Author: Edward Howell

The End Has Come

  • How did knowing you’d have to write a Review on the blog change the way you read our books? How did it change the way you prepared for class?

Whenever I started the books I knew I had to pay closer attention to the details of the book, because after I was finished I would later then need to recall those details. I tried to make sure that I was paying close attention to anything about climate change and how it effected the story and characters. One of the things that it made me do, that I never do and hate doing, is dog-ear my pages. If I came across a particular page that contained a lot of climate change then I would fold the page so I knew to come back to it after I was finished reading. It made it a lot easier when I was eventually writing my blog posts.

  • How did writing in this format affect your writing process and writing style? I’m really interested to hear how writing in a blog format was different from writing you’ve done in other classes, whether English classes with more traditional papers, other courses with online writing (blog, discussion board, etc.) or otherwise. Did the possibility of a wider audience – your classmates, or anyone who stumbled upon our blog – change the way you wrote?

I really enjoyed the blog format, more than I thought I would at first. It made me feel more comfortable sharing my feelings about the book in a less formal way than essays. In other classes I always had to write very structured papers and my opinion wasn’t really included. I really enjoyed the blog because of the fact that I was able to share my opinion of the book as a whole and how I felt about it.


  • How often did you read the Reviews posted by your classmates? Did you gravitate towards reading particular writers?

After I posted my reviews I would always check out what other people were writing about. It was interesting to read their reviews and then hear them in class. I have to say that I always enjoyed reading what Bobby had to say. I think that he was successful at the blog format as a whole and I enjoyed the touches of humor.

  • I’d be excited to hear you reflect on whether and/or how your experience with and attitude towards the blog changed over the course of the semester. Did it live up to its promise? Was the blog element of the course better or worse than you hoped or feared?

I think that at first I was a little hesitant with the blog. I didn’t have any experience with blog format so I didn’t really know what was expected from my posts and how to even approach it. After the first few posts and observing what other people were saying, I became a little more comfortable with the format and the subject matter. I think it totally lived up to its promise. The blog was a great way to post our thoughts on the books and have an opening for discussion. It was definitely better then what I had feared. I really wish that other classes of mine would have done it as well.

  • Finally, if you’d like, reflect upon the possibility that the work you’ve posted on the blog is now available for anyone to read, even now that the course is over. Do you think this blog could be a useful resource for future readers curious about the topic?

I think that it would be a great resource for anyone interested in the topic of climate fiction and climate change in general. The blog contains really great points about the books and its relation to climate change. It is also a source that is not completely made up of one single person’s opinion. Anyone who comes across our blog will find a variety of opinions on the topic not just one particular view.

Overall it was a great class that I really enjoyed. Thanks!


Having the blog be the primary way to communicate, outside of class, was a different experience than I’m used to. I’ve never had to write for a “broader audience,” and I think I grew accustomed to it. With that said, I definitely think I wrote in a way knowing that other people than the professor would/could be possibly reading my reviews. I was thinking of what I’d be writing, during the different readings, and felt like I almost came more prepared in terms of structuring my thoughts simply because of the public nature of the posts.

I agree with some of the other posts that say it gave the people who don’t talk as much an outlet to express themselves, as I am definitely in that group. I have always been able to express myself better in writing, and when I have time to lay out my views. The blog (along with papers) allow me to do that, and in the blogs case, frequently. I believe it was a great way to have everyone share their opinions on the books, in an open forum. I would read the other students stories as I could, but I do wish I had more time to comment on them, as there are some amazing writers in this class!

I also concur that having the blog made me more interested in news stories, current events, and articles regarding climate change etc. Things I might not have paid as much attention to if I was just reading to “read.” Having the blog so easily accessible made me more apt to post an article that I found particularly interesting, funny or relevant. That part was very enjoyable, and I enjoyed when other students would post articles as well, as I got very interested in the topic over the course of the semester.

Science Fiction & “Capitalist Realism”

In the Los Angeles Review of Books, a great review of a new special issue of the journal Paradoxa about the state of science fiction. The review starts by name-dropping “cli-fi” and the writing of Kim Stanley Robinson and Margaret Atwood before moving into its description of the collection:

The more sophisticated offerings among these postapocalyptic fictions often highlight how end-of-the-world fantasies can often perpetuate triumphalist narratives of global capitalism, and this is one of the key launching points for Mark Bould and Rhys Williams’s recent special issue of the scholarly journal Paradoxa. This special issue — called Sf Now — examines cutting-edge trends in science fiction literature and theory, and it offers several articles that expand on Mark Fisher’s notion of “capitalist realism,” or the idea that challenges to capitalist norms are often preemptively rejected as fruitless and unrealistic.

sf-now-243x366If you ask me, the possibilities and power of “cli-fi” should be evaluated by how well it provides alternatives to this line of thinking — “capitalist realism” — and directly challenges its limitations. As we discussed in class, I think Kingsolver is actually doing this rather well in Flight Behavior if we account for her audience, mainly in the two scenes where Dellarobia goes shopping (first in the dollar store, later in the thrift store) — so it doesn’t always have to come in the form of science fiction.

You can read the Introduction to the special issue online.

Talking about Climate Change and Game of Thrones



This morning Brittany Patterson of ClimateWire published a great article in which our class (and our moments of despair) is featured: Can ‘Game of Thrones’ get people to talk about climate change?

I’d honestly be eager to hear your thoughts in response to this question. We’ve taken on similar questions in class, but this is more immediate: how can making connections between trending pop culture (like Game of Thrones — 8 million people watched the Season 5 premiere three weeks ago) aid discussion about climate change issues and themes?

If I teach this class again, I’ll find a way to include Game of Thrones and the larger discussion it’s provoking:

The parallels between the television drama and both the political and scientific discussions related to climate change are striking, said Manjana Milkoreit, a research fellow at Arizona State University. Milkoreit conducted an analysis of how the television show is being used by a handful of “scientists, science communicators and geeks” to break through the hard-to-explain science to engage Americans about the dangers of rising global temperatures.

Your Final Thoughts


As you’re composing your final “Audit” of the blog element of the course, here are some questions I’m interested in hearing your answers to. No need to answer all of them – and please do take it in whatever direction you’d like – but hopefully these questions will provoke some thoughts:

  • How did knowing you’d have to write a Review on the blog change the way you read our books? How did it change the way you prepared for class?
  • How did writing in this format affect your writing process and writing style? I’m really interested to hear how writing in a blog format was different from writing you’ve done in other classes, whether English classes with more traditional papers, other courses with online writing (blog, discussion board, etc.) or otherwise. Did the possibility of a wider audience – your classmates, or anyone who stumbled upon our blog – change the way you wrote?
  • How often did you read the Reviews posted by your classmates? Did you gravitate towards reading particular writers?
  • Did knowing that you had to post on the blog affect the way you read (and watched) stuff unrelated to the course readings?
  • I’d be excited to hear you reflect on whether and/or how your experience with and attitude towards the blog changed over the course of the semester. Did it live up to its promise? Was the blog element of the course better or worse than you hoped or feared?
  • Finally, if you’d like, reflect upon the possibility that the work you’ve posted on the blog is now available for anyone to read, even now that the course is over. Do you think this blog could be a useful resource for future readers curious about the topic?

Young Adult Cli-fi Top 10

In the Guardian, author Sarah Holding gives her Top 10 Cli-fi books. The list is focused on Young Adult and children’s lit, which is where cli-fi is really taking off. Early in February, Holding wrote a piece for the Guardian about why she considers her own work cli-fi. The next time I teach this class, we’ll definitely read something geared towards the YA market.

Coined by climate activist Dan Bloom to capture an emergent literary genre dealing with life on Earth after it’s been ravaged by climate change, this is fast becoming the most exciting and challenging subject area driving YA literature. Although catastrophic by nature, it is far from mere disaster-movie fodder; these books are posing new questions about what it means not just to survive but to be human. Don’t be put off by the preponderance of floodwater or the scarcity of basic resources – what you’ve got here are fast-paced, intrepid adventures into the unknown, most of which, interestingly enough, have a strong female character leading the way.

Frame-filling portrait of a young Polar Bear male jumping in the pack icePictured above: an ice-hopping polar bear, something our blog has been missing to this point. Photo credit: “Polar Bear AdF” by Arturo de Frias Marques – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


Why Climate Change is a Human Rights Violation.

This article (for me) was a new take on how we view climate change. Especially relevant from our numerous conversations in class regarding, “What can we do?” and “Who is to blame?”. This piece is very comprehensive, and makes compelling arguments for its case. Here are some samples of the article.

“Negligence on the part of those governments and corporations towards peoples who have been displaced or further impoverished by climate change is a form of violence. That negligence has included severe underfunding for climate adaptation and mitigation efforts, and relative inaction or slow action on curbing overconsumption.”

“Citizens of the world have to press charges for human rights violations or even war crimes, not just environmental degradation —for both current and past harms. We have to look at figures of how many inches the ocean will rise and how many more storm events will wipe out coastal economies, and directly relate human lives to those numbers. We need prioritize the people whose homes and livings are going literally underwater, and make the heavy emitters (corporations and rich nations) pay.”

I’m Not Really Feeling The Fever

After finishing Hurricane Fever I have to say that this book was just…okay. I think it was an interesting, fast paced, action packed book that left me only slightly entertained. It felt more like a movie and less like a book. I found myself enjoying the overall story, but I also wanted more details overall. After reading posts from other people I can see that they really enjoyed that it was a story that wasn’t focused on climate change, but I found that I really wanted there to be more on climate change. The most important issue that the book discussed about climate change was the increasing amount of storms that they faced.

What I found to be interesting was the way that the characters were handling the climate change, especially in countries that were practically underwater. One of the more common facts about climate change that people know about is the rising water levels and how parts of countries will be under water. I thought it was interesting that in the book these countries still tried to survive and make life work in these areas that are halfway underwater and constantly hit with storms.

One thing that I really did like about the book was the fact that the book was set in the future, but it still felt like a world that I could understand and relate to.  I also like the futuristic and upgraded things in the book, like the concrete houses to brave the storm, the quick healing first aid kits, and the wet suits that help people survive in the water. I thought these were really awesome touches to the story that made it futuristic, but still keep it grounded in a world that I recognize.

Overall this was not my favorite book, but I think it was successful in creating a realistic version of the world after climate change.

Hurricane Fever – Fast and Fun

“Hurricane Fever,” the fast-paced action/thriller written by Tobias Buckell, was certainly an entertaining quick read. The novel focuses on “Roo” bent on revenge, investigation and a nothing to lose mentality. The hurricanes themselves could very well be another character in the book, and cause much chaos to the islands/boats that Roo, and others inhabit. I am perhaps bias in the fact that my favorite novels, are indeed this type. Anything action, suspense and tension driven enthralls me. I enjoyed the setting, (present-day) in this novel, more so than a future that I can hardly envision (ie “The Wind Up Girl”). “Forty Signs of Rain”, having the same (more or less) ‘present day’ pretense, was realistic, and also effortless for me to conceptualize. Combining climate change and a revenge story worked well together for this conspiracy Roo set out to unearth in the novel. As the LA Book Reviewer (Nisi Shawl) says, “Weaponization, genetic targeting – it’s not giving too much away to say that such dangerous concepts are fleshed out easily enough here that readers will readily understand how chillingly close they are to becoming real.” In this type of novel, the reader is able to get easily engaged with the plot, characters and their overall purpose, along with seeing the devastating effects of climate change that envelop the story, even if it’s just to move the story towards its conclusion. I believe Shawl sums it up nicely saying “So this book can be read as a liberating re-visioning of the spy and near future ecothriller genre in addition to as a story falling comfortably within their boundaries.” Shawl goes on to say if “Hurricane Fever” were made into a movie, “that movie would earn even more than the book could…” I feel that is quite true of this type of story, action plays well on screen, even with climate change and ‘ecoterroism’ at the forefront. Would more people pay attention to it? Maybe. I do think this type of novel could be a good segway by bringing some larger issues to the forefront of people’s minds.

Reference: LA Review of Books – Nisi Shawl – The Shock of the New Normal


The Year of the Flood – Apocalypse Now

Margaret Atwood’s “Year of the Flood” focuses on the story of an environmentalist cult, many of whose members will ultimately survive the plague wreaking havoc, for a variety of reasons.  These people have anticipated this event for so long they’re more prepared than anyone else, or at least the ones that survived the initial epidemic are. This group of people has created their own ideology which melds science and nature woven into the nature of religion, which was really quite intriguing. The reader follows Ren and Toby, both members of the “green cult” called the Gardeners. These two women are from very different background, and have many years separating them. Atwood smartly uses alternating points of view to tell their stories, which was a welcome development as to not let us get confused between the women. Ren’s chapters are told in first person whereas Toby’s are told in third.

The reader can sense Atwood’s contempt for the companies featured (ie CorpSeCorps) utter disregard of the environment and health, just to prove their profit and loss statements. Gerry Canavan suggests in his article, “Apocalypse reminds us that the logic of consumer capitalism is not, in fact, timeless and eternal; there was a time before it, and there will be a time after it.” The constant reminders are throughout “The Year of the Flood” concerning this, creatively in fact, with the names for the companies in addition to the unprovoked opinions from the characters.  He goes on to say, “So-called ‘deep ecology,’ both in and outside science fiction, has long wrestled with precisely this fraught relationship with catastrophe and extinction in its push for a human race with so light an ecological footprint so as to (at the extreme end of its logic) be erased from the planet altogether.”

The world that Atwood created is ruled by corporations, a world that deals death and exhaustion regularly. She showcases how disconnected we are from the planet nourishes us. Atwood shows the reader what could happen if we continue on this course, living in inequality and greed. Canavan also cites Lawrence Buell, “who noted, ‘Apocalypse is the single most powerful master metaphor that the contemporary environmental imagination has at its disposal.’” This powerfully ties into climate change fiction, and whether or not it can have a change on the discourse the subject, and invoke passionate conversation from a wider audience. Due to the immense popularity of Atwood’s novels, I think this trilogy has a chance to bring these issues to the forefront of discussion.

Reference: Gerry Canavan, “Hope, But Not for Us: Ecological Science Fiction and the End of the World in Margaret Atwood’sOryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood

Captain Obvious Alert

Game-of-Thrones-Season-3-DanyToday Reuters released what is supposed to be the first part of a string of articles by Kyle Plantz, who interviewed me a few weeks ago about our class. Suffice to say that if I knew the article was going to be about Game of Thrones I would have been super-pumped, as it is literally the only TV show I like other than Antiques Roadshow.

But here we are at the end of the piece:

But Ted Howell, who teaches a climate fiction class at Temple University in Philadelphia, said film-goers may be getting the wrong idea about what climate change looks like.

“Some people think (climate change) is going to be this massive tidal wave or giant snowstorm, but it’s actually slower than that,” he said.

Thank you, Captain Obvious.

I jest, but Kyle’s piece is really excellent and I can’t wait to read the next one.

Snowpiercer Think Pieces

Emily has done a great job of reviewing Snowpiercer and providing some links to get us ready. I thought I’d do the same by sharing links to two “think pieces” on the movie — some heavy reading, actually. I’m not avoiding spoilers, so look away if that sort of thing bothers you.

A Snowpiercer Thinkpiece, Not to Be Taken Too Seriously, But For Very Serious Reasons

Snowpiercer is a truly chilling dystopia, then, because its world is fully self-contained, and sufficient. But the most insane thing about it is that it makes sense. And it crystallizes something firghtening about the psychic geography of late capitalism, a technologically-enhanced state of affairs in which the function of the oppressed masses is less and less to work and be exploited than to be excluded and to suffer. The first world, the movie might seem to argue, works less to provide its citizens with pleasure than to shape their desire by constructing others through their pain, lack, and death. Instead of giving Texans a health care system, for example, late capitalism gives them the illegal immigrant, to hate, to fear, and to dis-identify with. Prisons do more and more of the system-maintaining work that was once done by schools and hospitals: instead of giving us something to want, they give us something to fear, hate, and kill. And so, we eat ourselves.

Meta: Snowpiercer

Capitalism’s genius is its ability to co-opt every attempt at resistance; every revolution is engineered within the system, with the permission of the system, according to terms defined by the system. Which is why the exploitative conditions of capitalism–its visceral and mundane horrors–have persisted for so very long: they seem to be driven by a “sacred engine” which will run perfectly forever.


Are We Headed Down This Road?

The Windup Girl was a little bit of a struggle to get through. The book starts and you are thrust into a world that isn’t the easiest to understand right off the bat. At first you have no concepts of when the book is taking place or what has happened that has led to the current events. It doesn’t help that the characters change from chapter to chapter. I did like that you got to know each of the important characters through their own stories and see how their social statuses effected their stories. Each character came from a different type of background, from Anderson being the rich white guy who is considered a foreign devil to Emiko who is a genetically designed new person. It’s interesting to see how the social structure plays a large role in the story. The rich still have the power to control the poor and make money off of their suffering. I think that it was also interesting to see that all of the characters were corrupt in some sort of way. By writing from several characters’ perspectives, the book is able to show the story from every perspective, rather than painting just one person as the bad guy. While reading it I found myself disliking something about almost every character.

The thing that I really did like about the book was how you got to see life after the largest horrors had passed. It was a way to see life after they were dealing with the effects of climate change. The genetically modified food, animals and people were intriguing ideas of a possible future. We are constantly trying to modify foods to meet our needs. It brings up compelling ideas monopolizing food companies controlling the world. We already see hints of that in the world today with companies like Monsanto. I think the book paints a very realistic possibility when it comes to these large money hungry companies. I think that book really shows the lengths that these companies are willing to go to make money.

Overall I wasn’t the biggest fan of this book, but I didn’t hate it. It had some interesting moments that made me really think about the future in the book is a road that the world could possibly head down

Naomi Klein: Shock of Oil Price Plunge Is Opportunity World Must Seize

In this article Klein argues the current moment is ripe for the world to take advantage of the dramatic drop in global oil prices by kicking the fossil fuel industry “while it’s down.” She goes on to says the fall in oil prices since last year should be seen as an opportunity for those concerned about both the prevailing economic order and the dangers of climate change. “Let’s turn this shock,” she says in the nearly five-minute video essay, “into the shift we need.” While this seems to be good idea in theory, our class last night (and Forty Signs of Rain) illuminated how hard it is to actually get anything achieved without added measures tacked on to potential progress.

Forty Signs of Rain…and Questions.

Forty Signs of Rain is a straightforwardly entrancing tale of science and politics that presents a cast of intelligent and interesting characters, all involved in the day to day workings of US government and scientific institutions. Science in the Capitol, as it is aptly described, should very well become required reading for both global climate scientists, and political candidates. This novel does a respectable job of humanizing the scientists throughout, presenting them as real people facing everyday problems even though they spend a majority of their time trying to save the world from deconstructing around them. As Frank is writing the harsh letter to Diane Chang he emphasizes the need for more involvement from the National Science Foundation, “If the Earth were to suffer a catastrophic anthropogenic extinction event over the next ten years, which it will, American business would continue to focus on its quarterly profit and loss.” (210) The problem is, as Mathis Hampel states in his Washington Post article, Want to convince people that climate change is real? Stop talking about the science of it. “We are not dealing with a pollution problem to be solved cost-benefit style. Climate Change is not a hole in the earth’s ozone layer caused by a set of manageable chemicals.”

So how do we go about talking about the issues that are affecting us world-wide in a way that can create meaningful progress? How do we not feel the same frustration Charlie did when was talking to Strengloft? “He was combating liars, people who lied about science for money, thus obscuring the clear signs of the destruction of their present world. So that they would end up passing on to all the children a degraded planet, devoid of animals and forests and coral reefs and all other aspects of a biological support system and home.” (193) How can we aim to tackle climate change when all other aspects are lumped into the movement for progress? Hampel states, “By now, everything from trade policy or global inequality to animal extinctions or indigenous people’s rights has been woven into the tangled knot of climate change politics.” Not only are the politicians positive they are “addressing” the issue (in their own way), but most of the time not taking the issue seriously enough. The President jokes with Charlie in their meeting regarding CO2, and Strengloft comments that isn’t as bad as it seems. “The last time there was a significant rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide, human agricultural productivity boomed…” “The end of the black death might account for that,” Charlie pointed out. “Well maybe the rising CO2 levels ended the Black Death.” Earlier in the conversation Charlie tries to explain the reality of what is happening, “There are scenarios in which the general warming causes parts of the Northern Hemisphere to get quite cold, especially in Europe. If that were to happen, Europe could become something like the Yukon of Asia. ”Really!” the president said. “Are we sure that would be a bad thing? Just kidding of course.” (159).

This scene sounds sadly true, and what I expect out of discourse on the subject. Is there really anyway to have an open and active conversation, that results in actual, substantive change within the government? Kim Stanley Robinson speaks to this in his interview, In 300 years, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Science Fiction May Not Be Fiction. “This suggests legal changes imposed by democratic government, which are more and more urgently needed. The free market can’t do it because it isn’t free, but in fact a particular legal system completely inadequate to the situation, and the prices we concoct for things are completely unresponsive to physical realities. So, we are in quite a bit of trouble here, because capitalism is a cultural dominant and the current global way of conducting things, world law, and yet inadequate to the situation we face.” We indeed have the money to spend on researching and solutions to our current situation, yet choose to spend it on “immediate action” targets, such as the military as Frank mentions in his speech to the board.

“Tell them they can’t give half a trillion dollars a year to the military and leave the rescue and rebuilding of the world to chance and some kind of free-market religion. It isn’t working, and science is the only way out of this mess.” He goes on to say, “Scientists should take a stand and become a part of the decision making process….Because we are not the military, we are already civilians, and we have the only methods there are to deal with these environmental problems.” (325) Forty Signs of Rain does a successful job contributing to the popularization of current scientific thought. As it currently stands however, climate change is simply an argument about big government. Neomi Oreskes addresses this in, Science vs Politics saying, “For Republicans in Congress and elsewhere, it’s not about climate change, it’s definitely not about science, it’s about government.”

Is the solution to drop the “science says” arguments as Hampel suggests? Will it take a catastrophic event, like what happened in Forty Signs of Rain? It would be amiss not to mention the reaction from Senator Phil Chase after the flood had subsided, “Isn’t this amazing?” as he waves like the grand marshal of a parade (393). Perhaps it really seems to be “amazing” to the Senator, as Washington DC had never experienced an event such as that, in its history. What’s not surprising is that the Khembalis reason for arriving in DC, were that the catastrophic events were not a “one-off” occurrence. Frank remarks, “Meanwhile the Khembalis were essentially multigenerational exiles, occupying a tidal sandbar in near poverty.” (229) This is the situation of many people around the globe, that has gone relatively unaddressed. I want to believe we are more aware than the Guardian Book Review suggests, “Humans have gone from being the smartest animal on the savannah to being ‘experts at denial’. He (Stanley) suggests that the storm clouds are gathering on the horizon, but we can no longer read the danger signs.” However, not much evidence is pointing to the contrary. Even as Charlie asks at the end if the Senator will do anything, now that he sees the catastrophic results, his answer remains the same as always, “I’ll see what I can do.” (393) The more research is presented, the more that answer isn’t good enough. The “near-future sci-fi” novel does a good job at creating believable characters, in the midst of working towards real, fundamental change. This novel has taken two sides that have historically gone in opposite directions, and puts them at the same table. Hopefully, Stanley’s next two novels in the series can shine even more light on the issues that surround the politics of climate change. Forty Signs of Rain explains and dramatizes this in terms even a Tea Party Republican can’t ignore. Whether they will read it or not, is another question.


Washington Post, Mathis Hampel

The Atlantic:

The Guardian:

Naomi Oreskes: Harvard Gazette

Talking about Geoengineering

Last week in class we talked for an hour about geoengineering even though not a single one of us is a scientist or capable of fully comprehending the intricacies of the plans we evaluated. Then, the next day, I came across this article from Grist, which had been published the day before: Why we should talk about geoengineering even if we never do it. A team of researchers found that — in addition to its helpfulness in understanding climate systems — geoengineering studies can help to make conversations about climate change less polarizing. And the article’s final paragraph mirrors many of our course’s key themes:

But just like other sci-fi fodder — black holes, time travel, artificial intelligence — geoengineering is the kind of concept that, by stoking imaginations and raising questions of ethics, politics, and the limits of human innovation, can influence society without ever having to become a reality. It’s dangerous, and scientists get that, but neglecting or hindering the broader climate change discussion is dangerous too.

Selections from Red Mars

KRS trilogy 1992-1996 first British editionsI promised to post a PDF with selections from Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars for those who are interested in checking out the book. Here’s the PDF: Red Mars.

I’ve taught this selection as a standalone reading before, so it works as introduction to the book. Here’s a reading guide in the event that you want to get started:

Red Mars is a book about the colonization of Mars. In the year 2026, 100 people leave Earth for Mars on the spaceship Ares. Many of the people aboard are either Russian or American, for the mission has been funded and organized by these two countries. Once the “First Hundred,” as they are known, leave Earth, they remain in touch with mission control and the governments (and companies) who have funded their trip; the folks on Earth are ostensibly “in charge,” but because the First Hundred are millions of miles away Earth has few ways of exercising control.

Here are some characters you need to know about:

Nadia (Chernyshevski) – Engineer and contractor responsible for building the first settlement on Mars, which is soon called “Underhill.” The section we are reading is written from Nadia’s point of view.

Ann (Clayborne) – American geologist who comes to study the surface and geological history of Mars.

Sax (Saxifrage Russell) – American physicist known for his detachment and sharp, analytic mind.

John (Boone) – American astronaut. He was the first human to step foot on Mars during an earlier space mission, and as a result is the most famous person on Earth and on Mars.

Maya (Toitovna) – Russian astronaut and politician. She is the leader of the Russian contingent.

Frank (Chalmers) – American astronaut and politician. He is the leader of the American contingent.

Arkady (Bogdanov) – Russian astronaut whose main role as member of the First Hundred is to design simulations that test and provide practice for the First Hundred’s attempt to land their ship on Mars. On their way to Mars, Arkady pointed out that they no longer needed to follow instructions from Earth, and could make their own decisions about the future of Mars.