With the recent landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars, interest in our planetary neighbor has never been greater. And why not? Mars has long been believed the most viable planet to support life, and if we ever send mankind to another planet, it makes sense that we see what's next door.
The purpose of the Curiosity mission, in fact, is to investigate whether Mars is, or ever was, capable of hosting microbial life. If they find it, let me be the first to welcome our Martian microbial overlords. In the meantime, let's continue our journey from Part 1 and take a look at how Mars was seen through the imaginative lens of science fiction.
Young Adults on Mars
Mars has been nicely represented in books aimed at younger adults, beginning at least as far back as 1952 with Marooned on Mars by Lester del Rey, in which its teenage protagonist becomes a stowaway on the first spaceship to Mars...and then gets kidnapped by aliens. (I hate when that happens.) David Starr, Space Ranger (1952) by Isaac Asimov (writing as Paul French) is a young adult novel (the first in Asimov's Lucky Starr series) set in the far future where humanity populates planets across the entire galaxy. Starr, a biophysicist, is sent to Mars to investigate a string of mysterious deaths.
John Varley uses Mars as the setting for Heinlein juvenile-style novels with Red Thunder (2004), which features a teen's attempts to beat the Chinese to Mars, and its sequel Red Lightning (2006), which takes place some years later and features a first-generation, Mars-born human who tries to help an Earth in need. Diane Duane's A Wizard of Mars (2010, the 9th book in the Young Wizards series) mixes magic and science fiction when wizards unleash the long-lost inhabitants of Mars. Although aimed at younger readers, these books are thoroughly enjoyable by older readers, too.
Some readers may scoff at older science fiction that imagines things about Mars which we now know to be false, but that shouldn't stop one's enjoyment of reading science fiction stories that take a scientifically rigorous approach toward space travel and planetary discovery. Scientific purists can enjoy Arthur C. Clarke's first published novel The Sands of Mars (1951), for example, which features a man who visits a research outpost established on Mars and learns of the dangers and difficulties of surviving on another planet. There's also The Far Call by Gordon R. Dickson from 1978, which features a then-realistic depiction of the first expedition to the fourth planet and one man's attempts to save the space program from catastrophic failure.
Stephen Baxter celebrates the wonder of space travel in his novel Voyage (1996), set in an alternate history where John F. Kennedy had never been assassinated and the first manned space mission to Mars took place in the 1980s. The Martian Race by Gregory Benford (1999) features a privately funded missions to Mars after a government funded one fails. Mars Crossing by Geoffrey A. Landis (2000) depicts the space program's third expedition to Mars that—following two previous missions that ended in catastrophe—becomes stranded with little hope of survival. In First Landing (2002), Robert Zubrin (author, aerospace engineer and advocate of a manned expedition to Mars) depicts a fictionalized account of the plan that he proposes as the head of the Mars Society.
Religion on Mars
Religious themes permeated a select few science fiction books that also feature Mars in some way. The first installment of C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet (1938), is set mostly on Mars and shows a society grounded in Christian principles. Jesus on Mars by Philip Jose Farmer (1979), a novel that clearly (but respectfully) plays with religious themes, posits that an alien race from another galaxy took up residence underneath the surface of Mars to hide from xenophobic enemies and became smitten with Earth's Judaism. In the Hall of the Martian King by John Barnes (2003) is about a conglomerate that hires a man to retrieve from a Martian monarch the journal of the messiah who formed Mars' religion.
Mars in Short Bites
Short fiction lovers shouldn't feel left out. There's a fair amount of shorter science fiction stories involving Mars. Some notable ones:
"A Martian Odyssey" by Stanley G. Weinbaum (1934)
"The Martian Way" by Isaac Asimov (1952)
"Omnilingual" by H. Beam Piper (1957)
"The Badge of Infamy" by Lester Del Rey (1957)
"A Rose for Ecclesiastes" by Roger Zelazny (1963)
"We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" by Philip K. Dick (the basis for the film Total Recall) (1966)
"Mars is No Place for Children" by Mary A. Turzillo (1999)
"The Great Wall of Mars" by Alastair Reynolds (2000)
"Falling Onto Mars" by Geoffrey A. Landis (2002)
"Bradbury Weather" by Caitlín R. Kiernan (2005)
"Where the Golden Apples Grow" by Kage Baker (2006)
"Home Movies" by Mary Rosenblum (2006)
"The Emperor of Mars" by Allen Steele (2010)
"The Vicar of Mars" by Gwyneth Jones (2011) uses the science fictional settings of red planet to tell a ghost story.
For bulk short-fiction consumption, try The Martians by Kim Stanley Robinson (2000), a collection short stories that takes place during the occurrences portrayed in his Mars trilogy; Life on Mars: Tales from the New Frontier edited by Jonathan Strahan, and anthology of 13 stories set on the Red Planet; and Under the Moons of Mars: New Adventures on Barsoom edited by John Joseph Adams, an anthology of stories inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom stories.
There are lots more stories involving the Red Planet. If you're curious to know more, tune in next week for Part 3!
John DeNardo is the editor of SF Signal, a Hugo-nominated group science-fiction and fantasy blog featuring news, reviews and interviews. He also like bagels.