Harry Burton – HB to his friends – is a washed-out ex-author. He’s old, he’s knackered, and he’s psychologically fragile, still grieving for his wife, Anouk, who died over a decade earlier. All things considered, as a candidate for First Man on Mars, HB is the wrong stuff. Someone in recruitment evidently screwed up. But while HB would much rather ignore the mistake and sit in his favourite coffee shop, wallowing and pretending to write… He’s curious. What would it be like to train as an astronaut for a Mars mission? This is the stuff he used to write stories about. And he wants to see their faces, when he, a sorry old sack of brittle bones and neuroses, turns up on the space agency’s doorstep responding to their invitation? What would they say?
“Welcome”, is what they say. They’re happy to see him. And HB isn’t alone. There are other recruits, his age and with similar unlikely qualifications. Because it turns out there is a logic to sending old people to Mars.
Training begins and reawakens a feeling HB thought he’d lost forever. He meets someone, another recruit, Lana. She’s the polar opposite of Anouk, HB’s much missed wife. While Anouk was a free spirit, a mystic, a dream reader, Lana is scientifically grounded, logical, a cosmologist. Despite this, Lana and HB make a connection. It seems she has the power to reconcile the two disparate worlds, of science and mysticism, merging them into one coherent and remarkable theory.
Meanwhile, this whole preposterous Mars enterprise is getting serious, gathering pace, and might yet turn out to be more than mere politics and posturing. It might just happen.