Red Mars, pretty good

Red Mars was a decent scifi novel about how we get to Mars. It starts with choosing who goes, and of course, they choose a bunch of scientists and engineers because they have to figure out a lot of stuff when they get there. No space tourists- so if you want to be one of the first to get to Mars, you gotta be able to contribute something to helping make Mars habitable. 

Lesson 1: Society is important. The main thing that surprised me was how crazy some of the scientists were. The characters were well written and true to many scientists that I’ve met. John Boone, is the lead guy. He’s the most solid, easygoing, and charming. Actually, on reflection, this mirrors what I experienced at school. All the lesser scientists were ambitious and petty, and it totally causes havoc on the resulting civilization. The guys at the top of the chain, the smartest kids, were the most well adjusted, nice and helpful people I ever met. The ones that weren’t at the top would talk smack be super competitive, try to get an edge on their competition in any way they could… but they just didn’t understand that the other guys were just being themselves. The guys at the top weren’t competing, they were just gifted and they worked hard, and that was it. They didn’t worry about competing so much as just doing the best they could. So the exploration’s social structure is mirrored in this book, which is surprising. So this relationship, society stuff was the biggest takeaway for me. The smart people that sent these guys up there, they didn’t realize that they had to re-engineer society and make it so that people were collaborative.  They weren’t so smart after all, because they couldn’t figure out how to make everyone get along for the greater good of the colony.  The rise of police states and disordered labor camps is the culmination of their myopically fractured society. The telling line for me is when things are hitting the roof due to miscalculation of the weather and the terraformer Sax tells the geologist Ann about her analysis “WHY didn’t you tell me? I wouldn’t have done it this way!” 

Going to Mars really represents the holy grail of humanity but the civilization has to be managed.Once people are out there, they are stuck and its just like prison if the conditions aren’t right. For the first explorers, that’s not the case, but for the later people who are sent to work, mine and terraform– they didn’t realize that life on the frontier isn’t easy and that there’s probably no going back to Earth once you get here. So for people who idealize going to Mars, this book tells you that getting there isn’t going to be glamorous and life won’t be easy, so you probably will be there until the end. That being said, the technical aspects and how things work on Mars was completely awesome and insane. I was entranced by the way they engineered the space elevator, new cities, and terraform methods.  As an engineer, I think going to Mars would be totally awesome, and the challenge would be life-consuming but worth. What better test of your engineering merit? What better way to do science than to live it on another planet?

The outcasts, the first book of the Brotherband Chronicles by John Flanagan

One word for this book, and the beginning of the series: AWESOME.

Its been a while since I read it over the summer, but thought I’d log it in since I plan on reading the other books in the Brotherband Chronicles Series. The characters are very well fleshed out in this novel, starting with the main character, Hal. (The name has special meaning for me, as an AI scientist and technology person.  Its also the name of a few of may favorite people!) So, first off, great setup. Hal is an orphan who is half Araluen and half Skandian, and has been an outcast all his life. His mentor and best friend, Thorn, was at the top of his game before misfortune set in, and is now also an outcast. Hal’s peer and best friend, Stig, has an uncontrollable temper. The three of them, along with a few other outcast kids, are left to fend for themselves when their society turns them out. There are a few other kids who were thrown into Hal’s crew,each with a quirk that makes them an outcast: Edvin is just average, Ingvar is big but optically short-sighted, Jesper is a thief, Stefan is a joker, and the arguing/annoying twins Ulf and Wulf. This unlikely crew ends up becoming the underdogs in a training competition with all the other kids in their age group. During the competition, the kids learn that they’ll never fit in because they are just too different from the norm.  In the course of building a ship, and living on the seas however, the small band of brothers ends up developing camaraderie and trust among each other.  The best parts are watching Hal grow into a natural leader, and all the others learning how to use their unique gifts to become the best at the competition.  My favorite lines are when Ulf and Wulf trade quips, as when they try to frame each other just to mess around. 

I also found the adults in the story refreshingly distinct– they weren’t all just saying “No don’t do X” but they each had interesting insights and surprising motives in how they prodded the kids along. So some of you might say, “but that relationship building and dialogue stuff is BORING” but the highlight of this book is that the character building provides the icing for the technical adventures the heroes embark upon. The book was a rush and I give it 5 smiles, and plan to read the next book soon.