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« Mission To Nowhere? | Main | Is Mars Ours? »

Zubrin Festival

Here's that interview with Bob Zubrin that Linda Seebach told me about yesterday.

And speaking of Dr. Zubrin, he sent me a review copy of his new science fiction novel, The Holy Land, a few weeks ago that I read and enjoyed at the time, but didn't get around to formally reviewing. I was reminded of this by a review of it at NRO yesterday by Adam Keiper.

I have to confess that I was surprised by it, because I'd previously had no idea that Bob wrote fiction. If this is his first attempt, it makes it all the more impressive.

Everyone calls it a satire, but it's not really, or it's more than that. Monty Python's The Life Of Brian was a satire of the modern Middle East (among other things), but this book is allegory, which has a long tradition of being a pointed way of illuminating issues to which we may be too close to have the proper perspective.

I found the parallels striking (though I naturally would, because I shared Bob's apparent views on the Middle East situation prior to reading it--I'd be interested in reading a review by someone whose mind was changed by the book to see how truly effective they are), but I don't really have anything to say about the nature or quality of the satiric parallels that Mr. Keiper didn't already--you should go read his review. I'd like instead to point out something that I've seen no other reviewer do.

While the political points are sharp, one can completely ignore them and still enjoy the book, because it actually is a good story in itself. It's yet another retelling of Romeo and Juliet (though it's hardly love at first sight), except it has a happy ending.

Let us hope that the tragic situation that it spoofs ultimately does as well, as unlikely as that may sometimes seem, given the ancient hatreds and irrationalities that still seem to prevail there.

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 08, 2004 08:51 AM
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The Holy Land
Excerpt: I'm reminded of another topic I waxed enthusiastic about a while back, Robert Zubrin's novel, The Holy Land. It's a bit late for a full review now, so I'll just say that I found it to be a quick, fun...
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Tracked: January 9, 2004 04:56 AM

Bob Zubrin wrote a sci-fi book called First Landing that came out in 2001. The story was about (what else?) the first mission to Mars. I enjoyed it.

Posted by Tom Hill at January 8, 2004 09:32 AM

I thought, at least with First Landing that he used a Ghost?

I read a few pages and lost interest rapidly. Nothing I've read on rec.arts.sf.written changed my mind either.

Posted by Dave at January 8, 2004 09:39 AM

I probably shouldn't say this but I will anyway. When I first encountered Zubrin at an ISDC I didn't much like him. Raw feelings, but the artist in me says pay attention to such things.

I've learned a bit more about the man. He apparently has a track record of being difficult to work for or with. There are claims he once was involved with Loony Lyndon LaRouche's crowd. He's been known to disparage O'Neill's work vis a vis space colonies.

He's now running around with his Mars Society claiming we can start building a human civilization on Mars. Call me skeptical, but we don't even know whether humans can live on Mars for long periods of time. What, for instance, will be the long term effects of living in 0.38 g?

There are two things in this interview that raise my concerns. First, he says going to Mars will reinvigorate scientific pursuits. He compares it to Apollo in that regard, only bigger. Has Zubrin ever bothered to look into why people are turning away from careers in science today? An ever lengthening period of being a student might have something to do with it. There are other barriers to entry that didn't exist 40-50 years ago. An inspiring vision will have only so much impact. Inspire a 15 year old -- and then tell him or her they'll still be something like an indentured servant at age 33 or older. Watch them shift to another field.

Zubrin also talks about 14 hour days for the first residents of Mars. And only 4 or 6 people for years. Has the man done even the slightest reading on human factors? Yes, we have people who brag about 80 hour and more weeks. Unfortunately the results -- once you get past the typical show -- seem to bear out research indicating that such kind of thing to be actually counterproductive.

I'll take Zubrin more seriously when he shows some understanding of humanity and human limitations.

Posted by Chuck Divine at January 8, 2004 11:37 AM

Do we really know what humans are capable of? How do we find out? Thinking and speculating or doing and experiencing?

Place yer bets!

Posted by ken anthony at January 8, 2004 12:55 PM

First Landing was the best Mars fiction I've read so far (and I've read a lot). The only part that had me groaning was when a character looked up information in A CASE FOR MARS to get out of a jam.

Posted by ruprecht at January 8, 2004 12:59 PM


Humans are capable of some pretty amazing things. We also have some pretty significant limitations.

I'm fed up with fanatics who do some hand waving about what we can do when there's data that indicates we can't.

Posted by Chuck Divine at January 8, 2004 01:20 PM

Chuck: "Whether you think you can, or think you can't, you're right." Many significant advances were brought about by those who thought they could, often counter to the opinions of "experts".

Posted by James at January 8, 2004 03:16 PM

Chuck, re:14-hour days: "There's a tremendous amount to do between the field work, lab work, repair of equipment, reportage, the mundane chores of daily life and crews typically end up working 14-hour days."

Sounds to me like he's describing something not unlike family life here on Earth. One might only "work" for eight hours, but then one comes home and does the laundry, cooks dinner, changes the oil in the car, mows the lawn, helps the kids with their homework, and does other miscellaneous chores. It's not going to be 14 hours straight of fieldwork, for example. The MS Convention presentations on the research stations all make this point -- there's a lot of work, yes, but it's varied in content and strenuousness, and much of it is of the low-intensity housekeeping variety.

Plus, do you think Lewis and Clark only worked forty-hour weeks? Exploration isn't done on union time or within doctor's hours. Your points on more data and less handwaving on human factors and the like are well-taken, but that is part of what the Mars Society projects are designed to tackle.

Posted by T.L. James at January 8, 2004 07:21 PM

On O'Neill colonies, Zubrin's criticisms are quite valid. Especially on the issue of sunlight being unavailable in a form useful for growing crops.

As far as what he's like personally, I don't know.

I'm doubtful he'd get much involved in LaRouchian kookery, especially once he saw through whatever front group they may have been using.

And read his book. His chapter "Sirens and Dragons" absolutely demolishes the handwringers and naysayers, especially the "Human factor" myth.

Mars will be challenging but nothing like the privation and misery our species has overcome already.

Posted by Leo at January 12, 2004 05:07 PM

I don't know what Bob Z's beliefs are nowadays, but I knew him back in the mid-1970s when he was a campaigner for LaRouche's US Labor Party in Buffalo. He wasn't a dupe of a front group or anything like that: he was one of maybe half a dozen hard-core LaRoucheites in Buffalo from 1974 to about 1977 or 78. He hawked New Solidarity on the street, harangued passers-by, and got into amusing arguments with campus leftists.

He was also the first person I know of to have been "pied" - he was hit in the face with a blueberry pie by former Yippie Aaron Kay in 1975 while selling the LaRouche paper in Norton Union on the old University of Buffalo Main Street campus.

I wouldn't necessarily hold his past political activities against him - youthful indiscretions and all. But he'd definitely drunk the LaRouche Kool-Aid at that point.

Posted by at May 14, 2004 03:16 PM

The above post regarding Bob Zubrin in Buffalo is mine. I didn't intend to post anything of that nature without identifying myself. My apologies.

Posted by Chris Clarke at May 14, 2004 03:22 PM

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