As Oliver Morton shows in his superb new book, Mapping Mars
, Mars has clouds, winds, and shorelines. It has river valleys, mountains, volcanoes, and even glaciers. Even were it lifeless, it could support life, albeit of an almost unimaginably marginal kind. What Mars lacks is places. There are no "theres" there, nor will there be--until our feet make an impact on its soil.
Oliver Morton has a sense of place and a hunger for Mars, and a thrilling manner of communicating both. His account of our nearest neighbor's history, geology, and human potential is exhaustive. Morton touches on just about everything, from soil composition to survival techniques; from Martians to maps (maps, above all: they are his abiding subject, metaphor, and organizing principle). His artistry is to hide his daunting range of interests under a passionate and gripping human narrative: this book is about what Mars has meant, means, and may one day mean for us. And he has a wide-ranging definition of who "we" are. Like a good military historian, Morton knows to pay attention to the foot soldiers of science, as well as to the achievements of their celebrated masters. He understands how different the sciences are from each other, and how rivalries between them arise. Further, Morton understands where these people and their institutions sit in the general culture. He understands the crossover between science and science fiction, between space advocates and space fans.
All of which makes Morton's book something more than just "the story of Mars." It is, in addition, an astute study of how we go about exploring our world. --Simon Ings
From Publishers Weekly
Well-known British science writer Morton, a contributor to Wired, the New Yorker and Science, traces scientists' efforts to map and understand the surface of Mars. Because much of the planet's surface material is basalt, which is porous, Morton explains, it is very probable that water from Mars's now dry canyons long ago sank into underground aquifers and froze. Mars has often been regarded as the planet most similar to Earth, but the author describes graphically how startlingly different its topography is. Mars is a planet with mountains larger than whole American states and plains the size of Canada. Our Grand Canyon would be dwarfed by the massive erosion canyons that surprised us a decade ago with their implication that titanic floods once rushed across the planet's surface. Olympus Mons, its largest volcano, is taller than two Everests, contains more than four times the total volume of the Alps and has a circumference larger than the distance between the northern and southern tips of the home islands of Japan. Morton writes eloquently and displays a breadth of knowledge not often found in science writing. He summarizes how science fiction authors have imagined Mars as well as how pre-computer artists used airbrush techniques to depict Mars's monstrous contours. The book might have benefited from being more tightly focused, but astronomy and geology buffs will be sure to snap it up. 16 color photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.