big deal, and you get straight ahead in following fellow astronauts in dire straits on the red planet, all of that being fragmented with a series of flash backs that unwind the characters’ personalities, and build the tension inside the memory gaps that are about to be filled … by the author ! The developed countries, trying hard to keep space exploration on a descent track, launch a tender of 30 billion dollars for the first private company to reach Mars.
All of that is a probably more realistic view in the current space exploration context, the money is being loaned into a blistering space-race by an extravagant Richard Branson-like character. Startled, I’ve found the enterprise hazardous, with multiple obstacles on the way: scientific, psychological and physical preparation, competition with other nations, tension between the media, the sponsor, and the crew members themselves.
I took also a well described touristic trip into the Martian underground. Being a geologist is probably a job everybody wants to do on Mars, but nobody wants to do it on earth. Watch out! No unlimited, hovering and rocket jet pack there. Astronauts are dealing with gravity helped by a rope, a winch and a pickaxe. Humans facing their limits, finding that what really counts is their common will and not the things, technology or the precautionary principle want them to do. Mission control always seems to evaluate the pro and the cons of every action, keeping in balance the global goal (money) of the mission, forgetting that strong human bounds are the most important things.
The author really managed to build up our expectations through the book, making it at some point a page turner. A great deal was to understand the choices and the challenges the astronauts had to face in the devastated Martian desert, things that were only treated superficially in the game.
The main obstacle of the book is probably not only the lack of description of role-play zero-g sex moments, a possible fantasy of every science fiction reader. The description of the engineering and scientific research made by the astronauts are perhaps a bit too much for some people, and I admit I had to go on Google to check a few things sometimes … as I did when I read the “waking Mars” research section.
I felt understanding details in the book can be indeed important to get the whole buildup of action that goes through the storyline.
I was somehow disappointed when the whole tension around the alien/ Martian life falls flat. No little green men, or regolith plants going mad around you… but something else, stuck between a vivid dream of a phosphorescent summer night and biochemical dissection of a new cellular form.
It is probably the moment when you close your book and find some solid ground on “waking Mars”. So in the end that book feels like the prequel AND the ending of the game, taking place in the real world, where money has become the last alternative to fuel/or to destroy the realization of humanity’s dream. It’s also a story of scientists who feel their ideal is squeezed between those two giants … with feet of clay.
Like the frontier of dream and awakening, the book and the game complete each other intrinsically, some part of one triggers questions and curiosity that could be answered by the other, delivering a mesmerizing, but unfortunately somehow elitist experience.
Throughout the last century, the vision of Mars evolved from Martian canals to a landscape that would oxidize all our imagination into a thin red dust. We have now to dive deep underfoot to find sparks of Curiosity.
What if David Bowie would ask me if there was life on Mars? I would be sure to answer “Yes, but in our mind first”.
To further dig into that field, you can also find a British author, Paul McAuley’s book: The Secret of Life which focuses less on the exploration of Mars but more on the discovery and the fight to appropriate a secret Martian life buried in ice.
You can buy The Martian Race on Amazon.com.