As Oliver Morton shows in his superb new book, Mapping Mars, Mars has clouds, winds, and shorelines. It has river valleys, mountains, volcanoes, and even glaciers. Even were it lifeless, it could support life, albeit of an almost unimaginably marginal kind. What Mars lacks is places. There are no "theres" there, nor will there be--until our feet make an impact on its soil.
Oliver Morton has a sense of place and a hunger for Mars, and a thrilling manner of communicating both. His account of our nearest neighbor's history, geology, and human potential is exhaustive. Morton touches on just about everything, from soil composition to survival techniques; from Martians to maps (maps, above all: they are his abiding subject, metaphor, and organizing principle). His artistry is to hide his daunting range of interests under a passionate and gripping human narrative: this book is about what Mars has meant, means, and may one day mean for us. And he has a wide-ranging definition of who "we" are. Like a good military historian, Morton knows to pay attention to the foot soldiers of science, as well as to the achievements of their celebrated masters. He understands how different the sciences are from each other, and how rivalries between them arise. Further, Morton understands where these people and their institutions sit in the general culture. He understands the crossover between science and science fiction, between space advocates and space fans.
All of which makes Morton's book something more than just "the story of Mars." It is, in addition, an astute study of how we go about exploring our world. --Simon Ings