Tagged: Theme

For a long time Mars seemed to be the most likely abode for life outside the Earth, and for that reason it has always been of cardinal importance in sf. Its surface, unlike that of Venus, exhibits markings visible (albeit unclearly) with the aid of optical telescopes, and has a distinct red colour. Early observers interpreted what they saw in terms of analogies with terrestrial phenomena: blue-green tracts interrupting the red were thought to be oceans or vegetation; the polar caps, seen to wax and wane with the seasons, were generally held to be of snow and ice; changing patterns of light and dark suggested cloud cover or forests. The presence of life – including intelligent, humanoid life – was considered likely if not certain by many scientists well into the early twentieth century. In 1877 Giovanni Schiaparelli (1835-1910) reported an intricate network of canali (literally "channels"), a word widely interpreted as "canals". The US astronomer Percival Lowell, in Mars (1895) and its successors Mars and Its Canals (1906) and Mars as the Abode of Life (1909), built up an image of a cool, arid world with great red deserts and a few areas of arable land, but perfectly capable of sustaining life. Lowell argued for the presence of an ancient, advanced, politically mature Martian civilization, which had constructed the canal system in response to the increasingly inhospitable climate of a cooling, drying, dying world, and this vision informed much of the early sf about Mars. The photographs taken during the Mariner probe flyby in 1965 and the landing of the Viking probes in 1976, however, revealed that Mars is extremely cold and has virtually no atmosphere; although there really are gigantic channels, possibly caused by water in the distant past, the intricate network reported by Schiaparelli does not exist, and nor do the tracts of vegetation. The data returned from more recent missions – Pathfinder (1996), Global Surveyor (1996), Odyssey (2001), Mars Exploration Rover (2003), Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (2005) and Phoenix (2007) – have vastly expanded scientific knowledge of Mars and generally confirmed the impression provided by Mariner and Viking, while bolstering the view that water once flowed on the planet's surface, and may yet reside in substantial quantities beneath the surface and/or at the poles.

Before the nineteenth century, relatively few Proto SF tales involving Fantastic Voyages focused primarily on Mars, though it may be assumed that tours of the solar system tended to touch down on the fourth planet, which before 1800 might be discovered to be inhabited by warlike creatures. Texts by Athanasius Kircher and Emanuel Swedenborg provide more elaborate speculations; and throughout the nineteenth century – as documented in George Locke's Voyages in Space (2011) – tales of occult Communication between Mars and Earth were not uncommon, though almost totally lacking in sf interest. W S Lach-Szyrma's Aleriel series, with its winged angelic purveyor of wisdom and interplanetary gossip, is far better than most of its ilk. Mars is one of the stops in a Balloon tour of several planets in Paul Aermont's A Narrative of the Travels and Adventures of Paul Aermont Among the Planets (1873). Later in the nineteenth century, Mars became important as a major target for specific cosmic voyages because the Moon, known to be lifeless, seemed a relatively uninteresting destination. Most of these early Mars stories feature Utopian alien societies and largely familiar critiques of Earthly customs, couched in speculative terms that mark such texts as early examples of the Scientific Romance. Mars is the home of such a civilization in Percy Greg's Across the Zodiac (1880), and Robert Cromie's A Plunge into Space (1890) combines the sociological critique with an interplanetary love story. The anonymous Politics and Life on Mars (1883) particularly emphasizes the concerns of a nascent Feminism, as does the more interesting and readable Unveiling a Parallel: A Romance (1893) by Two Women of the West. An advanced Martian civilization serves as the backdrop for Lost-Race-type adventures in Mr Stranger's Sealed Packet (1889) by Hugh MacColl, as it does in Gustavus W Pope's A Journey to Mars (1894). Robert D Braine's Messages from Mars, By Aid of the Telescope Plant (1892) features one of the strangest Communications devices ever devised – a telescope with a lens harvested from the eponymous vegetation – and also some of the most biting attacks on Earthly (especially US) society. A good many early Mars stories have a "man from Mars" visiting Earth rather than vice versa. The Man from Mars (1891) by Thomas Blot gave the motif its name, though the narrative is dull and single-minded in its critique of organized religion. Henry Dowding borrowed Blot's title for his overplotted The Man from Mars, Or Service for Service's Sake (1910), which under its snarled storyline promotes an activist Christian ideal. The most commercially successful of these tales was Richard Ganthony's play, A Message from Mars (1899), in which the Martian visitor arrives in a dream to reform the character of a Scrooge-like amateur astronomer; the play enjoyed long runs in London and New York, spawned two film versions and a novelization by Lester Lurgan (1912).

Kurd Laßwitz began the imaginative elaboration of the "superior Martians" scenario in Auf Zwei Planeten (1897; cut trans as Two Planets 1971), which provides another detailed description of an advanced civilization but embeds it in a more complicated story of interplanetary relations, including a semi-benevolent Martian Invasion of Earth. While Laßwitz's novel exerted substantial influence on Continental sf, the lack of an English version before the 1970s limited its impact on sf in the US and UK. H G Wells published a brief vision of Mars in "The Crystal Egg" (May 1897 New Review) and followed up with the archetypal alien-Invasion story, The War of the Worlds (April-December 1897 Pearson's; 1898), which has cast a long shadow over sf ever since. Wells takes the basic Lowellian premise (sans canals) and upends it in crucial ways: His Martians are decidedly inhuman in physiognomy and anything but benign in intent. Having exhausted the resources of their dying world, they come as predatory Darwinian competitors to stake their claim to Earth. This novel firmly implanted in the popular imagination the image of Martians as Monsters, and brought a new sensationalism into interplanetary fiction; when Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre dramatized the novel for US Radio in 1938 it precipitated a panic, whose seeds had been sown 40 years before and fed ever since by a lurid stream of pulp fiction (see War of the Worlds). Garrett P Serviss's "sequel", Edison's Conquest of Mars (January 1898 New York Evening Journal; 1947), which reassuringly describes the obliteration of the decadent Martian civilization, made no impact (not reaching book form until 1947), though it's notable as one of the earliest treatments of Mars as a conceptual replacement for the vanishing frontier. Nor was there much imaginative power in romances of Martian Reincarnation like Camille Flammarion's Uranie (1889; trans 1890 as Urania) or Louis Pope Gratacap's The Certainty of a Future Life on Mars (1903). The early paranormal literature of Mars introduced some amusingly peculiar notions, from Martian minds inhabiting and directing the personalities of receptive humans in George du Maurier's The Martian (1897) to the literal reincarnation of Christ on Mars in Daybreak: A Romance of an Old World by James Cowan (1896), but they left little impression on later writers and are largely unreadable today.

The only other image which did take hold was something much closer to Lowell's enthusiastic prospectus for exotic Martian life and landscape: an uninhibitedly romantic Mars pioneered by Edwin Lester Arnold's Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation (1905; vt Gulliver of Mars 1964) and permanently enshrined in modern mythology by the much-imitated Planetary Romances of Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose Barsoom series, begun with A Princess of Mars (February-July 1912 All-Story as "Under the Moons of Mars" as by Norman Bean; 1917), filmed as John Carter (2012); it grew to eleven volumes over the next 30 years. Burroughs's John Carter and his kin battle for beautiful, egg-laying princesses against assorted villains and monsters, armed with swords but borne aloft by flying gondolas. Burroughs was co-opted into Genre SF when The Mastermind of Mars (1928) appeared as the lead story in the 1927 Amazing Stories Annual, and his influence within the genre has been as powerful as that of Wells. The Martian adventure story imported the colonialist ethos of H Rider Haggard and other adventure writers of the period; the possibilities offered by a whole new world particularly intoxicated writers at a time when terrestrial frontiers had largely vanished. (John Carter himself is an Old West frontiersman, transported to Mars from the Arizona Territory of 1866 – though Burroughs's novels generally confound the imperialist spirit of the adventure mode.) This disposition would recomplicate over the ensuing decades into a more general theme of Mars as a "fresh start" for those dissatisfied with life on Earth. Burroughs's principal imitator, Otis Adelbert Kline, began by setting his works on Venus, but eventually began a Martian series with The Swordsman of Mars (7 January-11 February 1933 Argosy; 1960). Decades later, Michael Moorcock produced Barsoomian pastiches in his originally pseudonymous Kane of Old Mars trilogy, beginning with Warriors of Mars (1965) as by Edward P Bradbury.

The early sf pulps were resonant with echoes of The War of the Worlds. The first issue of Amazing Stories reprinted Austin Hall's "The Man Who Saved the Earth" (13 December 1919 All-Story Weekly); another early example was Edmond Hamilton's "Monsters of Mars" (April 1931 Astounding). It was not long, however, before a reaction against the Cliché became manifest. P Schuyler Miller's "The Forgotten Man of Space" (April 1933 Wonder Stories) features meek, mistreated Martians, and Raymond Z Gallun's "Old Faithful" (December 1934 Astounding) is an ideological reply to Wells's use of the theory of Evolution. Other notable depictions of life on Mars include Laurence Manning's "The Wreck of the Asteroid" (December 1932-February 1933 Wonder Stories), Stanley G Weinbaum's "A Martian Odyssey" (July 1934 Wonder Stories), Clark Ashton Smith's "The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis" (May 1932 Weird Tales), C L Moore's "Shambleau" (November 1933 Weird Tales), P Schuyler Miller's "The Titan" (Winter 1934-Summer 1935 Marvel Tales, incomplete; in The Titan, coll 1952) and Clifford D Simak's "Hermit of Mars" (June 1939 Astounding). Outside the pulps one work stands out from all others as a key contribution to the mythology of Mars: C S Lewis's sf novel Out of the Silent Planet (1938), in which Mars is a world whose life-system is organized according to Christian ethical principles rather than the logic of Darwinian natural selection. The signal attributes of Lowellian Mars echo through many of the stories of this period – even Lewis retained the canals – but increasing knowledge of real conditions on the planet and John W Campbell Jr's editorial insistence on more careful speculative logic suppressed the "traditional" image of Mars in the pulps' primary sf market, Astounding Science-Fiction. Its exotic qualities were played down and replaced by the kind of "realism" encapsulated by P Schuyler Miller's "The Cave" (January 1943 Astounding), an ironic story in which Martian lifeforms kill an Earthman who violates the truce which they all must observe in order to survive the long Martian night. Martian exotica flourished nevertheless, particularly in the work of Leigh Brackett, whose "Martian Quest" (February 1940 Astounding) was in Astounding but who went on to do the bulk of her work for Planet Stories. Her gaudy version of the red planet, where decadent alien cultures face the threat of plundering Earthmen, is featured in Shadow over Mars (Fall 1944 Startling; 1951; vt The Nemesis from Terra 1961 dos), The Sword of Rhiannon (June 1949 Thrilling Wonder as "Sea-Kings of Mars"; 1953), The Secret of Sinharat (Summer 1949 Planet Stories as "Queen of the Martian Catacombs"; exp 1964), The People of the Talisman (March 1951 Planet Stories as "Black Amazon of Mars"; exp 1964) and "The Last Days of Shandakor" (April 1952 Startling). Ray Bradbury subsequently brought the romantic image of Mars to a kind of impressionistic perfection in The Martian Chronicles (coll of linked stories 1950; rev vt The Silver Locusts 1951; the latter and many subsequent editions have variant contents). In these stories Mars is dead but still haunted by the ghosts of an extinct civilization, visited by Earthmen who become doubly haunted by virtue of the echoes of their own Earthly past which follow them. Bradbury called Mars a "mirror", and he resurrects the use of Mars as a vehicle for critical comment on terrestrial issues. The stories are heavy with nostalgia and extraordinarily seductive. A few other writers have had some success in capturing a similar atmosphere, notably Clifford D Simak in "Seven Came Back" (October 1950 Amazing) and J G Ballard in "The Time-Tombs" (March 1963 If).

In the 1950s the romance of exotic Mars was mostly left behind as the dominant theme became the problems of Colonization of a planet with barely enough water and barely enough oxygen – though the great difficulty of Space Flight to this destination tended to be optimistically understated, as in Wernher von Braun's nonfiction Das Marsprojekt (1952 Weltraumfahrt; 1952; trans Henry J White as The Mars Project 1953). Max Valier's Auf kühner Fahrt zum Mars: Eine kosmische Phantasie (1927 chap; trans Francis Currier as "A Daring Trip to Mars", July 1931 Wonder Stories) had grappled somewhat more realistically with the difficulties. Notable stories in this newly realistic vein were Lodestar: Rocket Ship to Mars (1951) by Franklin M Branley, The Sands of Mars (1951) by Arthur C Clarke, Outpost Mars (1952; rev vt Sin in Space 1961) by Cyril Judd (C M Kornbluth and Judith Merril), "The Martian Way" (November 1952 Galaxy) by Isaac Asimov, "Crucifixus Etiam" (February 1953 Astounding) by Walter M Miller Jr, Alien Dust (fixup 1955) by E C Tubb and Police Your Planet (March-September 1953 Science Fiction Adventures as by Erik van Lhin; cut 1956 as by Erik van Lhin; rev 1975) by Lester del Rey. Among the many juvenile novels of the same species were Red Planet (1949) by Robert A Heinlein and a series by Patrick Moore begun with Mission to Mars (1955). The new realism, however, did not completely supplant the old romanticism: Heinlein's Red Planet includes Lowellian canals, a variety of native lifeforms, and an ancient civilization alongside its human colony. New themes also germinated in the colonial soil which would become staples of Mars myth thereafter, including the rebellion of the Mars colony against Earthly domination, human physiological adaptation to Martian conditions, and strife between proponents of Terraforming and those who prefer Mars in its natural state (the "red-green" schism that would preoccupy the Mars fiction of the 1990s). The 1950s also saw the emergence of the Martian Robinsonade in del Rey's Marooned on Mars (1952), Rex Gordon's No Man Friday (1956; vt First on Mars 1957) and – continuing into the 1960s – James Blish's Welcome to Mars (July-September 1966 If as "The Hour Before Earthrise"; 1967). Indigenous lifeforms are frequently featured in these novels, but few are hostile (though Gordon's Martians keep his stranded astronaut as a kind of pet); an exception is in Kenneth F Gantz's Not in Solitude (1959). An uninhabited Mars becomes a grim Prison colony in the relentlessly dystopian Farewell, Earth's Bliss (1966; rev 1971) by D G Compton, while twenty-sixth-century Mars is a run-down, second-class colony squeezed by rivalry between Earth and Earth's extra-solar settlements in John Brunner's Born Under Mars (1967). Other memorable stories of the period include Theodore Sturgeon's poignant "The Man Who Lost the Sea" (October 1959 F&SF), in which the slow death of an crashed astronaut can be understood as a requiem for Mars and for the sf stories about its conquest; and Philip José Farmer's pioneering exploration of the possibilities of alien sexuality, "Open to Me, My Sister" (May 1960 F&SF; vt "My Sister's Brother" in Strange Relations, coll 1960).

The mythology of Mars moved into a new phase in the early 1960s as the scenarios of earlier days began to reappear in a somewhat surrealized form. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land (1961; text restored 1990) revives the "man from Mars" motif with the story of a human raised by Martians who returns to Earth to build a religious philosophy out of the elements of their cultural heritage. Roger Zelazny's "A Rose for Ecclesiastes" (November 1963 F&SF) reverses the idea, introducing to a Brackettesque Mars a poet who becomes a preacher and leads the decadent Martians to a cultural revival. Walter Tevis offers a bleak variation in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1963); his alien visitor – from a planet never explicitly said to be Mars, though internal evidence makes the identification nearly certain – comes seeking a refuge for the few survivors of his home planet's nuclear Holocaust, but finds human society so corrupt and repellent that he ends in despair of its future as well. Philip K Dick's Martian Time-Slip (August-December 1963 Worlds of Tomorrow as "All We Marsmen"; exp 1964) and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1964) use colony scenarios as backgrounds for reality-shifting plots – the arid, depleted environment was ideal for Dick's psychological landscaping. A more elaborate but equally enigmatic fantasy is Algis Budrys's The Amsirs and the Iron Thorn (1967; vt The Iron Thorn 1968). After the Mariner flyby of 1965, the real possibility that Mars might harbour life was on the brink of extinction, and The Earth is Near (1970; trans 1974) by Ludêk Pešek provides a vivid requiem in which the myth-driven members of the first Martian expedition undertake an obsessive search for life in an environment which cannot sustain it.

The 1970s and early 1980s represented a low ebb in Mars fiction; specifically addressing the reasons for this, Old Mars (anth 2013) edited by Gardner Dozois and George R R Martin assembles original stories set in Planetary Romance versions of Mars, arguably (given their date of composition) comprising a series of Parallel World tales. But at the time, the discouragement of Mariner had sunk in, and Viking in 1976 would only confirm with disheartening detail an image of Mars inhospitable to life, with conditions so harsh that even a human colony seemed increasingly out of reach. Lin Carter produced pastiches of BrackettThe Man Who Loved Mars (1973) and The Valley where Time Stood Still (1974) – but they are blatant fakes; Brackett herself (along with many other writers) had moved on to new worlds beyond the solar system. Christopher Priest went back to a more remote image in his Wellsian romp, The Space Machine (1975). Some grappled with the bleak new Mars in works of comparably desolate mood: Frederik Pohl's Man Plus (1976) is a grimly realistic account of the making of a Cyborg colonist, while Harry Harrison's "One Step from Earth" (March 1970 Analog) and "Hellas is Florida" by Gregory Benford and Gordon Eklund (January 1977 F&SF) bitterly evoke the disappointment over dead Mars. A few writers nevertheless kept the dream of native Martian life alive: Ian Watson's The Martian Inca (1976) presents miraculously adaptive Martian microbes, while John Varley's "In the Hall of the Martian Kings" (February 1977 F&SF) posits an ancient Martian race hibernating through the planet's millennia-long "winter", seeding the soil with fantastic organic devices that awaken to prepare the environment for their creators' revival.

In the mid-1980s, however, interest in Mars expeditions and Colonization began a surprising revival. A group of scientists and aerospace engineers calling themselves the "Mars Underground" formed to reexamine the challenges of the project, NASA held a conference on Mars in 1986 (the first such since Viking), and some writers began to see near-future Colonization as a viable subject again, as in Lewis Shiner's grittily realistic Frontera (1984), though his Mars colony is a slummy place without much hope or vigour. Frontier Mars is featured also in Sterling Lanier's Menace under Marswood (1983) and in Jack Butler's Nightshade (1989). Conspiracy theorist Richard Hoagland (1945-    ) provided a different sort of boost to public interest in the red planet with The Monuments of Mars: A City on the Edge of Forever (1987), claiming evidence of mysterious alien structures (including the famous "Face") visible in the 1976 Viking photograph 35A72. Allen Steele's Labyrinth of Night (1992) makes use of Hoagland's later debunked ideas, as does Semper Mars (1998) by Ian Douglas and "The Great Martian Pyramid Hoax" by Jerry Oltion (January 1995 F&SF).

On July 20, 1989 – the twentieth anniversary of the first Moon landing – US President George H W Bush outlined an aggressive plan for a manned mission to Mars by the year 2019. Mars was again the topic of excited speculation, but not everyone was entirely convinced. Terry Bisson gives the epic journey to Mars a mercilessly satirical treatment in Voyage to the Red Planet (1990), and Stephen Baxter implies considerable pessimism about the political feasibility of such a mission in Voyage (1996), which he felt it necessary to set in an Alternate History where the priorities of America and NASA are subtly redirected. But others enthusiastically embraced the prospect – and the planet, whose forbidding environment becomes more challenge than curse in Robert L Forward's Martian Rainbow (1991), S C Sykes's Red Genesis (1991), Jack Williamson's Beachhead (1992) and Ben Bova's Mars (1992) and Return to Mars (1999) (novels in his Tales of the Grand Tour sequence). These works treat the difficulties facing trips to and colonies on Mars seriously, and never underplay the dangers of the cold, dry, nearly airless world, but they also reveal the beginnings of an aesthetic appreciation for the landscapes photographed by Viking. Greg Bear focuses on the social and political opportunities of a Mars colony – the traditional "fresh start" – in Moving Mars (1993), in which the theme of rebellion returns to the fore and is only resolved by a feat of wild speculative physics. Kevin J Anderson's Climbing Olympus (1994) revisits the idea of physiologically altering humans (via Genetic Engineering) for life in the Martian environment, and develops an interesting twist on the Terraforming debate, as the earliest – and most radically altered – colonists resist the efforts of later arrivals to overhaul the climate.

The idea that Mars might be a promising world for Terraforming invigorated some of the best Mars fiction of the early 1990s. The possibility that Terraforming might help resuscitate, at least for a brief while, a neo-romantic Mars is eloquently expressed in Ian McDonald's fabulous Desolation Road (1988) and its even more whimsical, magic-realist sequel Ares Express (2001). In Paul J McAuley's Red Dust (1993), a baroque Chinese-dominated civilization of the twenty-sixth century has brought Mars to near-Earthlike conditions, only to allow it to begin slipping back toward its natural state. Kim Stanley Robinson picked up the theme earlier than most with "Exploring Fossil Canyon" (in Universe 12 anth 1982) and a follow-up novella, Green Mars (September 1985 Asimov's; 1988 chap dos), which look forward ironically to the days when conservationists are champions of the old red world against the nascent fertile one. A version of their case provides one of several strands of argument about Terraforming in Robinson's ambitious Red Mars (1992), which begins a trilogy on the planet and is followed by Green Mars (1993) – no connection to the novella – and Blue Mars (1996). This project has been acclaimed as a key work in the realistic school, the culmination to date of the Martian Terraforming theme, and more than any other work re-established Mars as a central concern of sf. Robinson's poetic evocations of the Martian landscape vividly express the new aesthetic response to the real Mars, while his complex and intellectually rich explorations of the "fresh start" and utopian themes give the trilogy the heft of a definitive summation, though Brian W Aldiss and Roger Penrose (1931-    ) present a rejoinder to Robinson's balanced view in White Mars, or, The Mind Set Free: A 21st-Century Utopia (2000), which despite its title vigorously defends the "red" viewpoint. The rise to prominence of Martian Terraforming stories had been prefigured by the work of the poet and cultural critic Frederick Turner, whose novel A Double Shadow (1978), written in the immediate wake of the Viking landings, imagines twenty-fourth-century Martian colonists living underground while the often violent reshaping of the planet proceeds above. Genesis (1988), an epic poem of 10,000 lines, presents the transformation of Mars in the form of neo-classical myth, with a focus on the passionate and sometimes deadly struggle between terraformers and radical ecotheists. Between them, Robinson and Turner created a vision of Mars as compelling as that of Burroughs or Bradbury.

As the Mars Pathfinder and Global Surveyor missions of 1996 galvanized public attention around the world, tales of Terraforming gave way again to those of near-future missions and settlement. William K Hartmann, a participating scientist on the Global Surveyor project, offers a realistic and sometimes lyrical picture of the early days of Colonization in Mars Underground (1997), and Mars Crossing (2000) by Geoffrey A Landis, another working scientist, likewise lavishes attention on realistic technology and depictions of Martian vistas in a story of a stranded expedition. Gregory Benford's The Martian Race (1999) borrows openly from the "Mars Direct" plan proposed by aerospace engineer Robert Zubrin (1952-    ) in a tale of privately-funded missions competing for a $10 billion reward. Zubrin had emerged as the most outspoken member of the Mars Underground; his The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must (1996) argues for the moral necessity of Martian exploration as well as a cheaper, non-governmental mission model; his novel, First Landing (2002) is little more than a fictionalized version of his views. Zubrin founded the Mars Society in 1998 and has continued as its president to the present.

In recent years Mars has retained its allure, and its treatment in sf has ramified in several directions. Ian McDonald conjures the persistent human yearning for the red planet despite never having gotten there in "The Old Cosmonaut and the Construction Worker Dream of Mars" (in Mars Probes anth 2002). Far-future Posthumans take on the roles of the Greek gods, overseeing the re-enactment of the Trojan war from their home on Mars' Olympus Mons, in Dan Simmons's Ilium (2003) and Olympos (2005), while Kage Baker's "The Empress of Mars" (July 2003 Asimov's; exp 2009) follows a delightfully eccentric cast of characters on a twenty-fourth-century Mars under development by the British Arean Company. Invasions by technologically sophisticated Martians now seem completely obsolete, useful only for satirical purposes, as in Frederik Pohl's The Day the Martians Came (fixup 1988), but the peril of Invasion by microbial Martian life drives the action in Paul J McAuley's The Secret of Life (2001) and becomes the stuff of black humour in Rick Moody's spectacularly uneven comic novel The Four Fingers of Death (2010). Others have found in Mars a chance to spin yarns of nostalgic simplicity: In Red Thunder (2004), John Varley, possessed by the shade of Heinlein, rollicks through the tale of a backyard space programme that races a Chinese mission to Mars. A sequel, Red Lightning (2006), involves the creation of a Mars independent from corrupt Earth, while another, Rolling Thunder (2008), has little to do with Mars. Joe Haldeman's Marsbound (2008) features an appealingly idealistic young Mars colonist who discovers equally sympathetic odd-looking lifeforms planted there by inimical extra-solar aliens. Sequels Starbound (2010) and Earthbound (2011) deal with the implications of the alien threat. Andy Weir's somewhat retro The Martian (2014) revisits the lone-stranded-astronaut territory of Rex Gordon's already-cited Rex Gordon's No Man Friday.

Even in works not centred on Mars, missions to the red planet and colonies there appear regularly on the sidelines. Peter F Hamilton's Pandora's Star (2004) opens with the arrival of a highly conventional first manned expedition to Mars, rapidly upstaged by the discovery that two young inventors got there first via Matter Transmission. Extreme Time Distortion affecting Earth in Robert Charles Wilson's Spin (2005) allows a multi-millennial Mars-Terraforming project to be completed in mere terrestrial days. China – the only surviving nation-state in the ecologically-ravaged future of Bruce Sterling's The Caryatids (2009) – diligently plans for a Mars colony, developing engineered flora and fauna in a domed recreation of the Martian environment. In Paul J McAuley's The Quiet War (2008) and sequels Gardens of the Sun (2009) and In the Mouth of the Whale (2012), a rebellious Mars colony has been obliterated by Earth, driving the surviving "Outers" to settle the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, while in Leviathan Wakes (2011) by James S A Corey (Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), Mars forms one side of a triangle of solar system powers, with Earth and the loose confederacy of Belters as the others.

Magical echoes of romantic Mars still insinuate themselves into some recent works, as they will undoubtedly do when and if the first manned mission to Mars takes place. In Larry Niven's Rainbow Mars (coll of linked stories 1999) the planet is populated by creatures and characters out of classic Mars sf, including Burroughs, Wells, Bradbury and Weinbaum. Writers continue to pay homage to or ring changes on the old material as well: Peter Crowther's anthology Mars Probes (2002) includes takes on Weinbaum ("A Martian Theodicy" by Paul Di Filippo), Burroughs ("Flower Children of Mars" by Mike Resnick and M Shayne Bell), Brackett ("The Lost Sorceress of the Silent Citadel" by Michael Moorcock), and Wells ("The War of the Worldviews" by James Morrow). Al Sarrantonio opened his planetary-romance sequence Masters of Mars with Haydn of Mars (2005). And the year 2012 brought the centenary of A Princess of Mars and a burst of renewed interest in Burroughs's romances. Disney released a big-budget film, John Carter (2012); several new editions of Burroughs's original novels appeared, including one from the prestigious Library of America; and writers including L E Modesitt Jr, Garth {NIX} and Catherynne M Valente contributed stories to an anthology of new Barsoom fiction, Under the Moons of Mars (2012) edited by John Joseph Adams.

NASA's Phoenix lander, which reached the Martian surface on May 25, 2008, carried aboard it a specially-designed mini DVD containing "Visions of Mars", a multimedia compilation of 80 pieces of fiction and nonfiction about Mars, along with artwork, recordings of Radio broadcasts and video messages from a variety of Mars enthusiasts. Billed as "the first library on Mars", the DVD was created by The Planetary Society and originally intended to reach Mars aboard the Russian orbiter Mars 96, but that mission failed. "Visions of Mars" includes works of Mars fiction by Burroughs, Bradbury, Weinbaum, Robinson, Brackett, Moore, Varley, Percy Greg, Kurd Laßwitz, Alexander Bogdanov, and many others. Sf artists represented include Frank R Paul, Richard Powers, Vincent Di Fate, Chesley Bonestell, and Ed Emshwiller.

Mars' return to prominence in sf and planetological research led to a number of scholarly examinations of the planet's place in science and the popular imagination. The University of Pennsylvania Press released Red Planet: Scientific and Cultural Encounters with Mars (2001), a DVD package assembled by Robert Markley (1952-    ), Harrison Higgs, Michelle Kendrick, and Helen Burgess. Like the "Visions of Mars" DVD, Red Planet offers a multimedia collection of materials about Mars, including key texts, photographs, film clips, excerpts from Radio broadcasts, and video interviews with scientists and sf writers, as well as a bibliography of Mars sf. Book treatments of the subject include Markley's Dying Planet: Mars in Science and the Imagination (2005), Geographies of Mars: Seeing and Knowing the Red Planet (2011) by K Maria D Lane (1973-    ), and Imagining Mars: A Literary History (2011) by Robert Crossley. Visions of Mars: Essays on the Red Planet in Fiction and Science (2011), edited by Howard V Hendrix, George Slusser and Eric S Rabkin, includes pieces on Bradbury, Dick, Robinson, Burroughs and Brackett, Mars in early twentieth-century Russian literature, and the idea of Mars in 1950s France, among other subjects.

Mars features in dozens of Cinema and Television productions, most famously as the launch point for terrestrial Invasion in War of the Worlds (1953) – reprised as crude black comedy in Mars Attacks! (1996). Other films of actual or planned Martian Invasion include The Purple Monster Strikes (serial 1945; cut vt D-Day on Mars 1966), Invaders from Mars (1953; 1986), Devil Girl from Mars (1954), The Day Mars Invaded Earth (1962) and The Three Stooges in Orbit (1962). More recently, invaders from Mars have been microbes or bits of alien DNA, as in The Alpha Incident (1977), Species II (1998), and Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind: Infestation from Mars (2004). M.A.R.S. (1922; vt Radio-Mania; vt Mars-Mania) and Red Planet Mars (1952) deal with Martian Communications. Travel to Mars, in one form or another, is depicted in Aelita (1924), Rocketship X-M (1950; vt Expedition Moon), Flight to Mars (1951), Conquest of Space (1955), World Without End (1956), It! the Terror from beyond Space (1958), The Angry Red Planet (1959; vt Invasion of Mars), Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964) – for much of its length a filmic Robinsonade – the Oz spoof The Wizard of Mars (1965), Mission Mars (1968), The Astronaut (1972), Alternative 3 (1977), Red Planet (2000), Mission to Mars (2000), Ghosts of Mars (2001) and Project V.I.P.E.R. (2002), a film in which Mars itself is peripheral. The first manned mission to Mars is famously faked in Capricorn One (1977). Philip K Dick's story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" (April 1966 F&SF) was adapted as Total Recall (1990); a 2012 remake relocates the story entirely to Earth. Walter Tevis's The Man Who Fell to Earth (1963) inspired film versions in 1976 and 1987. Andy Weir's already-cited The Martian (2014) was filmed as The Martian (2015).

An early appearance of a visitor from Mars in Comics – which indeed seems to be the first ever depiction of an Alien as a regular comic-strip protagonist – is A D Condo's Mr Skygack, From Mars (1907-1917). The green-skinned Superhero J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter, was introduced by DC Comics in 1955 and continues to appear.

In real-world planetary nomenclature, Martian craters of significant size are traditionally named after deceased scientists or – less frequently – sf writers whose work deals with Mars. Thus craters have been named for Edgar Rice Burroughs (1973), Stanley G Weinbaum (1973), H G Wells (1973), Kurd Laßwitz (1976), Alexei Tolstoy (1982), Robert A Heinlein (1994), Isaac Asimov (2009) and Percy Greg (2010). Apparently Leigh Brackett is excluded from this currently all-male roll of honour because there is already a Brackett Crater, named for the male scientist, on the Moon. For Cinema, George Pal's War of the Worlds (1953) is commemorated by Pál Crater (2010), using the Hungarian accented form of his name. The touchdown spot of the 2012 Mars rover Curiosity was named Bradbury Landing by NASA.

Theme anthologies include Great Science Fiction Stories about Mars (anth 1966) edited by T E Dikty, Mars, We Love You (anth 1971; vt The Book of Mars 1976) edited by Willis E McNelly with Jane Hipolito, Isaac Asimov's Mars (anth 1991) edited by Gardner Dozois, Mars Probes (anth 2002) edited by Peter Crowther, Fourth Planet from the Sun (anth 2005) edited by Gordon Van Gelder, Life on Mars: Tales from the New Frontier (anth 2011) edited by Jonathan Strahan, Under the Moons of Mars (anth 2012) edited by John Joseph Adams and Old Mars (anth 2013) edited by Gardner Dozois and George R R Martin, an Original Anthology containing stories set in traditional sf and Science Fantasy versions of the planet (see Alternate Worlds; Recursive SF). [RKJK/BS/DRL]

see also: Big Eyes, Small Mouth; Galactic Cowboys; Doom; Little Green Men; Nervous Norvus; Scientific Errors; Simearth; Worlds of Ultima; Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders.

further reading


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