The best-selling author of Stiff and Bonk explores the irresistibly strange universe of space travel and life without gravity.
One good place to begin to get a grasp on some curious and story-rich astronautical developments is in Mary Roach's often hilarious, yet journalistically and scientifically sound new book, Packing for Mars. As the author of three prior volumes concerning, respectively, corpses, the afterlife, and sex, Roach brings a gonzo sensibility, a fluid prose style and a keen eye for absurdity to her reporting on "the curious science of life in the void." She also revels in the gritty and the macabre aspects of her topic: "[At 600 miles per hour] the windblast pried open his epiglottis and inflated his stomach like a pool toy." Her focus on the needs and engineering constraints of the human body and mind in an off-Earth environment refreshingly takes the spotlight off hardware and glorious conquest and places it squarely where Malzberg and Ballard wanted to shine it: on the ridiculous yet noble human animal at the center of space exploration.