What would life on Mars actually look like?

Just as extreme altitudes have notable effects on the human body and mind, so too does extreme wealth seem to have a particular effect on psychology. Or at least that’s how it appears when you look at the shared ambition of two of the world’s most prominent billionaires, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. Both men are fixated on the idea that humanity’s future lies beyond Earth and are funnelling fortunes into the vision that we will soon have significant human settlements off-planet, whether on the moon, Mars or elsewhere. It’s an argument grounded not just in exploration and discovery, but in survival. If humanity’s future on Earth looks to be

Antarctica: the best journey in the world

If there is one minor pitfall of being a travel writer, it is this. Whenever you tell a bunch of people what you do, invariably someone will ask: ‘Where’s the best place you’ve ever been?’ I struggled to answer until I got on a special new boat called the Greg Mortimer, operated by a Australian tour company called Aurora – and headed for Antarctica. We sailed south out of Ushuaia, in Tierra del Fuego, and crossed the Drake Passage. After three days I saw my first Antarctic iceberg. I’d observed icebergs before, in Iceland and Greenland, so I knew already that they could be striking, poetic, impressive. But this was

The heartbreak left in the wake of the Terra Nova

The story of the five women waiting at home for Captain Scott and his doomed polar party is naturally occluded in tragedy. In this engaging book Katherine MacInnes for the first time presents them – two mothers at the outset, and three wives – as distinct individuals, separated one from the other by class, education, faith and temperament. Kathleen Scott, the leader’s wife, was a gifted, confident sculptor with a lively social set and a house on Buckingham Palace Road. Caroline Oates, the widowed mother of the saturnine, Eton-educated cavalry officer Laurie (‘I dislike Scott intensely’), was the wealthy owner of Gestingthorpe Hall in Essex. The Scottish widow Emily Bowers,

Ice and snow and sea and sky: Lean Fall Stand, by Jon McGregor, reviewed

Jon McGregor has an extraordinary ability to articulate the unspoken through ethereal prose that observes ordinary lives from above without judging. While he is also skilful at depicting the particular, it is his overview of different lives running in parallel that is so bewitching, as if he is looking down on ants running around with their own urgent purposes, but each one minuscule in the scheme of the world. All his books have been treasures, capturing both the scramble of individual lives and the stillness of the universe and nature, impassive and immutable. His latest novel centres around an Antarctic expedition, where catastrophe seeps into the tranquillity like blood on

The map as a work of art

’Tis the season of complacency, when we sit in warmth and shiver vicariously with Mary and Joseph out in the snowy wastes, A Christmas Carol or The Snowman. A handsome exploration of Antarctica seems equally appropriate festive fare. Peter Fretwell brings us chillingly close to a continent that has always inspired awe, evidenced by christenings such as Mount Erebus and Fenriskjeften — the Wolf’s Jaw mountains, named after Fenris, the Norse equivalent of the Beast, which will arise at the end of time to eat the world. The coldest, driest, remotest and windiest place on the planet, surrounded by the roughest ocean, has always seemed like somewhere primordial deities might

My polar journey puts coronavirus isolation into perspective

I arrived on Novolazarevskaya base on the northern coast of Antarctica in a Russian plane, flown by an ex-USSR air force pilot and his crew. I was here to begin the longest non-mechanised polar journey ever done by man — 5,306 km to the summit of Dome Argus, the highest and coldest point of the Antarctic plateau. The next morning, I headed south towards the Somo Veken glacier with my drop-off team. Over 14 hours we climbed to 9,000 feet and passed between majestic mountains jagged and untouched. Eventually we stopped between two peaks. This was Thor’s Hammer, my start point. After we unloaded the sleds, the cars turned, headed