Mars in fiction

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Novels and short stories about Mars have been popular for over a hundred years. The planet's dramatic red color that some people can see is one reason for this. another is that the planet is close to Earth. Also, it looks somewhat like Earth. There are also stories about creatures from Mars on Earth and elsewhere.

Near the end of the 19th century, the astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli reported seeing what he thought might be water channels on Mars. Because the Italian for channels is canali, English translations tended to render the word as "canals", implying artificial construction. This led to the idea of intelligent beings on Mars before it apparently dried up.

The following works of fiction deal with the planet itself, with any assumed Martian civilization as part of its planetary landscape.

Novels and short stories[change | change source]

First stories[change | change source]

Several early modern writers, including Athanasius Kircher and Emanuel Swedenborg, hypothesized contact with Mars. Early science fiction about Mars often involved the first voyages to the planet, sometimes as an invasion force, more often for the purposes of exploration.

Early works to 1910[change | change source]

1910s and 1920s[change | change source]

1930s[change | change source]

1940s[change | change source]

1950s[change | change source]

Living on Mars[change | change source]

By the 1930s, stories about reaching Mars had become somewhat trite, and the focus shifted to Mars as an alien landscape. New stories were set in a time after human contact and basic exploration. Some were about the colonization of Mars or otherwise used Mars as a setting rather than a goal.

1930s[change | change source]

1940s[change | change source]

1950s and early 1960s[change | change source]

1960s and later[change | change source]

Beginning in 1965, the Mariner and Viking space probes revealed that the canals were an illusion, and that the Martian environment is extremely hostile to life. By the 1970s, the ideas of canals and ancient civilizations had to be abandoned.

Authors soon began writing stories based on the new Mars (frequently treating it as a desert planet). Most of these works have humans struggling to tame the planet, and some of them refer to terraforming (using technology to transform a planet's environment).

A common theme, particularly among American writers, is that of a Martian colony fighting for independence from Earth. It appeared already in Heinlein's Red Planet and is a major plot element in Greg Bear's Moving Mars and Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy. It is also part of the plot of the movie Total Recall and the television series Babylon 5. Many video games also use this concept, such as the Red Faction and Zone of the Enders series. A historical rebellion of Mars against Earth is also mentioned in the Star Trek series of novels.

In the decades following Mariner and Apollo, the once-popular subgenre of realistic stories about a first expedition to Mars fell out of fashion, possibly due to the failure of the Apollo Program to continue on to Mars. The early 1990s saw a revival and re-envisioning of realistic novels about Mars expeditions. Early novels in this renaissance were Jack Williamson's novel Beachhead and Ben Bova's novel Mars (both 1992), which envisioned large-scale expeditions to Mars according to the thinking of the 1990s. These were followed by Gregory Benford's The Martian Race (1999), Geoffrey A. Landis's Mars Crossing (2000), and Robert Zubrin's First Landing (2002), which took as their starting points the smaller and more focussed expedition strategies evolved in the late 1990s, mostly building on the concepts of Mars Direct.

Late 1960s and the 1970s[change | change source]

1980s[change | change source]

1990s[change | change source]

21st century[change | change source]

Nostalgic Mars fiction[change | change source]

Several post-Mariner works are homages to the older phase of Mars fiction, circumventing the scientific picture of a dry and lifeless Mars with an unbreathable atmosphere through such science fiction generic staples as positing its future terraforming, or creating alternate history versions of Mars, where Burroughs' Barsoom, Bradbury's Martian Chronicles or The War of the Worlds are literal truth.

Comics[change | change source]

  • In the Watchmen comic by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Dr. Manhattan character tours Mars and visits Olympus Mons, admiring its features. He takes his girlfriend there, soon after he leaves for another galaxy.
  • In the 2000 AD series The V.C.s Olympus Mons' crater is covered by a massive dome to retain an atmosphere as the main settlement on the planet.
  • Several stories of the DC Comics character Martian Manhunter take place on Mars, and the Manhunter is a Martian. Most of the Green Martians were wiped out by a plague, although the more ruthless White Martians still exist. Martians were among the most powerful races in the Universe, capable of telepathy, shapeshifting, and flight, though they have an aversion to fire.
  • The most recent issue of the webcomic Dr. McNinja features Dracula revealing that he discovered the cure for cancer and hid it on Mars.
  • In Wonder Woman Pre-Crisis comics, Mars was the base of the god Mars, (see Ares). Spirits of the dead from various planets were taken to Mars and given new bodies to work. The Duke of Deception is a major villain of that world, operating a Lie Factory and making several attempts to invade Earth.
  • In January–February 1950, Superman journeys to Mars to help actor-director Orson Welles smash a plot by the Martian dictator Martler to "blitzkrieg the solar system" and conquer the Earth (S No. 62/1: "Black Magic on Mars!").
  • In Tales to Astonish #2 (1959) "My Job: To Catch a Martian", a professor, who discovers an empty alien spacecraft, hires a private investigator to find the occupant when no one else will listen to him.
  • In Tales to Astonish #3 (1959) "I Discovered the Men From Mars", a man from the year 1990 discovers a Martian space-craft while patrolling the coast on the lookout for communist spies.
  • In the Manga and Anime Sailor Moon, released in 1992, in the silver millennium, Mars was inhabited by the warlike descendants of the Greek god Ares. The character of Rei Hino is a modern descendant of Ares and is Sailor Mars. All her attacks are based on fire. Like the other planets in the modern solar system, Mars is no longer inhabitable.
  • In the comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes: Weirdos From Another Planet! by Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes travel to Mars because the Earth is too polluted.
  • In Marvel Family #36 Mars is shown to be inhabited by a warlike treacherous race that resemble 1940s military dictators. They join the Invaders from Infinity (see List of Captain Marvel (DC Comics) enemies) in their attempt to destroy the Solar System after being defeated, but are beaten and sent back to Mars while the Invaders are imprisoned and destroyed.

Martians in fiction[change | change source]

The Martian is a favorite character of classical science fiction; he was frequently found away from his home planet, often invading Earth, but sometimes simply a lonely character representing alienness from his surroundings. Martians, other than human beings transplanted to Mars, became rare in fiction after Mariner, except in exercises of deliberate nostalgia – more frequently in some genres, such as comics and animation, than in written literature.

References[change | change source]

  1. "The discovery of Mars in literature". OUPblog. 7 December 2012.