Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"The Sands of Mars" (novel): Optimism galore, & very readable

This will easily qualify as among the best stories by Clarke - particularly the last third, or may be the last half. Be happy, & do the best you can - and gods will generally smile back! Sounds like Gita!

And by & large, it is a down to earth story, in spite of native Martian animals, technology to create a sun, & a few other exotics.

Story summary (spoiler).
Main story is about terrafarming Mars - by increasing oxygen content of local air to enable humans to live in the open.

There are three parts to the plot: a space voyage from Earth to Mars where new human colony is struggling to become self-sufficient; a skeptic's view of possibilities offered by the colony, & his conversion to their cause; & finally the terrafarming.

In between, there are sub-plots involving discovery of native Martian animals, Martian plants, a shorter version of "A Fall of Moondust", & a short romance.

I got a feeling that first third is partly autobiographical, though Clarke never says so.

Main protagonist, Martin Gibson, is a well known science fiction author. He is offered a free passage on the maiden run of Ares, a passenger liner between Earth & Mars. Expectation is to use his writing on the experiences as PR material by the firm running the ship.

There are detailed descriptions of by-rocket travel to space station in Earth's skies; transfer to liner; liner interiors & crew; an adventure mid way through; landing on one of the Martian moons; travel down by another rocket; & architectural details of the Martian city ("Port Lowell").

Gibson was not exactly a welcome visitor, but colonists accept the visit with grace. Middle third is about his conversion to someone who believes in the Martian story. If you have worked in half decent startup, you should have no difficulty associating with the process of conversion.

Last one third is about a mega-project ("Project Down", if I recall correctly) that is also super secret, except that the secret is revealed about midway through this mystery story - if you are paying attention. Though I had not guessed the exact form the new heat source will take.

Key characters.

  1. Martin Gibson: Main protagonist.
  2. Jimmy Spencer: Son of Gibson.
  3. Warren Hadfield: Man in charge of "Port Lowell", one of the two cities on Mars. Most of action on Mars happens here. I forget the name of the other city.
  4. Mayor Whittaker: Assistant to Warren.
  5. Irene - Jimmy's girlfriend, & Warren's daughter
Fact sheet.
The Sands of Mars, novel, review
Author: Arthur C Clarke
First published: 1951
Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: A

See also.
  1. A small part of "Islands in the Sky", near end, suggests Islands is a sequel to Sands.
  2. In "2010 Odyssey Two", aliens convert Jupiter into a sun - Lucifer - to terrafarm Europa, a moon of Jupiter. Here humans convert Phobos, a moon of Mars, into a sun to terrafarm Mars.
  3. A sub-plot at about two thirds through the book involving a plane crash is almost a mini version of a "A Fall of Moondust". Robert Heinlein's "Searchlight" is also a similar shipwreck short story, but on moon.
  4. "The Songs of Distant Earth" is the only other Clarkian novel I have read that shows this level optimism - though there is no doomsday scenario in this book.
  5. First one third of the book appears to be autobiographical in the spirit of Hindi movies Aandhi & Guru - a highly fictionalized & dramatized account! The movies are in no way related to this book - except general tone. Note that Clarke never mentions of any autobiographical content - I am just guessing.


Anonymous said...

Hello Tinkoo,

It was a joy to find a sci-fi especially Sir Arthur fan and that too in Mumbai! I just finished the Rama series. I am overwhelmed. I wish I i had an Octospider to talk to about a lot of things!Just thought I would say hi for now. I have been meaning to analyse/work/blog on sci-fi/clarke themes etc. But have not managed to do that.
Ne ways... you can mail me at europaandio@gmail.com.

Hope to hear from you soon.

Anonymous said...

"Project Dawn" was what you meant; the other city is called Schiaparelli after an Italian astronomer.

I've read several reviews but no one seems to point out the "Britishness" of the story: sure, Clarke was British, but he soon became fond of multinational-gender-race-species casts. This novel is filled with tea drinking and excamations like "rather!". All a bit odd.