Cover image of "Losing Mars," a novel about exploring and colonizing Mars

Over the past three years, Apple TV+ has been streaming an ambitious series about exploring and colonizing Mars. For All Mankind stars Joel KInnaman as astronaut Ed Baldwin, heading a large and diverse cast in a difficult struggle to reach and tame the red planet. It’s great drama. But anyone with experience in space must be laughing their heads off over the technical errors in the story. It’s all too typical of the fare on television and the big screen about interplanetary exploration. You can find a more realistic portrayal of the challenges involved on the printed page. And one of the best examples I’ve come across is Peter Cawdron’s thrilling novel, Losing Mars.

Boring routine shifts to heart-stopping tension

At the outset, you’ll know you’ve come across an attempt at realism. “Most people imagine life on Mars is a constant heart-thumping adventure,” reflects astronaut Cory Anderson after ten months at NASA’s Shepard Base on the planet. “There’s a sense of romanticism about being the first explorers on another planet. The final frontier and all that. Nothing could be further from reality. Life here is monotonous and repetitive.” Until, of course, exploring Mars is no longer dull at all, as tragedy strikes.

Losing Mars (First Contact #12) by Peter Cawdron (2018) 374 pages ★★★★☆

Photo of a Mars landscape like that which appears in this novel about exploring Mars
The inhospitable surface of Mars. Image: NASA via Popular Mechanics

A multinational crew of six . . . but others are near

Cory and his wife of nine years, Jen, are one of the three married couples at Shepard. “Jen and I cover botany and medical between us”—she’s the doctor—”and share base communications. The Washingtons specialize in engineering and electronics, while the Barneses are in charge of research and exploration. Shepard is technically a multi-national base, with module fabrication handled by JAXA, the Japanese space agency, and a crew from the US and Europe, but in practice, day to day management is handled by NASA.” Meanwhile, however, China has dispatched an independent mission to Mars. Its spacecraft is in orbit around the smaller of the two Martian moons, Phobos. And it is there that all hell breaks loose.

This is solid, hard science fiction

Losing Mars is the 12th in Cawdron’s ongoing series of standalone novels about First Contact with extraterrestrial intelligence. (To date, he’s published 20 of a projected 25 books in the series.) Given that fact, no reader should be surprised when something happens that cannot be written off as an Earthly phenomenon. But this is no horror story masquerading as science fiction. It’s solid, hard sci-fi. Cawdron is a master at the craft. And, as in all his novels, he appends a brief discussion at the end of the story explaining the scientific basis on which his work is grounded. In Cawdron’s books, it’s a mistake not to read these author’s notes. Some alone are worth the price of the book.

About the author

Photo of Peter Cawdron, author of this novel about exploring Mars
Peter Cawdron. Image:

Peter Cawdron’s bio on Amazon reads in full as follows: “Peter is a New Zealand Australian science fiction writer, specialising in making hard science fiction easy to understand and thoroughly enjoyable. His FIRST CONTACT series is topical rather than character-based, meaning each book stands alone. These novels can be read in any order, but they all focus on the same topic of First Contact with extraterrestrial lifeforms. In this regard, the series is akin to BLACK MIRROR or THE TWILIGHT ZONE. 

“Hard science fiction is a misnomer as far as categories of literature go, as it sounds harsh and difficult to understand, but that is far from reality. Hard science fiction is simply plausible science fiction, fiction that is written in such a way as it conforms to the known laws of science, and that makes it more interesting, as there’s no magic wand the protagonist can wave to get out of trouble. Peter’s forays into hard science fiction could best be described as informative science fiction or enjoyable science fiction. 

“Peter is a fan of such classic science fiction writers as Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke and Michael Crichton and their influence on his style and story lines is readily apparent. You can follow Peter on Facebook or Twitter or find him posting some interesting tibit on his blog, ‘Thinking Scifi.'”

For more reading

Check out the full list of the author’s remarkable series, Peter Cawdron’s insightful First Contact book series. Cawdron is one of Seven new science fiction authors worth reading.

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