Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Death on Mars, by Madeline Ashby

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(SF Adventure) Four women staffing an advance base on Phobos get a male visitor who brings them some bad news. (8,206 words; Time: 27m)

Rating: ★★★★☆ Moving and thought-provoking

"," by (edited by Ed Finn and Joey Eschrich), appeared in , published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: Khalidah needs to forgive Donna. Donna wants to die on Mars. And everyone else wants to finish their mission. All three goals get accomplished, one way or the other.

Strictly speaking, the story leaves us wondering if Donna is really going to do it, but from all that’s gone before, it’s hard to imagine she’s not.

I like the strategy of using remote machines directed from crew on Phobos to construct the underground habitat prior to arrival of the main crew. It's a very practical plan.

The reference to the “Bertha Bork” was amusing, since Eric and I live in Seattle and Bertha (eventually) passed just one block from our house.

Con: Khalidah seemed to take way too long to get over Donna’s deception.

If the Corvus was only meant to bring Marshall to Phobos, why is it capable of landing on Mars and taking back off?

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9 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. This collection is free to download in epub and mobi formats if anyone needs to know.


  2. I read it and I love it. It is going on my Hugo ballot. It is a 5-star for me.

    This is a very moving story about the personal and professional sacrifices these astronauts made to get to Mars, and to get the job done. For me there was a sense of deep sadness at the end of the story. Quite a powerful ending.

    Madeline Ashby is a very good SF writer who puts characters and story first, above technological details, but the technology is very interesting and imaginative. It makes for a solid SF back-drop to complement the story. I read her novel "Company Town", and had a fair expectation that this story was worth getting to read.

    As for the cons you listed, Khalidah viewed Donna as a mother-figure, as well as having parent issues; so some leeway is acceptable.

    The surplus fuel. Earlier on in the story it was remarked that Marshall got here rather quickly. It implied they gave him extra fuel to get here early on account of the emergency situation (both mission-critical and personal).

    1. That's a HUGE amount of extra fuel, though. Getting from low Earth orbit to low Mars orbit needs about 3.8 km/s delta v (minimal). But from low Mars orbit to the surface needs 4.1 km/s and you need that much AGAIN to take off.


  3. For me, it just has to be plausible, and fit well with the story. This is why it is called "science FICTION". This story does work very well as far as I am concerned.

    There is a specific line on page 113 about the fuel supply.

    1. I liked it too, but I hold hard SF stories to a higher standard.

  4. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/611490/tierra-y-libertad/

    The author has been published by MIT Technology Review here. It's a good 4-star story.

  5. This was indeed very moving, but it suffers a little bit (as you note) from having most of the actual story driven by Khalidah's selfish refusal to accept Donna's choice, until (almost literally) the very end.

    Also, although it's somewhat ambiguous, I read the end of the story, where they all keep asking Donna "Are you ready?", with no reply, as an indication that Donna is already dead, either because she's already taken the drug or she's succumbed to cancer. The story is titled "Death on Mars", after all.

  6. Reprinted at Clarkesworld 146:


    (While it looks like the ebook is still available for free, this might be easier for those interested in reading this particular story.)