The Sirens of Mars by Sarah Stewart Johnson | Nonfiction Book Review

In honor of today’s launch of the Perseverance Mars rover, I bring you “The Sirens of Mars: Searching For Life on Another World” by Sarah Stewart Johnson (thanks to Crown Publishing for the gifted Netgalley eARC) 

This book is the exact kind of nonfiction I like: a deep dive into a science-y topic with some memoir bits thrown in, to add the human element. Not since Lab Girl by Hope Jahren has a book struck just the right balance for me, not until The Sirens of Mars. 

Despite my love for all things space, my knowledge of the early years of space exploration was sadly lacking. So learning all the history of planetary science through this was deeply fascinating! My generation has almost always known a world where a manmade object was roaming the surface of the Red Planet, there was a time in the not-distant last when the prevailing idea was that there were irrigation canals on Mars. One of my favorite factoids in here was how science fiction writers of the time reacted to the new data. “Why didn’t we think of craters?” Isaac Asimov reportedly said when Mariner 4 images came back. 

So not only did this feed the trivia nerd part of my brain, but Sarah Stewart Johnson’s prose made the experience a breeze. She is a planetary scientist who has worked on past Mars rovers, so she brings both personal experience and her passion for space exploration and this planet to the book.

The way she describes the yearning to know more, the urge to explore was infectious. And she’s not alone: it’s no wonder why the pope said this upon seeing the first Mars images: Vidimus et admirati sumus – “we saw and we gazed in wonder.” She admits: “I am searching the darkness because there is a universe out there awaiting discovery. It is exciting to live with such possibility,.”

So safe travels, Perseverance 🚀 find some answers for us!

“The wild strangeness of the planet, with its tawny air and relentless red deserts, calls to us: With each mission, we grapple to understand a world that’s at once recognizable yet at the same time indescribably foreign. We return again and again, and the mysteries deepen.”

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