Friday, September 18, 2009

Beware the Martians

My wife said I should write about Mars. Okay.

There have been lots of great stories about Mars going back to the good old days. My classic faves are Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, and, for a real change of pace, C.S. Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet. More recently, especially since we've been to Mars on more than one occasion and know there are no cities or lost worlds waiting to be reborn, science can take a different role in Martian stories and many stories involving the complications of colonizing the planet have come along. I have to admit that I haven't read many of these. I'm actually remedying that with Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars series.

In the movies my vote goes to Red Planet written by Chuck Pfarrer staring Val Kilmer and Carrie-Anne Moss. The plot involves colonizing Mars and the problems encountered by the astronauts on their first manned voyage there. What sets this story apart from many is that it is about man vs. the elements in the struggle to tame a new frontier. The first job is to create a breathable atmosphere. Unfortunately, the story plows straight into several cliche conflict devices, not the least of which is AMEE, their homicidal robot. They had enough conflict without it but...that's the movies for you. However, on the plus side, it's not about meeting aliens who require dispensing with.

Back in the 70's when the first surface pictures from Voyager hit the magazine shelves, I was enthralled at our close up look at, well, not much at all. Just a red hillside covered in rocks. Kind of a let down. Kind of like looking at galaxies through a small scope. Tiny grey puffs of smoke. What's the big deal, right? For us geeks, both images tug the imagination with the realization of where they are and what you're looking at. In the past decade robots on Mars dug down to look for signs of water. Our measuring stick for possible life.

That's where I get on board with the scary SF ideas. The first plot I thought up was "The Second War Of the Worlds". What happens when we bring the sample home? What if has a dormant virus in it that treats us worse than anything H. G. Wells could ever dream up? Martians that we can't even see. Now there's some seriously hard science fiction.

It's my firm belief that one day Earthlings will survive the end of the Earth, travel to Mars and beyond to the stars. I'm just not so sure they'll be human beings.

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