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 complete our journey that began with Part 1 and Part 2, and take a look at how Mars was seen through the imaginative lens of science fiction.

Martian Colonies

Mars is of interest to us because it offers the nearby possibility of supporting life. But colonizing another planet is far from easy. Want examples? Check out The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, a 1950 collection of stories that, taken together, depict mankind's colonization of Mars and the conflict with the indigenous population of Martians. 1976's Man Plus by Frederik Pohl features a man engineered into a cyborg meant to survive living on Mars, mankind's only alternative to extinction. The 1994 sequel Mars Plus takes place 50 years later, and the now-firmly-established human population on the Red Planet must contend with a society mixed with humans and cyborgs...and a computer on which all Martian life depends that has now gone rogue.  Besides his previously discussed Mars trilogy, Kim Stanley Robinson also wrote Icehenge (1984) which features a colonized Mars.

Continue reading >


In Octavia E. Butler's Xenogenesis series (1980s, comprised of Dawn, Adulthood Rites and Imago; and collected as the omnibus Lilith's Brood) the human race, nearing rendered extinct from a nuclear war, becomes the subject of an alien-sponsored breeding program. The aliens intend to genetically merge their tri-gendered race with humans, except for (as featured in Imago) a group of unaltered human living on a Martian colony set up by the aliens.

Alien incursion begins the end of the world in Greg Bear's The Forge of God (1987). A second alien faction intercedes—through spider-like robotic mind control!—but not soon enough to prevent the forced evacuation of Earth and a relocation to a newly terraformed Mars. Mars get the magic-realist treatment in Desolation Road (1988) and Ares Express (2001) by Ian McDonald, which depicts the life of a colony on a partially-terraformed Mars across many years. Greg Bear's Moving Mars (1993) focuses on the emancipation of a colonized Mars amidst political tensions over revolutionary scientific discoveries.

Martian colonies are not exempt from the forces of politics. Mars' almost Earth-like environment is in jeopardy in the Chinese-dominated 26th century of Paul J. McAuley's Red Dust (1993), which also features cool tech like artificial intelligence, personality downloads, virtual reality, and nanotechnology. In Climbing Olympus by Kevin J. Anderson (1994), a group of exiles who are surgically altered so that they can survive the Martian atmosphere (but no longer survive on Earth) seek to destroy the corrupt Mars colonization project. The Empress of Mars by Kage Baker (2010), is a novel-length adaptation of her award winning short story about a twenty-fourth-century Mars under development by a heartless company who cares little about the settlers it exploits.

crimson kings Good Old-Fashioned Adventure

What good is featuring another planet if you don't have adventures there? Besides the aforementioned Burroughs classic A Princess of Mars, there's plenty of other examples of adventures on Mars. In a similar vein is Leigh Brackett's Eric John Stark planetary adventures featured her hero traipsing around the galaxy...including Mars in The Secret of Sinharat (1949) and People of the Talisman (1951), both collecting as Eric John Stark: Outlaw of Mars. Also by Brackett is The Sword of Rhiannon (1953), where a man of questionable morals profiting from Martian treasure is thrust back in time to fight a tyrant with a sword. In the Courts of the Crimson Kings by S.M. Stirling (2008), a pastiche to Burroughs' Barsoom stories, is a planetary romance in an alternate solar system where intelligent life can be found on Mars (and Venus, as depicted in the first book in the series, The Sky People).

Philip K. Dick's Martian Time-Slip (1964) features a 10-year-old schizophrenic boy named Manfred Steiner who is marked by law for deportation and destruction, but is believed by some to be a window into seeing the future. Speaking of time, Larry Niven's Rainbow Mars (1999, the title a nod to Robinson's Mars trilogy) utilizes a time machine to visit Mars' ancient past. But here's the rub: true time travel is actually impossible, so the traveler, a time agent in search of extinct animals, actually visits alternate, fictitious Martian histories. Labyrinth of Night by Allen Steele is based on the idea that aliens once lived on Mars and left behind artifacts accessible only by passing a series of tests that would prove a lifeform's intelligence. Ilium and Olympus by Dan Simmons features far-future post-humans taking on the roles of the Greek gods and overseeing the re-enactment of the Trojan war from their home on Mars' Olympus Mons. Theodore Judson leverages real-life history in The Martian General's Daughter, which, although structured like the memoirs of the illegitimate daughter of a general of the fictional Pan-Polarian Empire, is based on history's Roman Empire. Finally, the Warhammer 40K novel Mechanicum by Graham McNeill (2008) is a military sci-fi adventure that depicts a civil war on Mars.

And Yes, Mars Can Be Funny, Too

For the length of this series on Mars in science fiction, all of the stories listed have been relatively serious, but who says Mars can't be funny? Certainly not Fredric Brown, author of Martians, Go Home (1955), which features a pesky little green man who makes all sorts headaches for a science fiction writer. It's a parody of the genre itself and is played for laughs. The Road to Mars by Month Python alum Eric Idle (1999) is a comedic science fiction novel involving the exploits of two interplanetary stand-up comedians and their robotic secretary. How's that for a laugh?

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.