Saturday, June 6, 2015

Book Review: The Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke

Well, this is the first science fiction novel I read. It was certainly very intriguing for me to understand the genre even though I have read the short story collection Tales From Planet Earth by the same author. This work is also his first published novel.

Book Cover
The story starts with Martin Gibson, a science fiction author making his maiden journey to the red planet. On his way on board the spaceship Ares, the change of gravity he experiences and the beauty of stars in space he witnesses through the port-hole is explained splendidly. Then the process of homing in on a rocket that is carrying medicine for Martian fever, the joy of floating in space is described in a simple way which is enough to seize your senses. Essentially, it is never boring and at the same time not too exciting to go through these pages. It maintains a steady pace throughout.

Once the crew of Ares land on Mars, Gibson discovers the establishment of human colonies. The Martian city of Port Lowell is made out of huge domes. The domes are supplied with oxygen for people to survive. Gibson learns about the Martian surface and the daily routines of humans of the city. Man has setup industries which uses sand - rich in iron oxide - as raw material. They help in produce infrastructure resources liberating oxygen as a byproduct. When Gibson decides to explore the planet, he goes on an excursion to another Martian city where his drone (sand flea) crash lands in an unknown region. Clarke describes the discovery of Martian vegetation and animals having peculiar characteristics in neat way. All said and done, most part of the book talks about Martian geography. The scientific elements are very realistically described. At this time, it may seem very ordinary or obvious to us. But imagine Clarke envisioned Earth having its own space stations, interplanetary communication systems using radiograms, establishment of colonies on Mars and all of it back in the 1950s!
It was ironic that, having found his son so late, he must now lose him again. Perhaps that was part of the punishment for the selfishness and lack of courage-to put it no more strongly-he had shown twenty years ago. But the past must bury itself; he must think of the future now.
There is a human side running parallel to the scientific part of the story. The human side starts slowly in beginning and emerges into prominence near the end. It has a dark back story of Gibson which links to a pleasant love affair between young couple. The story gets even darker with the game of politics played between the two worlds. Earth, being the ultimate authority, is planning to shut down all operations on Mars. Meanwhile Mars conspires against the wishes of Earth. This is the part where the story gets really interesting. And the climax is really mind-boggling, because it is like, no one can even dream of such a thing to happen. And Clarke is a genius to explain that its scientifically possible! The book cover is the hint to the final act.

Initially I thought why should there be human elements in science fiction? Later I realized that it’s not important, but it’s necessary. It’s important to build up a motive - a motive which is capable of touching human senses. The beauty lies in coming up with a plot that blends science and human behavior perfectly. Then it certainly gains unquestionable curiosity in the mind; compels you to think. Thus it makes the story blossom beautifully. And this novel successfully does it in a smart way. Suppose there were aliens with bizarre faces walking around, then you would have to just accept the story as it is without bothering your brains. One thing is for sure is, that you will live on Mars when you reading this book. I found it very enjoyable and it was worth spending my leisure time.
For it was their world, not Man's. However he might shape it for his own purposes, it would be his duty always to safeguard the interests of its rightful owners. No one could tell what part they might have to play in the history of the universe. And when, as was one inevitable, Man himself came to the notice of yet higher races, he might well be judged by his behaviour here on Mars.