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Review - Postcards from Mars - Jim Bell

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There’s a certain chutzpah in a book subtitled “the first photographer on the red planet.” For a moment there’s a suspicion that the book’s author, Jim Bell has achieved a personal mission to Mars on his own – but it turns out that Bell is the lead scientist on a particular set of cameras on the Mars rovers – and the “photographer” is not a human being but the rovers themselves.

Primarily this is a coffee table picture book. It’s large format and some of the pictures are fold-outs providing huge panoramas. There’s good explanatory text all the way through and after an initial section of Earth-bound photos of the probes before launch and the take-off itself, the main part of the book contains page after page of detailed pictures of the Mars surface, including some clever self portraits of the landers and rovers.

The good news is that when you see one of these photographs for the first time you get goose bumps. Here is a big, clear image of the surface of another planet, made all the more exciting by the sight of tracks from the rovers as they criss-cross the surface. The bad news is, once you’ve seen a few, marvelled at the view, and been impressed by the strange ball-like nodules, the photos are all pretty much the same.

To be fair, no one can expect a shot with a Martian peering around a rock, but some features other than arid flatness with a few pebbles would have been nice. Realistically this is going to be one for Mars and space flight enthusiasts. For the rest of us, what is quite an expensive buy is likely to be thumbed through and returned to the shelf.

Only in hardback.

Reviewed by Jo Reed

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Last update 05 June 2007