Mars in fictionThe dramatic red color and rapid apparent motion of the planet Mars as seen in the sky of Earth has always made it an object of interest, and this was only increased by early scientific speculations that its surface conditions might be capable of supporting life.
The standard depiction of Mars in fiction until the arrival of planetary probes derives from the astronomers Percival Lowell and Giovanni Schiaparelli. Schiaparelli had observed (or thought he had seen) linear features on the face of Mars, which he thought might be water channels. However, since the Italian word he used for channels was canali, the accounts of his work in english tended to translate that as canals; with attending implications of artificial construction. Lowell's books on Mars expanded on this notion, and the standard model of Mars, as a drying, cooling dying world was established, with ancient Martian civilizations having constructed irrigation works that spanned the planet. This of course, was the origin for a large number of science fiction scenarios.
Some of these concerned the attempts by the Martian race(s) to take the desirable warmer wetter world of Earth:Fredric Brown in Martians, Go Home.
Edgar Rice Burroughs, true to form, was more concerned with writing adventure stories, so his novels featuring earthman John Carter on Mars (called by the natives Barsoom) are pure primitive space opera, with princesses, energy weapons and swords, and exotic animals. Leigh Brackett's The Sword of Rhiannon (1953) is another example of the type.
More thoughtful approaches to the planet, generally featuring intelligent Martians much older and wiser than humans include:
- The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
- Stanley G. Weinbaum's A Martian Odyssey, in which alien intelligent beings are described who really don't think or act like humans (a rare feature for pulp science fiction of the time)
- C.S. Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet, an interesting example of theological science fiction.
- H. Beam Piper's short story "Omnilingual", in which archaeologists excavating the remains of a humanoid Martian civilization find an entire library: but the problem is, what can they use for a Rosetta stone?
- Robert A. Heinlein's teenage fiction Red Planet; the Martians in this book very closely resemble the (offstage) Martians of his later Stranger in a Strange Land.
After the Mariner and Viking spacecraft had returned pictures of Mars as it really is, the canals and ancient civilizations had to be abandoned. Roger Zelazny's "A Rose for Ecclesiastes" was the exception to this: knowing the true conditions of Mars, Zelazny deliberately set the story in farewell to the old conception of Mars, complete with canals and an ancient, dying Martian race. (Just as his story "The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth" was a farewell to the old science fictional Venus). Authors soon began writing stories based on the new Mars:
- Man Plus by Frederik Pohl, in which an astronaut is cyborged into a form capable of living on Mars.
- Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars, concerned with a centuries-long program of terraforming the planet. His Icehenge also features a Mars in process of terraforming.
- Red Dust by Paul J. McAuley, a story of the failing terraforming of Mars.
- Moving Mars by Greg Bear
- Mars Underground by William K. Hartmann
- Mars Crossing by Geoffrey A. Landis, about a stranded expedition.
- First Landing by Robert Zubrin
Not taking itself at all seriously was Larry Niven's Rainbow Mars — the title seems to be a lampoon upon Robinson's three-colored Mars Trilogy — in which a time machine is used to visit ancient Mars. The only problem being that time travel is impossible, and the machine actually travels back to a fictitious Mars. The protagonist meets a wide variety of different Martians, including most of those from the pre-spaceprobe novels listed above.
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