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Aka, First on Mars. Rex Gordon is a pen name for Stanley Bennett Hough (1917 - 1998). This book was published in 1956 and provides an insight into ideas about space travel at this time. In this story we have Gordon Holder blasting off with a team in a British rocket from the Woomera rocket range in Australia and ending up alone and stranded on Mars where he has to figure out how to survive.
It was curious to me how his rocket was designed to land in an upright fashion, just like the SpaceX rockets do, but without computer technology; the whole system, and the craft as a whole, being far more simple.
Holder manages to survive on the planet by making use of the various parts of the crashed rocket, learning how to produce oxygen and water until he is eventually rescued. This all might sound familiar as this story has echoes in that of The Martian book published in 2011 and 2015 film of the same name, when botanist Mark Watney aids his own survival by growing potatoes. The key difference for our No Man Friday (besides a lack of potatoes) is that back then we knew less about the red planet and the type of life that might be found there. Holder discovers both plants, which he makes use of where possible, and strange creatures from insect like bugs, to humanoid ones which communicate with different frequencies of light.
These are indeed strange creatures and well imagined. They "make and do nothing" bringing into question how us humans live; they are at one with their planet, while it's like we don't belong here on Earth since we are constantly striving forward and meddling with our environment in a whole host of ways. They also seem to view and experience time and space differently to us and try to educate Holder to "be" not "do".
I found the book to be a good read and certainly not marred by the passage of time (except the paperback copy itself which is somewhat aged and fragile). It's a relatively short read at little over 200 pages but didn't feel rushed to me, indeed I think there was only one part that I skimmed through in order to get on with the story.
The author raises some more interesting and often philosophical points towards the end. One is early on when 'multiple chain stores' are mentioned as being "financial pyramids, and nothing more."
This system is further questioned when Holder meets his American rescuers who are surprised to find him on the planet, they ask "How much of this planet are you claiming to put under the Union Jack?"
It was curious to me that Holder only had occasional feelings of loneliness (he was stuck on Mars for 15 years). He talks of depression and how "it's even more difficult [to leave] when you have no friends to leave and no one to watch you go." He notices how he craves someone to talk to following a meal; "I wished I had someone to talk to once again ... not for the sake of companionship ... but because, by talking, I could have expected to clear my mind about what, if anything, I hoped to find. Man ... is a talking animal. That is how his mind works: by words and expressed concepts which make his experiences become real and have meaning for him. Without [this he is 'nothing']." Later: "One drew comfort from other people's mere existence ... serving no conceivable purpose except to sustain."
"There was a still ness. I was used to stillness. It was the greatest and most lonely feature of the plain around the wreck. I had often thought that I had never known silence until I came to Mars.
He describes himself while preparing to kill a creature on Mars: "I was a lonely, puny, diminutive creature whose weapon - the bow I hold now - was itself a symbol not of strength but weakness."
Loneliness when surrounded by others: "Suddenly I felt lonely, more lonely than I had since I had ever comprehended that there were other creatures beside myself upon the planet ... the land (seemed) more barren."
He also considers vegetarianism: "I never had been convinced of the moral reason for vegetarianism. It had not seemed reasonable or just to me that man should kill off all his domestic animals, and turn the world into one vast cornfield, merely because he did not like to eat the flesh of creatures which, while he was omnivorous, he could at least allow to live."
Some more wise words: "A man does not adapt his environment to suit himself until he has first adapted himself to his local world."
That sentence seems to be echoed by Mahatma Gandhi:
“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”
I'd picked up this book at a second hand shop and have since learned that it is the second such book by 'Rex Gordon'. I have since obtained the first one 'Utopia 239' which I look forward to reading next.