Mars Crossing

Posted by : atcampbell | On : June 4, 2002

Mars Crossing by Geoffrey A. Landis

This meeting was held at the home of Charles and Willie Siros. Twelve people attended, and one submitted comments by email. Our topic was Mars Crossing, the first novel by Geoffrey Landis. Landis is a real-life space scientist and a prolific author of short SF. Mars Crossing tells the story of the third manned mission to Mars in the year 2028. The first two missions, sent by Brazil and the USA, had been spectacularly unsuccessful, failing to return a single crewmember back to Earth. The purpose of the third mission is to use up the rest of the rapidly diminishing budget for manned exploration and to try to demonstrate that it is possible for people to visit Mars and return home. Almost immediately after landing, the crew discovers an unfixable problem with the return vehicle. In a desperate plan, they travel to the sites of previous expeditions and try to salvage enough supplies and parts to get at least some of them home. During the course of the journey, extensive flashback sequences show how each astronaut came to be on the mission. All of us had started the book, but two did not finish it.

It was fun to read a hard SF novel written by a real scientist. The science in the book was well thought out and believable, and from the author’s background we were sure it was accurate. We enjoyed reading an insider’s anecdotes about the training of an astronaut and life on a long mission. The details of the Martian environment were vividly described, and several of us enjoyed the scene where the crew passes by the Pathfinder site. We liked the travelogue nature of the story.

We had problems with the astronaut characters. In general we found them to be boring people who were hard to care about. A couple of them had lied on their resumes to get on the mission, and we found it unbelievable that they weren’t uncovered by NASA background checks. The crew members did not seem to know each other well and did not work well as a team, which we found hard to believe for a group that had been together most of a year.

The story disappointed most of us. One person felt the book read like “a cross between a National Geographic special and a JPL puff piece”. The rescue story was too simple to sustain our interest at novel length. Eventually a “locked room murder” mystery is introduced into the story, but we found this did not fit with the rest of the book. Most of us figured out the killer’s identity early. The “final revelation” at the end had little payoff.

Overall we found Mars Crossing to be a flawed novel with interesting bits. Many of us had read and enjoyed Landis’s short fiction, so we felt that he’s still learning how to write a novel. After the meeting we had a nice dinner at Threadgill’s.

–A. T. Campbell, III