From the Publisher
“Astonishing...mind-expanding...universe-expanding.” Los Angeles Times
“Compelling...evocative...Morton's prose is like Earth: humid, rich, swirling, alive...worthwhile for any reader interested in astronomy and space exploration.” The Boston Globe
“There is much to recommend in this book. The author has an encyclopedic grasp of the development of major discoveries of Mars science, and he summarizes them in a very understandable way.... And, I must confess, I am frankly envious of his engaging prose. This book will delight anyone interested in the exploration of the planet next door.” American Scientist
“Morton captures the revolutions in thought that come from envisioning another world and comparing it with our own.” The Dallas Morning News
Well-known British science writer Morton, a contributor to Wired, the New Yorker and Science, traces scientists' efforts to map and understand the surface of Mars. Because much of the planet's surface material is basalt, which is porous, Morton explains, it is very probable that water from Mars's now dry canyons long ago sank into underground aquifers and froze. Mars has often been regarded as the planet most similar to Earth, but the author describes graphically how startlingly different its topography is. Mars is a planet with mountains larger than whole American states and plains the size of Canada. Our Grand Canyon would be dwarfed by the massive erosion canyons that surprised us a decade ago with their implication that titanic floods once rushed across the planet's surface. Olympus Mons, its largest volcano, is taller than two Everests, contains more than four times the total volume of the Alps and has a circumference larger than the distance between the northern and southern tips of the home islands of Japan. Morton writes eloquently and displays a breadth of knowledge not often found in science writing. He summarizes how science fiction authors have imagined Mars as well as how pre-computer artists used airbrush techniques to depict Mars's monstrous contours. The book might have benefited from being more tightly focused, but astronomy and geology buffs will be sure to snap it up. 16 color photos not seen by PW. (Sept.) Forecast: News services have recently trumpeted the discovery of underground water on Mars, so this book is sure to appeal to astronomy fans excited by this long anticipated and eagerly awaited event. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
English science journalist Morton reconstitutes the Mars myth for the Net generation, showing how our mapping of the Martian landscape has brought into focus the "blotchy but beckoning" planet observed by 19th-century astronomers. Morton, who covered the failed Mars mission in 1999 and has reported on the informal network of enthusiasts known as the Mars Underground, takes a retrospective look at the mapping of the Red Planet. While the televised face of Mars exploration is well known, he notes, the public has never accorded the glory it deserves to the process by which exploratory probes have provided data for more and more exact maps of the planet. Upon this cartographical substratum, Martian sciences (whether of geology or speculative astrobiology) have erected their hypothetical structures. Mariner 9 in 1971 and subsequent missions, as Morton details, gave rise to many controversies, which range from whether the atmosphere is colored yellowish gray rather than the popular pink to how much water remains under the Martian surface. Parallel to the science of Mars is the science fiction of Mars. Enthusiasm for Mars among SF writers waned in the 1970s as it became apparent that the landscape had been shaped by geological forces that essentially stopped billions of years ago, but interest revived as the initial shock of a barren Mars gave way to a more complex vision of the planet. As geologists began to trace faint remnants of what could have been an ocean, SF writers, led by Kim Stanley Robinson, have been constructing a new, more sober Mars meticulously congruent to the landscape revealed by the maps. The final sections report on such Mars Underground luminaries as Bob Zubin, a MartinMarietta engineer who has created a prototype for a direct mission to Mars. Not for beginners, who will find William Sheehan's The Planet Mars (1996) a better place to start. But for enthusiasts: this will be the Mars book of the year.