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Where's My Ticket to Mars?

Foiled again by mega corporate tomfoolery.

By Pat Ferrara     April 07, 2008


VIRGLE, a cross between Virgin and Google. April Fools!
© N/A

Last Tuesday BBC released footage of a rare colony of flying penguins, Locus Magazine announced that George R.R. Martin’s final A Song of Ice and Fire tome would clock in at under 90 pages, and, in perhaps one of the more elaborate gags of 2008’s April Fools Day, Google and Virgin outlined a 100-year plan to colonize Mars.

With a dozen pages of text, an official press release and two video messages from Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson and Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the “Virgle” site is a surprisingly exhaustive look at the quirky Open Source approach to Mars settlement. After it was all realized to be one giant April Fools joke everyone had a few laughs, gullible co-workers blushed with good-natured chagrin, and the space-interested public from around the world gave a collective sigh of genuine disappointment.

But why the farce in the first place? Sure it’s easy to poke fun at us extraterrestrial enthusiasts; we eat, sleep and breathe for the chance to correct questions of logic in new sci-fi films and work ourselves into a frenzy over the most unsubstantiated space travel news. Given Richard Branson’s progressive outlook on privatized space tourism, the joint Virgle venture had that extra grain of verisimilitude, though in reality was just too good to be true. That boyishly optimistic side of me wants to believe that there’s more to Virgle than a quasi-holiday prank, that maybe, just maybe, Virgle is actually the initial step in a long-sighted endeavor to take Virgin Galactic to the next level. Could the whole Virgle hoax be some sort of elaborately clever way of gauging market interest?

In all likelihood…probably not. Since last year’s PICNIC ’07 Green Challenge Googlers Brin and Page have been scheming with Branson to bring about Virgle’s conception. Now that the figurative cat is out of the bag it seems the trio’s only intentions were to elicit some chuckles and add some light-hearted flair to their company personas. It’s important for a company to stand apart from the depersonalized mega corporate background, yet their media stint to do so has tugged quite a few heartstrings.

Supporters of Mars colonization are an impassioned lot, and for many a good reason. Their hopes of setting foot on a new world supercede ethnicity, race and national boundaries. Sporting a useable atmosphere and every element needed to sustain human civilization, Mars is the new Moon, and sometimes it only takes a little education on the topic to realize you might be a crusader yourself.

Those interested in real-world scenarios of Martian colonization need to move out of the sci-fi genre and into pure science literature, where Dr. Robert Zubrin and Richard Wagner’s The Case for Mars is, hands down, the best book on the subject. Packed with helpful background information, Layman’s physics and rocketry, and a glowing foreword by the late Arthur C. Clarke, Dr. Zubrin takes us from Kepler to the modern Space Age and beyond to illustrate a groundbreaking plan to get to Mars. A former Lockheed aerospace engineer and the current Mars Society President, Zubrin can convey the theory behind antimatter as efficiently as he can connect NASA administration policy to the halt of China’s naval expansion in the late 15th Century. His insights into history, along with a thorough knowledge of the space industry, give the novel’s arguments a convincing edge.

In a chapter titled “Killing the Dragons, Avoiding the Sirens” Zubrin illustrates how NASA’s cost-plus contracting is crippling space exploration. With simple science, logic, and a natural talent for disseminating technical concepts, the myths surrounding radiation, living in zero-gravity environments, and the necessity of Moon bases are all exposed, offering a very real glimpse into the future of Martian settlement (and an excellent scientific base for any aspiring sci-fi writer).

The Case for Mars is really a pitch, a pitch for an innovative, 10-year plan to put humans on Mars using technologies that have existed for decades. Practical concepts like in-situ resource utilization, which will allow colonists to create rocket propellant, oxygen and water on the Martian surface have even convinced Carl Sagan himself, who declaring in The Denver Post that “Bob Zubrin really, nearly alone, changed our thinking on this issue.” The best part about The Case for Mars though is how it frames humanity in relation to the Red Planet, the frontier, and our future in the cosmos.

Dr. Zubrin’s privatized, Mars Direct plan can start a colony on Mars for a price tag of $10-20 billion. If it was put in motion tomorrow, which two companies do you think would be at the front of the sponsor list?

New in Hardcover:

The Resurrectionist, Jack O’Connell (Algonquin Books)

Gritty noir fiction, mind-bending fantasy, and medical thriller combine in a new novel by an author dubbed the "cyberpunk Dashiell Hammett." Sweeney is a druggist by trade; Danny, his son, is in a persistent coma, the victim of an accident. Hoping for a miracle, they have come to the Peck Clinic, a fortress-like haven in a post-industrial city overrun by gangs. Doctors there claim to have resurrected two patients who were similarly lost in the void. Gradually, Sweeney realizes that the cure for his son’s condition may lie in “Limbo,” a fantasy comic-book world into which Danny had been drawn at the time of his accident. Plunged into the intrigue that surrounds the clinic, Sweeney searches for answers and instead finds sinister back alleys, brutal dead ends, and terrifying rabbit holes of mystery. Full of puzzles and surprises, The Resurrectionist is a surreal, gothic meditation on identity, the nature of consciousness, the power of stories, love, mad scientists, circus freaks, and ultimately forgiveness—both giving and receiving.

New in Paperback:

The Castings Trilogy: Blood Ties, Pamela Freeman (Orbit)

A thousand years ago, the Eleven Domains were invaded and the original inhabitants forced on the road as Travelers, belonging nowhere, welcomed by no-one. Now the Domains are governed with an iron fist by the Warlords, but there are wilder elements to the landscape which cannot be controlled and which may prove their undoing. Some are spirits of place, of water and air and fire and earth. Some are greater than these. And some are human. Bramble: a village girl, whom no-one living can tame...forced to flee from her home for a crime she did not commit. Ash: apprentice to a safeguarder, forced to kill for an employer he cannot escape. Saker: an enchanter, who will not rest until the land is returned to his people. As their three stories unfold, along with the stories of those whose lives they touch, it becomes clear that they are bound together in ways that not even a stonecaster could foresee - bound by their past, their future, and their blood.

The King Raven Trilogy: Hood, Stephen R. Lawhead (Thomas Nelson)

Robin Hood: The Legend Begins Anew. For centuries, the legend of Robin Hood and his band of thieves has captivated the imagination. Now, the old familiar tale takes on new life, fresh meaning, and an unexpected setting. Hunted like an animal by Norman invaders, Bran ap Brychan, heir to the throne Elfael, has abandoned his father's kingdom and fled to the greenwood. There, in the primeval forest of the Welsh borders, danger surrounds him--for this woodland is a living, breathing entity with mysterious powers and secrets, and Bran must find a way to make it his own if he is to survive. Steeped in Celtic mythology and the political intrigue of medieval Britain, Stephen R. Lawhead's latest work conjures up an ancient past and holds a mirror to contemporary realities. Prepare yourself for an epic tale that dares to shatter everything you thought you knew about Robin Hood.

Books of the Cataclysm: The Crooked Letter, Sean Williams (Pyr)

The first fantasy novel in the history of Australian SF&F to win both Aurealis and Ditmar Awards. When mirror twins Seth and Hadrian Castillo travel to Europe on holidays, they don't expect the end of the world to follow them. Seth's murder, however, puts exactly that into motion. From opposite sides of death, the Castillo twins grapple with a reality neither of them suspected, although it has been encoded in myths and legends for millennia. The Earth we know is just one of many "realms", three of which are inhabited by humans during various stages of their lives. And their afterlives... In the tradition of Philip Pullman and Ursula K. Le Guin and inspired by numerous arcane sources, the Books of the Cataclysm begin in the present world but soon propel the reader to a landscape that is simultaneously familiar and fantastic.

Time Surfers: Space Bingo, Tony Abbott (Yearling)

Ned Banks is miserable. He's the new kid in school--and he sticks out like a sore thumb.  His life is going downhill fast. Until something happens. Ned's not  sure how he did it--but he beamed two kids from the year 2099 into his bedroom closet! Roop and Suzi are Time Surfers--cool kids who travel through time. And they want Ned to join them!  Of course Ned says yes. He's ready for excitement! Action! But he might get more than he bargained for.

Tank Girl Armadillo!: A Novel, Alan C. Martin (Titan Books)

She’s back! Join everybody’s favorite beer-swilling, chain-smoking, kangaroo-loving lunatic as she embarks on her first ‘proper’ literary excursion. Violence! Time travel! Midgets! Yes, tremble in fear at Tank Girl: The Novel! Tank Girl and Booga have launched an all-out assault on the town of Chankers, starting with the church. But what prompted this attack? Could it have something to do with Booga’s nightmare vacation there years ago? Well whaddyou think? Destined to become a literary classic — y’know, like Watership Down or something — and a mainstay of high school syllabuses, this is Tank Girl as you’ve never experienced her before: in attractively justified eight point serif.

New in Audiobook:

The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell (Brilliance Audio Unabridged)

Emilio Sandoz is a remarkable man, a living saint and Jesuit priest who undergoes an experience so harrowing and profound that it makes him question the existence of God. This experience - the first contact between human beings and intelligent extraterrestrial life - begins with a small mistake and ends in a horrible catastrophe. Sandoz is a part of the crew sent to explore a new planet. What they find is a civilization so alien and incomprehensible that they feel compelled to wonder what it means to be human. The priest is the only surviving member of the crew and upon his return he is confronted by public inquisition and accusations of the most heinous crimes imaginable. His faith utterly destroyed, crippled and defenseless, his only hope is to tell his tale. Father John Candotti has been charged with discovering the truth, but the truth may be more than Earth is willing to accept. Narrated by David Colacci.

Chaos Mode, Piers Anthony (Brilliance Audio Unabridged)

Colene, Darius, and the magnificent telepathic horse Sequiro, travelling companions from Virtual Mode and Fractal Mode, face their most dangerous adventure ever as they pass freely from one universe to the next. They are joined by a most unlikely companion: Burgess, a tentacled creature from a world where evolution went entirely differently from the path it took for us. And their travels take them to a place that in some ways is the strangest of all - a place called Earth. Look for all three books in the Mode series: Book One: Virtual Mode; Book Two: Fractal Mode; and Book Three: Chaos Mode. Narrated by Mark Winston.

The Raw Shark Texts: A Novel, Steven Hall (Canongate US)

The Raw Shark Texts, called “clever, playful…sharp and clear” by the Los Angeles Times and “a horror-dystopic-philosophical mash-up” by the New York Times Magazine, is a novel unlike any other. Eric Sanderson wakes up in a house one day with no idea who or where he is. Instructed by a mysterious note to visit a Dr. Randle, Eric learns that the agony of losing the love of his life in a scuba-diving accident three years before has destroyed his memory. But there may be more to the story, or it may be a different story altogether. As Eric begins to examine letters and papers left in the house by “the first Eric Sanderson,” a staggeringly different explanation for what is happening to Eric emerges, and he and the reader embark on a quest to recover the truth and escape the remorseless predatory forces that threatens to devour him. The Raw Shark Texts is a kaleidoscopic novel about the magnitude of love and the devastating effect of losing that love.

Check back next Monday for all the latest info on current sci-fi, fantasy, and horror book releases. Questions or comments? Hit me up at Pferrara.mania@gmail.com.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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SaintDemon 4/7/2008 2:05:35 AM
Don't forget about the new children's book from Spawn creator Todd McFarlene: Learn and Grow with Spawn for 3 and up. And no I'm not kidding check out the site, hey kids, what color is Spawn's cape?
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