The Case for Mars, by Robert Zubrin

June 23, 2011 at 14:40 (Book Reviews, Mediocre Books, Science and Technology) (, , , , , )



Zubrin writes with apostolic fervour and the zeal of a true believer, swinging somewhat erratically between arguments calculated to win over the everyman reader, and compilations of scientific data and complex equations, graphs and diagrams intended for those closer to his own field. Simply from reading this book, it is difficult to tell whether Zubrin is a part of a lunatic fringe or if he is an industry insider peddling his wares. Through his careful name-dropping and occasional autobiographical references, it becomes steadily clearer that he is largely the latter, and his own podium of expertise (as well as frequent references to colleagues’ opinions) go a long way towards establishing his credibility.

His style is very informal for a scientific publication, but does little in the way of damaging his voice: indeed, it succeeds in captivating a cavalier attitude of adventurism and futurism. The dreariest part of this book is Zubrin’s tendency to exhaustively explore every potential option and every single theoretical objection. He is fighting for his case, and if it is a choice between an extra chapter of alternative means of martian exploration, or leaving an exploitable loophole for his enemies, there will be that extra chapter. This is tiresome but expected, in the same way that his apostolic zeal grows a little stale by the end of the book; not contrived, but a little wearying.

Nevertheless, if Zubrin’s goal was to convince a lay-reader that his plan (or even another plan!) is feasible, he succeeds admirably. His fundamentalism is matched by the utterly reasonable projects that he lays out, and paradoxically, the simplicity of his plan is this book’s chief selling point, even while the complexity of his reasoning is one of the weaker points. This is not the easiest book to read, but it is certainly worth the effort.


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