Badass Sci Fi’s History of Future Nows- Part 2- on Mars!

The Mars Perseverance Rover launched July 30, 2020 at 4:50 a.m. PDT (that would be yesterday at the time of this post). It’s the first step in NASA-ESA’s ambitious sample return mission. If all goes as planned, the first interplanetary samples should get here around 2031.

From NASA/JPL- Mars

But nothing goes as planned. The launch was perfect, but the spacecraft briefly went into safe mode due to a temperature anomaly. All is better (for now).

So, to celebrate humanity’s continued fascination with the red planet, let’s take a look at the role Mars played in sci fi over the years.

Origins of Martian Sci Fi

Mars has been a staple of science fiction since the late 19th century. In fact, we can pinpoint the origin of Mars as sci fi occurring in 1877 with two unrelated events.

Firstly, some of the first known usages of the word ‘Martian’ as a noun were printed in magazine articles detailing Asaph Hall III’s discovery of the moons of Mars, Deimos and Phobos.

Secondly, and more importantly, Italian astronomer Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli observed linear structures on Mars he called ‘canali’.

Many early science fiction works involving Mars were based on this one misinterpreted word; canali. In Italian, it means naturally occurring channels.

But, English speakers mistranslated canali to artificially constructed canals. As a result, the Canals of Mars instigated worldwide speculation over life on Mars.

So, without writing one novel, Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli became the father of Martian science fiction.

And his first generation of children got busy as the 19th century came to a close.

Early Martian Sci Fi

War of the Worlds (1898, H.G. Wells)

Not the first, but certainly the most enduring early science fiction work centering around Mars and Martians, War of the Worlds hasn’t been out of print since it’s initial publication.

The novel involves squid-like aliens travel to Earth in cylinders, construct massive tripods, decimate humanity (mostly in London and its boroughs), and die from colds.

Additionally, it’s adaptations, including the 1938 radio broadcast and 1953 movie, became as influential as the novel.

Barsoom (1911-1964, Edgar Rice Burroughs)

Next, we have the John Carter of Mars stories, beginning with A Princess of Mars (1911). Edgar Rice Burroughs was the man. I mean, this, Tarzan, and The Land that Time Forgot?

Not only that, but most of what Burroughs wrote existed in the same universe! He pioneered the crossover over 100 years ago. And, guest authors are still writing volumes today. Find out more here…

Set in the post-Civil War era, Burroughs depicts a Mars (Barsoom) filled with giant, four-armed aliens, advanced, crumbling civilizations, and deadly beasts. But I’ll always remember John Carter like this…

The Martian Chronicles (1950, Ray Bradbury)

In the late 40s, Ray Bradbury wrote 28 short stories centering around the travel to Mars, encounters with Martians, colonization, and becoming the new Martians. A fixup was first published in 1950, with new text connecting the stories.

Following the original timeline, the last third of The Martian Chronicles takes place in the 2020s. Most Martians died from a Human-carried plague, nuclear war decimated Earth in 2005, and Human colonists become the new Martians.

But, not all early Martian sci fi was influential or well respected.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964, Nicholas Webster)

Later Martian Sci Fi (>1965)

Curiosity and speculation based on limited and faulty information about the Red Planet fueled most early Martian science fiction. Beginning in the mid-60s, however, the Mariner and Viking probes revealed Mars as a desolate, cratered planet with a thin atmosphere and no water.

Consequently, Mars lost much of its mystique, and Martian science fiction shifted from fantastical tales of alien races and invasions to colonization and terraforming.

Red Mars (1992, Kim Stanley Robinson, Book #1 of the Mars Trilogy)

In one of the most fully realized speculative visions, Red Mars documents the first colonial voyage to Mars launches in 2026. The mission carries the First Hundred colonists. Upon arrival, they construct the first settlement. Subsequently, they consider terraforming, colonize Phobos, and build an elevator on an asteroid between Mars and Earth.

Still, some pined for the days when we didn’t know shit about mars.

Mars Attacks! (1996, Tim Burton)

While others had a less feasible, but more ambitious and entertaining vision of the Red Planet.

Total Recall (1990, Paul Verhoeven)

The Martian Sci Fi Dark Ages (2000-2001)

Apparently, filmmakers got bored with Y2K. As a result, they turned their attention to Mars, and we got an ultra-rare triplet film event.

Mission to Mars (2000, Brian De Palma), Red Planet (2000, Antony Hoffman), Stranded (2001, Maria Lidon)

So, according to the holy trinity of laughably watchable Y2K Mars movies, when we get to Mars, we’ll either find a big, hollow Prometheus face on its surface and watch a holographic educational video on evolution, find alien mummies at the bottom of the Valles Marineris, or discover algae and exploding insects, ‘nematodes’ (which are not insects), while a homicidal robot dog named AMEE terrorizes us.

We also get Tom Sizemore, the genius geneticist, explaining DNA…

Mission to Mars and Stranded transpire in 2020, but it takes until 2056 for Tom to incorrectly learn the nucleotide bases in Red Planet.

But, we can always count on John Carpenter to lighten things up.

Ghosts of Mars (2001, John Carpenter)

The Martian Sci Fi Renaissance

Finally, in the 21st century, both artists and audiences grew more sophisticated. Even stories chronicling travel to, and colonization of, Mars became passe.

As a result, Martian Sci Fi shifted its focus to intimate individual struggles on a claimed Mars, or an already colonized playing a role in larger conflicts.

The Martian (2011, Andy Weir, 2015, Ridley Scott)

Nowhere is an individual’s struggles and ingenuity on an alien planet better portrayed than in Andy Weir’s The Martian. Here, humans establish bases on the planet where, in 2035, Mark Whatney (Matt Damon) is left for dead. Unfortunately, he survives (JK).

It’s interesting to note, Andy Weir originally self-published The Martian; offering a chapter at a time on his website, and eventually compiling and making it available on Kindle for 99 cents. Opposable (masking cough)!

Leviathan Wakes (2011, James S.A. Corey {Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck}, Book #1 in The Expanse Series)

This universe exists in ‘the future’ when humans colonize most of the solar system. Tensions mount between Earthers, Martians (Humans colonizing Mars), and Belters (Humans inhabiting the asteroid belt).

Eventually, an alien threat in the form of a Protomolecule arises.

The two authors comprising James S.A. Corey each write for a different set of central characters.

Mars (2016 – 2018, Stephen Petranek, Justin Wilkes)

Finally, Nat Geo went as far as creating a hybrid series that combines real interviews and data with a fictional story involving landing on and colonizing Mars.

What secrets will the Perseverance mission uncover. Maybe it will discover dormant microbial life and send it back to Earth. I’d plan on keeping your face masks until at least 2031.

Anyway, thanks for reading!

Until next time, don’t bother me. I’m trying to fly a drone on Mars.

Ingenuity Helicopter- from NASA-JPL

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