Mars. So near to the Earth, and yet so far away (nearly 40 million miles). The Other Things is an unusual novel which considers how to send astronauts to the Red Planet and also bring them home. It’s definitely science fiction because there is a lot of science in it (although explained in a simple way), but oddly it didn’t have the fast pace I would have expected.
Set in contemporary times, or maybe the near future, the story is that the US President, coming to the end of his term in office, decides to send a manned mission to Mars instead of funding pointless wars. A fossil has been discovered on the planet, which has got the scientists super excited. One of these, Ford Harris, is tasked with putting together an international team to plan the mission, within a timeframe of two years. It turns out that a team of children are best suited to visit Mars, because they weigh less and are not as prone to the health effects of space travel (this isn’t a spoiler – it’s on the front cover).
There were some likeable aspects to this book: the optimistic tone, diverse cast of characters, varied settings, well-presented scientific facts and charming black and white illustrations. However, I had a problem with the pace and scope of the story. It moves very slowly. The idea of recruiting children does not even surface until halfway through. The author focuses a lot on the characters’ personal lives and conversation, which was not interesting to me – there’s a lot of talk and not a great amount of action. New characters are being introduced right until the last few chapters. The book ends shortly after the launch from Earth! Disappointing. Unless of course Jonathan Dransfield intends to write a sequel in which we find out how the actual mission pans out. There were also some silly typos and a tendency for over-description.
I appreciate the research and calculations that have gone into creating this work. It has obviously been given a lot of thought and seems realistic (except I’m sure that kids would never be sent to Mars instead of adults). The content was what I’d call family-friendly and could be enjoyed by anyone of any age who has an interest in science.
In summary, a well-researched novel with an interesting concept and rare optimistic tone, but I was often frustrated with it.
Published this year by Unbound. I won the book in a giveaway on Twitter.