A collection of sci-fi short stories about Mars, from the late 19th century through the 1960s, including tales from H.G. Wells, Ray Bradbury, and others.
In the 1880s, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli noted that Mars’ surface seem to show a number of straight lines. The word he used to describe them (canali, meaning “channel”) was mistranslated in English as “canal.” The idea of Martian canals—and with it, the possibility of intelligent life—seized fiction writers’ imaginations. This collection chronicles this golden age of Martian fiction, which would last until NASA’s Mariner 4 spacecraft took close-up pictures of Mars’ surface in 1965, ending speculation about life on the red planet. The collection is prefaced with a history of Mars in fiction, and each story in the collection leads off with interesting biographical details about its author and what specific scientific ideas of the era may have informed its writing. For example, “Crucifixus Etiam” by Walter M. Miller Jr. (best known for A Canticle For Leibowitz) is prefaced with 1940s-era details of the Martian atmosphere; the story features a common idea among writers of the time—that Peruvians, Chileans, and Tibetans, who were already used to breathing similarly rarefied air, would make ideal Mars colonists. Despite the advanced age of some of these tales, they’re sure to keep the interest of modern readers. The sole exception is E.C. Tubb’s 1955 story of Mars colonization, “Without Bugles”; although well-written, its portrayal of a manly, stoic hero and the woman who loves him feels dated. By contrast, Bradbury’s 1950 “Ylla,” a tense, taut portrait of an unhappy Martian woman and her jealous husband, feels as if it could have been written today. Other stories by less well-known authors also shine: “The Great Sacrifice,” written by George C. Wallis in 1903, tells an exceptional story of intelligent beings on Mars putting their entire planet into the path of a deadly meteor storm, destroying themselves so that Earth may survive.
A thoroughly enjoyable assemblage of old-time science fiction.