Roy's Reviews > Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach
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's review
May 10, 2011

really liked it
Read in May, 2011

I must admit that I am a bit of a space nerd. A few years ago I dipped into the world of WETFs, escape velocity, and bone loss for my graduate thesis. I was already familiar with some of the topics, and I had read a few of the same sources that Roach has, though I did not make it through as many mission logs as she. However, I feel confident in saying that this book is just as accessible to the uninitiated as the well-versed on life in space. Roach’s style* is relaxed, personal and entertaining.

Each chapter is focused on a different issue of space flight but they all point to one theme which is to de-mystify space travel. Roach peels away the crew-cutted official history of the first 50-years of space to tell the stories behind the events. NASA has gone to such great pains to shroud itself in regimented success, that it has made space travel boring. This is too bad because space travel really is one of the most fantastic achievements by man. Maybe as more nations, corporations, and even private citizens travel to space, then we will reach a new golden age, an age of fewer stoic heroes and more fly-by-night cowboys. I for one am ready for more tall tales and fewer historical events.

* My one issue with her writing style is her reliance in footnotes to tell asides and non-sequitors. There are tons of interesting bits and facts in this book, but she drops many of them down into footnotes, essentially so that they do not interrupt the flow of an idea. But for every footnote, you do need to eventually hop down to the bottom of the page to read it or miss it. I find that footnotes used in this way are more distracting than a quick digression in the body of the piece. In one passage she truly outdoes herself when, in the middle of a sentence, she makes a parenthetical comment, in that comment, she has a footnote that also has a parenthetical phrase. Digging out from all of those asides made me feel like I was unwinding the plot of Enception. I have seen this style used in other places recently, most flagrantly in Bill Simmon’s Book of Basketball. I think it is the natural progression for many writers who spend so much time writing words for internet columns that have hyperlinks and sidebars. Modern writing is becoming less linear.

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