Wednesday, February 04, 2004

This panorama just might qualify as my favorite image ever returned from the surface of Mars. At 9 MB, it's big, with an epic quality that's hard to put into words. In the foreground you can see several "crop circles" where the lander's airbags disturbed the surface as it rolled down the incline; it's amusing to think that we're the aliens here, modifying the landscape in ways that would mystify any native onlookers. The protruding bedrock looks suggestively like the ruined vertebrae of some impossible creature, compacted and exhumed by wind. If you look at this image long enough -- and there's plenty to see and contemplate -- you get a vertiginous sense of actually being there that surpasses any virtual reality interface I have yet to sample. This small slice of Mars is redolent with history, infused with a timelessness and mystery that even Earth's natural wonders fail to evoke. In a word: Wow.

I was invited to speak at this year's Ozark UFO Conference. It's in April, two months before my book comes out. So I declined. Maybe a few people might "recognize" me from online ventures, but I'd still be a virtual unknown. Having something in hardcopy gives you street cred; the Web, for all of its benefits, has yet to supplant the printed page in terms of prestige, just how "e-books" will remain a mere novelty until the advent of bug-free electronic "paper." (Incidentally, one of the illustrators for my book did the cover for the current Scientific American, which features a hybrid cellphone, PDA and flexible touch-sensitive reader. If you think Americans are gadget-obsessed now, wait until they get their hands on tech like this.)