8 Mars Novels for Fans of the Red Planet

Were you glued to your screen on Feb. 18, 2021, when NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover made its final descent to the Mars?  This is the first rover mission designed to seek signs of past microbial life. Earlier rovers first focused on and confirmed that Mars once had habitable conditions. The goals of this mission are:

  1. Determine whether life ever existed on Mars
  2. Characterize the Climate of Mars
  3. Characterize the Geology of Mars
  4. Prepare for Human Exploration

If you’re caught a touch of Martian Fever, or just wondered what it might be like to be on Mars yourself, we’ve got a reading list for you:

Kids’ Fiction

The Lion of Mars by Jennifer L. Holm. Bell has spent his whole life – all eleven years of it – on Mars. When a virus breaks out and the grown-ups all fall ill, Bell and the other children are the only ones who can help.

We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey. After a year on Mars, a young boy and his family migrate to the planet Choom, but the inhabitants of Choom, who look like giant mosquitoes, don’t really like humans and it is up to the boy and his family to change their minds if they hope to survive.

Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson. While waiting to leave Mars before it burns up just like the Earth before it, Liam and his friend Phoebe discover some facts about time and space and realize that the human race is just one of the races trying to survive in space.

In the Red by Christopher Swiedler. When a massive solar flare hits their Mars colony, friends Michael and Lilith are stranded with no protection from the sun, a quickly dwindling supply of air, food, and water, and little hope for rescue.

Adult/YA Fiction

Red Rising by Pierce Brown. A tale set in a bleak future society torn by class divisions follows the experiences of secret revolutionary Darrow, who after witnessing his wife’s execution by an oppressive government joins a revolutionary cell and attempts to infiltrate an elite military academy.

The Martian by Andy Weir. Stranded on Mars by a dust-storm that compromised his space suit and forced his crew to leave him behind, astronaut Mark Watney struggles to survive in spite of minimal supplies and environmental challenges that test his ingenuity.

The Sky So Big and Black by John Barnes. Accompanying her eco-prospector father on a tour through the Martian wilderness, Terry finds herself having to guide the trip’s young survivors back home after a terrible accident.

Mars Life by Ben Bova. Discovering proof that intelligent life had existed on Mars millions of years earlier, scientists Jamie Waterman and Carter Carleton struggle to protect Mars funding in the face of ultra-conservatives who fear the discovery will compromise their religious beliefs.

 

Science Fiction and the Red Planet

Today’s post is by our sci-fi-guy, Harold Kramer.

Mars, our nearest planetary neighbor, has always fascinated science fiction writers here on planet earth.  Science fiction about Mars began with Jules Verne and his 1865 novel From Earth to the Moon.  This novel, like many others by Verne, was accurate in concept, although technology in his day made many of his ideas impossible to execute.

During the first half of the 20th century, science fiction writers were obsessed with Martians. Belligerent Martians invaded earth in H. G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds. Orson Welles’s 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds even caused a nationwide panic.  Written in 1950, The Martian Chronicles, a collection of strange and haunting short stories by Ray Bradbury were about an expedition to the red planet. Another early Mars novel was A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs who was a master of fast-moving adventure stories, whether in the jungle with Tarzan or on the moon with the Princess.  I have recently re-read some of these early science fiction novels and, while definitely not scientifically accurate, they still are good reads.

Beginning in the 1970s, the first NASA and Russian probes and rovers obtained real scientific data about Mars. Once sci fi writers realized that there were no little green men on Mars, science fiction tackled more realistic Martian topics and focused on the challenges of human colonization on the red planet.  A major sci fi theme was terraforming Mars to make it into a self-sustaining environment that was fit for life that developed on earth. Another major theme was what type of society and governmental structure might exist in a Mars colony.

One of the first works that explored these ideas was The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. This series consists of three books:  Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars. Red Mars won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1993.  Blue Mars won the 1997 Hugo Award. The trilogy begins with Red Mars when the first colonists arrive on Mars and simply try to survive. Green Mars and Blue Mars and continue the story one hundred years in the future when Mars has been terraformed into a green and politically independent world. My favorite of the three is the first book, Red Mars.

Ben Bova has written four related novels about Mars: Mars, Return to Mars, Mars Inc. and Mars Life. The planet Mars is the fourth  stop on his Grand Tour – a series of related novels that take place in the 21st Century and that focus on exploration and colonization of every planet in our solar system.  I enjoy reading Ben Bova’s books because of his clear writing, scientific imagination, and expansive ideas.

The Martian by Andy Weir, written in 2011, is my favorite book about Mars.  I couldn’t put it down once I started reading it.   It won the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Science Fiction in 2014 and the Audie Award in 2015 for best science fiction audio book. The Martian is a modern-day Robinson Crusoe story about an American astronaut who is presumed dead but who is actually alive and stranded on Mars. What makes it so interesting is that the technology is highly credible, and the writing is taut. It was made into a movie in 2015 that was directed by Ridley Scott and starred Matt Damon.

​Many other great science fiction novelists have written about Mars.  These include Greg Bear’s Moving Mars and Arthur C. Clarke’s The Sands of Mars. Also notable are Larry Niven’s Rainbow Mars and Robert Heinlein’s classic, Stranger in a Strange Land.

Although this is a science-fiction blog post, I would like to mention a non-fiction book about Mars and planetary exploration and colonization. It is called The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and our Destiny Beyond Earth, by physicist Michio Kaku.  This scientifically based work is an extraordinary projection of the future of humanity as it moves from earth to the stars.