Friday, December 9, 2016


Earth is the usual setting for human drama. But with last year’s Oscar-nominated THE MARTIAN and the upcoming teen tear-jerker THE SPACE BETWEEN US both using the Red Planet to great dramatic advantage, Mars has taken over as Best Onscreen Setting. Yes, folks, Mars, that distant planet with an average daily temperature of minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit, is HOT!

The latest evidence of this is the six-episode limited series MARS, now showing on television’s NatGeo Channel. The creators of the show—director Justin Wilkes and documentarian Ben Young Mason (FOR ALL MANKIND)—set out to do something different with it and came up with a hybrid experiment. Half of each episode is fictional, set beginning in the year 2033 as Earthlings start out to colonize the Red Planet. Half is documentary featuring present-day experts telling us what we would be necessary in order to make such colonization possible and confirming a lot of what is in the show. The result is an entertaining geekfest for anyone with an interest in space exploration.

We can assume NatGeo and the show’s producers hoped to use the fictional parts of the story to lure in viewers who might not otherwise have stuck around for the more technical “talking heads” parts. And, luckily for us, the drama goes way beyond the usual “actors’ recreation” or “simulation.” The story has real narrative power, if you can overlook a certain predictability. (I don’t think it’s too spoilery to say, for example, there’s a fire in the lab—and there’s no fire extinguisher! Is there a rule against fire extinguishers on Mars? Well, you could use a fire blanket, or a bucket of sand or something! But you get the point. Safety first.)

As a science fiction romance writer, I’m fascinated by both aspects of the show—the fictional narrative AND the documentary discussion. The only problem I’m having is the constant switching back and forth between the two approaches to the subject. Although I certainly access the science-y part of my brain when I write fiction, that  really is a distinct section, with boundaries marked in red and passcodes needed (usually unlocked with caffeine). So it’s uncomfortable for me to go from relaxed “fiction-watching” mode, to pay attention! “science-watching” mode. It would have been a lot easier for me as a viewer to have the talking heads front-loaded at the beginning or wrapping up at the end of the series. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I urge you to test your own brain on the series and see what you think. You have a few more episodes to tune into before the series concludes, and you can catch up On Demand or online.

RIP John Glenn

As I was finishing this post the announcement was made of the death of former U.S. astronaut and former Ohio Senator Colonel John Glenn at the age of 95. Glenn was the first American to successfully orbit the Earth as part of NASA's Mercury space program in 1962. Much later, as a U.S. Senator from Ohio, Glenn returned to space as part of the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1998. At the age of 77, Senator Glenn was the oldest man in space, a record still unbroken. Glenn is survived by his wife of 73 years, Annie,  two children, and countless admirers in the generations who will follow him into space. Godspeed, John Glenn.

Cheers, Donna


  1. I've been watching the show avidly--including the "talking heads" segments, which also includes some amazing artistic talent in Andy Weir, author of The Martian--but I do agree that the "flashbacks to 2016" and the switch to heavy science from dramatic fiction is somewhat jarring and slows the pace, though it does make for some pretty fascinating insights IF you have the mental presence to absorb it all.

    I don't know how it could be fixed, since the same aspect that makes MARS special and unique is also responsible for pace-killing. Maybe I need to retrain myself on how I view for this one, and, like you said--pay attention!

    I also have to comment in as unspoilery a fashion as possible that the Game of Thrones rule of "no character is sacred" also applies to this series, and it can be upsetting to bond with a character who may not survive in this extremely hostile and sometimes Murphy's Law environment. Can you imagine if Mark Watney hadn't lived? Nuff said.

  2. Forgot to comment on the passing of John Glenn. A true American hero and inspiration for generations. What a life the man lived! He will be so missed.

    Someone really ought to make a movie about him. I think I'll be watching The Right Stuff again in the near future, which was about all the original Mercury 7 astronauts and the big role John Glenn played as part of that team.

    There could be no better goodbye for this giant than the trademark phrase from the early days of spaceflight--Godspeed.

  3. Oh, yeah, Laurie, I neglected to mention the little GAME OF THRONES detail. Didn't much appreciate that, myself. Of course space is dangerous;that's why Roddenberry invented Redshirts.


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