Friday, December 16, 2011

100 Books 76 - Robert Zubrin's HOW TO LIVE ON MARS

Half science, half science fiction, Robert Zubrin's How to Live on Mars: A Trusty Guidebook to Surviving and Thriving on the Red Planet is a fantastic read for anyone who is interested in the possibility of permanent human habitation of other worlds -- except for one thing. The Kindle edition seriously blows, the single worst ebook experience I have ever had. I think someone at Three Rivers/Random House scanned in a 14th generation photocopy of the uncorrected manuscript and didn't even bother to proofread the OCR errors afterwards*. It's truly shameful. Never again can anyone from Big Publishing sneer at any self-published author's efforts.

Which is a terrible pity, because that aside, this is a fun, fascinating book.

Written, as the title suggests, as a guidebook for new immigrants to the hundred-year-old human settlements on Mars, Zubrin's work has an amusing narrative voice, a ton of practical science lessons and a tremendous amount of imagination. Some readers will dislike its Heinleinian/Libertarian bent (there is an excursis on global warming on earth, which Zubrin maintains is/was a good thing, that will make a lot of you blink hard), its presupposition that you as both reader of the copyright 2008 semi-fiction text and a prospective future immigrant to the well-established colonies in a century or so, are planning your move to Mars to get away from Big Government oppression and start a one-person Galt's Gulch with all the other Galts on the red planet, its focus on the profit motive -- but if she can get past that (and the disgraceful typesetting), the reader will very likely be charmed, as I was, by the vividly imagined realities and possibilities of human colonization of the rest of the solar system.

Zubrin is an aerospace engineer in real life, so all of his proposals for how to meet survival needs (cracking soil and rocks for water, etc) as well as for how and why to settle the place at all (as well established in his The Case for Mars) are thoroughly backed up with all the science and math the reader could wish for (or skip over, if one is feeling lazy), but he never gets dull or pedantic, never drops character. From start to finish, he is the imaginary author (bitching about Random House's lawyers and all) of a cheeky samizdat survival guide, brash, opinionated, digging into the reader's ribs and patting himself on the back for having had the foresight to get there first and invest wisely in the best companies that are out there busily exploiting humanity's next great habitat.

That it managed to be this much fun despite the constant extra effort of parsing past missing "Ls" and nonsensically broken words and giant run-on unintentional portmanteaus is truly remarkable, and as such I would recommend it to anyone looking for something a little different to read. It would also make pretty decent reference material for sci-fi writers. But in either case, get this one on Dead Tree. Or just pirate it. I bet the pirates did a better job than Random House did.


*Here's just one example -- and it's far from the worst: "toputanatmospherinan un reinfo reed brick house on Mars."

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