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How To Live On Mars: A Trusty Guidebook To Surviving And Thriving On The Red Planet by Robert Zubrin

01/01/2009. Contributed by David A. Hardy

Buy How To Live On Mars: A Trusty Guidebook To Surviving And Thriving On The Red Planet in the USA - or Buy How To Live On Mars: A Trusty Guidebook To Surviving And Thriving On The Red Planet in the UK

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pub: Three Rivers Press/Crown Publishing/Random House. 205 page illustrated small enlarged paperback. Price: $13.95 (US), $15.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-307-40718-4.

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If you are one of those people who usually skip the 'About The Author' bit at the front of a book I suggest that you don't. Because it is here that you will learn that this book is not written, as you may otherwise quite reasonably assume by the Robert Zubrin who is President of the Mars Society, but by a Robert Zubrin who has been living on Mars for many years, who was in fact born in New Plymouth in 2071 and graduated from Heinlein High School in 2099. The writer claims that he is, quote: 'no (proven) relation to his 20th century namesake, a humorless astronautical engineer who developed the Mars Direct plan, authored the classic treatise 'The Case For Mars' and led the founding of the Mars Society in 1988.' He apologises for any confusion his nom de plume may have caused.

So having cleared that up, what on Earth - sorry, on Mars - is this book all about? It is a guide to anyone thinking of moving to Mars, telling them all they need to know about how to live, work, travel, find a mate and everything else. The author makes the assumption that in order to want to leave Earth you are probably a loser; sold your house and anything else you owned to buy a one-way ticket and start a new life. So you are willing to cut corners and probably not averse to turning a blind eye to anything which may not be strictly legal...

He also makes very clear his distrust, disdain and derision for NASA and the Mars Authority (MA), whose bureaucrats do their best to extract money on the slightest pretext, wrap everyone up in red tape (as well as cotton wool with their safety regulations) and generally make life difficult for all Martians. But if you follow the advice in this book none of that need worry you!

The book is illustrated with what, since it is a factual book, you might assume should be photographs, but which are in fact paintings by Michael Carroll, Robert Murray and other artists. Michael is a good friend of mine and I can see that he clearly had fun here and enjoyed doing the art. It is therefore a pity that all of the illustrations are reproduced in black-and-white and quite small. It would be good to see a larger-format version of this book with full-page art in colour.

The idea is not new, of course. My own 1991 art book with Bob Shaw, 'Galactic Tours', was based on the concept that we are living in the future and able to book holidays on other planets, including those of other stars.

The book is divided into two parts. 'Part 1: The Basics Of Survival' in which you will learn 'How To Get To Mars', 'How To Choose A Spacesuit', 'Your First Ground Rover', 'Your Homestead (With The Right Technologies)', 'How To Save Money On Radiation Protection', 'How To Stay Alive In The Desert', 'How To Make Anything', and 'How To Grow Food (That Is Actually Edible)'. Remember that most of the things we take for granted on Earth - including air and water - have to be imported, manufactured, grown, mined, extracted or otherwise produced on Mars. An interesting sidelight is thrown upon the psychology of the author (whoever he may be) in that he seems quite happy to condone methods of making an income which involve a little thievery or skulduggery or the growing of recreational drugs such as hemp or even certain types of mushroom as a sideline, providing you can get away with it...

Part 2 includes: 'How To Get A Job That Pays Well And Doesn't Kill You', 'How To Fly On Mars', 'How To Invest Your Savings', 'How To Make Discoveries That Will Make You Famous', 'How To Profit From The Terraforming Program', 'How To Be A Social Success On Mars' and 'How To Avoid Bureaucratic Persecution'. Zubrin is at pains to contrast the cosy picture painted by the salespeople of happy people tending the foliage in a greenhouse, surrounded by the perfume of lovely flowers with the grimy reality of having to grow plants that are fertilised by human faeces and urine and having to clean out the systems filters and clogged plumbing lines. I think you get the picture!

This is a fascinating book. Very funny, but containing a lot of good, real science. Read it and you will learn more than you already knew (and possibly more than you wanted to know) about the planet Mars, travelling to and living on it. As is often the case with US books, I was irritated by the fact that 'Earth' is capitalised but 'sun' and 'moon' are not. What is the logic in this? They are all proper nouns and the most important bodies in our Solar System (except, in this case, Mars, of course) to us. But maybe that's just me. I was also puzzled by frequent references to 'S&R' (usually with a warning not to purchase equipment from them). What could this mean? I wondered. Supplies and Requisites, perhaps? Then it clicked: Sears & Roebuck; an institution known to all Americans from its catalogues (catalogs) and stores but which, surprisingly, has not made its way to UK shores. Yet.

There is one other small problem. As part of his scenario and indeed as part of some of his money-making schemes, Zubrin has to assume that life has been found on Mars. This is quite common in SF novels; Ben Bova does it in his recent 'Mars Life' (qv). It is of course quite possible that we shall find not just fossil bacteria but actual life on Mars as Becky Sherman - the most famous person on the planet - discovered when the Beagle landed so long ago (or so far in the future; I'm confused now). I didn't know when I received this book that Robert Zubrin (the present-day one) had a novel called 'First Landing' published in 2001 which contains the same characters, including of course Dr. Rebecca Sherman, and in that the landing was in 2011, which clearly isn't going to happen! But that's another story. Almost. However, it does make quite a difference to whether Zubrin's imagined future on Mars will ever happen or whether, as with Apollo, we shall just go there, potter around for a bit, and never return.

But that reservation aside, I recommend this book to all space buffs.

David A. Hardy

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