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Death on Mars – Book Review

Author: John E. Brandenburg, Ph.D.
Publisher: Adventures Unlimited Press
Copyright: 2015, ISBN: 1939149381
Review by: Lynard Barnes, 24 December 2016

Summary: And you thought the face on Mars was a case of pareidolia. According to Dr. Brandenburg the face on Mars is indication of life on Mars that arose during the same time as life on Earth. He makes a very strong though fanciful circumstantial case.


The last book I read about the rock formation on Mars which some saw as a humanoid face was Stanley V. McDaniel and Monica Rix’s CASE FOR THE FACE: SCIENTISTS EXAMINE THE EVIDENCE FOR THE ALIEN ARTIFACTS ON MARS. Written in 1998, the book was based on the 1976 VIKING 1 orbiter imaging of the Mars Cydonia region. DEATH ON MARS takes the story forward with photo examinations from more high-resolution cameras like the MARS GLOBAL OBSERVER. These later images convinced most that the face was an optical illusion, simply a play of light upon rocks. Most were convinced, but not all.

Brandenburg rips into the Jet Propulsion Laboratory–JPL, the robotic exploration people–and the National Space Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) contractor, Malin Space Science Systems (MSSS). After the original VIKING 1 photos, the subsequent high-resolution images of the Cydonia region were taken at oblique angles, grossly distorting the overhead images derived from the originals taken by VIKING 1. The results were pictures of featureless rocks setting in a desolate landscape. Dr. Brandenburg however cites the work of Mark Carlotto’s enhancement of the images to confirm the original conclusion based on the VIKING images. Thus, he successfully resurrects the case for a face on Mars. Proving the case for the face on Mars is only on aspect of this book however.

The low-level flare-up against JPL evidenced in this book is grounded in more than a dispute over contractors and imaging techniques. The conflict is between those who believe space should be explored by robots and those who believe humans should do the exploring. The general public is not engaged in the debate though perhaps it should. Sending humans into space is somewhere near three times as expensive as sending robots. Yet, robotic explorations like the NASA 1975 VIKING program and even the 2005 Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), are pretty much flashes in the pan of public perception. It is a one or two-day news story and then disappears and easily leaves a vacuum for some to ask dumb questions such as, why are we spending money to explore space.

This debate over whether robots or humans should be shifting through the sands of alien worlds has a lot to do with the entire face-on-Mars controversy. Basically it comes down to whether the best of current computer technology can be programmed to recognize a life form even when it is observing one. More to the point, can the technology recognize the artifacts of a life form. In short, there is no surrogate for human perception and intelligence. Add to this limitation, the suspicion that there are some who would tailor the true facts to suit their own agendas. This is the underlying premise of DEATH ON MARS and it makes a very strong circumstantial case for both the current state of our ignorance and the capacity of some to manipulate facts. That said, Brandenburg’s scientific speculation about conditions on Mars are likely to follow the same path as Immanuel Velikovsky’s WORLDS IN COLLISION, published in 1950. Then again, there is Alfred Wegener’s concept of tectonic plates that took over fifty years for science to accept. Will Brandenburg’s conjectures about Mars endure the same fate of lingering collapse as scientific facts catch up with scientific, logical speculation? Or will there be vindication after decades of exploration? Unanswerable questions obviously but in the meantime we can rely on scientists being scientists and listen to charges of fakery and ignorance.

Based on the “superabundance” of xenon 129 in the Mars atmosphere, Brandenburg speculates that Mars was the location of a nuclear incident–or war. He goes into detail about why he thinks the speculation is justified. (There is also a lot of detail about nuclear isotopes.) If nothing else, his contention that Mars experienced a nuclear explosion of some sort has placed the Mars face issue in the background. Assuming the existence of a facial artifact on the planet, the evidence of a nuclear incident, the author leaps farther into speculation that life started on Mars at roughly the same time life started on earth. At some point, a more advanced galactic civilization came along and nuked the primitive population of Mars because . . . well, because the primitive Martians poised a threat to the advanced galactic civilization? Earth can not be too far down on the threat scale of galactic civilizations since we are way past the stage of constructing gigantic faces from rocks. Hence, it is vitally important that we find out what really happened on Mars, if anything. We need to explore and do so with the facility of human, not robotic intelligence.

You see where this is going. Maybe you don’t. Brandenburg does an excellent job of mapping the direction. He provides a criteria for accessing the validity of his and other’s contention that there was once life on Mars; that there are in fact artifacts of a civilization on the planet. He goes so far as to provide an outline of how we could land an exploratory contingent on Mars via one of its moons and then explore the planet itself. Behind this exposition of space exploration expertise is a desire to promote human adventurism. There was a time when it was a defining characteristic of American society in everything from science to the arts. Not any more. Now the emphasis is on security, stability. There is danger in space and it not aliens. It is human ignorance. Someone could die on those speeding projectiles we call rockets, or suffocate in the vacuum of darkness we call space.

Brandenburg gives us a peek into the life of a plasma physicist–or a “psychiatrist to the electrons” as he puts it at one point. As scant as it is, the mini-life bio offers a revealing glimpse into the motivations of the author. Obviously successful in the area of physics, you get the sense that this is a man on a mission. Revealing truths is one assessment though a superficial view might conclude that he is merely sowing the seeds of sensationalistic doubt–a common tactic of those seeking fame and fortune. My reading of him is that he is more the truth seeker than the sensationalist. Yet, he is out there on a fringe. A civilization on Mars?

Two other fringe-hanging authors with motivation bubbles floating above their heads are Raymond E. Fowler of the Betty Andreasson UFO abduction case and the late Zecharia Sitchin of the Earth Chronicles series. Like Brandenburg, they raise questions–they don’t provide categorical answers. Brandenburg fits this criteria because, though his hypothesizes are detailed to the point of fantasy, he does not assert an irrevocable truth. Nor does he promote a generalized conspiracy theory, the leading indicator of those disconnected from rational thought.

This is an enjoyable and informative book to read, despite a few typographical errors and fanciful conclusions. Brandenburg writes fiction under the name Victor Norgarde.

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