10 Books Not to Bring When You Colonize Mars
In an effort to better understand the stresses of living in a completely contained environment, the Mars simulation experiment took six scientists and locked them in a geodesic dome at 2,500 meters above sea level. The simulation ran for 365 days and ended recently, releasing its six inhabitants on an unsuspecting earth.
While the scientists weren't reduced to a pack of bloodthirsty cannibals by their ordeal, one of the biggest issues they faced was the profound boredom of simulated extra-terrestrial life.
French astrobiologist Cyprien Verseux commented, "We were always in the same place, always with the same people."
Offering advice to would-be Martians, he said, “Bring books.”
America's Tristan Bassingthwaighte, echoed his thoughts, adding, "lots of books."
While we know that the number of perspective Martian explorers among you is relatively small, we’re trying to provide a service. With that in mind, we have assembled a list of 10 books that you should absolutely not bring to the red planet, under any circumstances.
Kim Stanley Robinson: Red Mars
Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars tells the story of a team of astronauts sent to Mars to establish a self-sustaining, permanent habitation. While things start out well, the questions about the crew’s mental stability will only add the creeping paranoia of living in an environment in which you’re wholly dependent on the rest of your team for survival (and hasn’t MacReady been eying your rations with a look of terrible longing for the last few days...).
Red Mars is a book of Mars colonization gone wrong, of strange breakaways, culture clashes, and subterranean subcolonies. Throughout, there are elements of paranoia, and the discomforting feeling of being watched all the time.
If you wanted to lose your mind on Mars, you could hardly choose a better book.
Ray Bradbury: The Martian Chronicles
Ray Bradbury is one of science fiction’s most prolific writers, and it’s probably no surprise that he filled a book of short stories about Martian colonization efforts. There is a wistful sadness to Bradbury’s Mars, a world sometimes inhabited by strange and beautiful not-quite-people. His is an odd landscape into which humans are too often a destructive interloper.
If you’re an astronaut who wants to go on a mission to Mars, but then spend the entire time you’re there moping about the strange, desolate beauty that humanity will one day erase, The Martian Chronicles is the book for you.
If you’d like to get a feel for the book, start with There Will Come Soft Rains and -And the Moon Be Still As Bright, which sum up the heartbreak of Martian colonization like nothing else.
Kurt Vonnegut: The Sirens of Titan
Vonnegut might be better known for books like Slaughterhouse 5 and Cat’s Cradle, but it is in The Sirens of Titan that he is at the peak of his own spectacular weirdness. The book centres on Malachi Constant, who inadvertently becomes a fulcrum around which human history turns. This is thanks in no small part to his association with a man named Winston Niles Rumfoord.
Due to an accident involving a “chrono-synclastic infundibulum,” Rumfoord has become omniscient, and now exists as a kind of human broadcast more than a man. With Rumfoord apparently pulling the strings, Constant ends up taking part in a Martian invasion of Earth. Afterward, he is exiled and spends long years working as a manual laborer in an extraterrestrial mining colony.
If you’re on Mars and you want to spiral into madness, wondering if events beyond your control are being manipulated by beings beyond your comprehension, look no further.
Edgar Rice Burroughs: A Princess of Mars
A Princess of Mars is another book in the long line of spectacular books that were transformed into dismal movie adaptations. While we firmly believe that Disney's 2012 adaptation should be laid to rest, A Princess of Mars is another wonderful book that should probably remain earthbound for the duration of your time establishing a Martian colony.
While John Carter's adventures are exciting to those of us still on Earth, the truth is that his superheroic antics and near immortality would likely only cast your own Martian adventures in an unfair light. After all, John Carter's trip to Mars (or Barsoom, depending on where you come from) sees him rise to power among the Martian natives.
Since your expedition will likely be the only Martians around, the odds of your rising to power are slim. Moreover, you're unlikely to live a life of high adventure on the dusty planet, because it's hard to have adventures when you're required to spend most of your time indoors.
John Gray: Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus
John Gray’s book of relationship advice may have fallen from grace since the nineties, when it was revered as the handbook for couples, but many will feel inspired by the title to pack it for the trip to Mars. After all, the odds are that you’re going to be spending a considerable amount of time in close quarters with astronauts of both genders. You’ll need to navigate those delicate social situations as carefully as possible.
While this might seem like an eminently reasonable book to read in your shared habitation space, the last thing you need to do while you’re engaged in the construction of a temporary colony on the surface of an arid planet is get along better with any members of the opposite sex.
Consider the risk! Do you think NASA has budgeted for tiny spacesuits for any potential Martians? Please ignore this book.
Philip K Dick: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
While The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch lacks the immediacy and punch of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Ubik, it’s a book that focuses on the trade in illicit narcotics to burnt-out Martian colonists. Promised the world before leaving, the colonists are left to rot and turn to a powerfully hallucinogenic drug known as “Can-D.”
When Palmer Eldritch returns from humanity’s first interstellar flight, he brings with him a new drug that he calls “Chew-Z.” Much of the book focuses on the effects of Chew-Z and the power it gives Eldritch over those who take it, including the disenfranchised Martian colonists.
Sitting alone on Mars and reading a book as crazy as The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch may very well be the final push that encourages you to start attempting to homebrew some Martian narcotics to help pass the time…
Andy Weir: The Martian
Given that it had a movie adaptation last year, The Martian would probably make it onto a lot of people’s lists of books to take to Mars. Part of its appeal is the fact that the protagonist, Mark Watney, feels a lot more like a typical astronaut than most of the other Martian colonists in literature.
Stranded on Mars, Watney approaches his problems in a practical manner, which might make you think that having a copy of The Martian in your space-luggage would be handy (if only in case of a very specific disaster that results in your being the only human left on Mars).
Imagine the frustration, though, if you were to find yourself stranded without one essential component that Watney uses to repair his habitat… Obviously, the slow death would be bad, but the feeling of not having the one thing you need would be salt in the wound.
Johan Harstad: 172 Hours on the Moon
Harstad’s book might seem safe enough for the would-be Martian because it focuses on an expedition to the lunar surface, but there’s still plenty of reason to avoid packing it along with the rest of your Martian library.
Given that the novel follows three teenagers about to embark on a trip to the moon, you’d be forgiven for thinking that 172 Hours on the Moon is a science fiction novel. Instead, it's a creeping horror novel that is, coincidentally, set on the moon. If the physics occasionally seem a little ropey, that might be why. The plot centres on the idea that NASA’s real reason for chartering its first moon mission in decades is to launch an investigation into something horrifying discovered during the first moon landings, but subsequently buried.
It’s a bit of a rollercoaster, but any spacefaring novel involving doppelgangers is a must-avoid if you’re going to spend your time in close proximity with people whose behaviour you can examine in minute detail.
Pierce Brown: Red Rising
Red Rising is the story of an uprising in a genetically engineered mining colony on Mars. It borrows liberally from classical Greece and Rome, with more than a sprinkling of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. The miners are typically "Reds," red-skinned humans genetically tailored for stunted growth to better adapt them to toiling in the iron-rich soil of Mars. They are put to work by a ruling class of "Golds," a caste of engineered superhumans that live in cities far above the grime of the mines.
The book centres on one mining colonist’s efforts to break out of his role and become something more than just another Red.
If Matt Damon has taught us anything, it’s that Martian colonists will likely be spending a lot of time getting their hands dirty if they want to eat. You should only bring Red Rising to Mars if you’d like to spend your entire time there plotting against the soft-handed scientists at NASA who have you scrabbling in the Martian dirt.
James Joyce: Ulysses
James Joyce’s Ulysses might seem like the perfect novel to bring along on a trip to Mars. After all, you’ll be relatively alone with just another group of like-minded explorers – the perfect people to build a book club that you could persuade to do a group reading of a notoriously difficult book.
That said, it’s a very risky strategy. There can be nothing more embarrassing than being literally stuck on another planet, hundreds of thousands of miles from any distractions and still not managing to make it through one of the great modernist classics.
If you want to be a complete literary disgrace on your return to earth, bring a copy of Ulysses along on your trip to Mars. On the plus side, if something happens that results in your not being able to make it back to Earth, at least you’d be safe in the knowledge that no one would know you hadn’t made it through Ulysses...