(Painting by David Egge, reproduced courtesy of
Novaspace Galleries).

Mars in Literature

The use of Mars either as an arena for our own expectations in the Universe or a plot devide to hold a mirror up to human society goes back over a century; magicdragon.com lists 203 SF works based around Mars. Some notable examples include:

  • H.G. Wells' 1898 novel War of the Worlds, perhaps the original alien-invasion story (full text ). "No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter... Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment." Even without Orson Welles' intonations, those chilling phrases stay in the memory. That memorable 1938 broadcast can be heard now by streaming audio.

  • Edgar Rice Burrough's John Carter of Mars series. Pure space opera - four-armed Martian warriors, beautiful oviparous princesses, dead sea bottoms. Think "Tarzan on Mars". Even Carl Sagan admitted to reading these as a boy. The Online Literature Library has the texts of A Princess of Mars, The Gods of Mars, The Warlord of Mars, Thuvia, Maid of Mars, and The Chessmen of Mars. "As I stood thus meditating, I turned my gaze from the landscape to the heavens where the myriad stars formed a gorgeous and fitting canopy for the wonders of the earthly scene. My attention was quickly riveted by a large red star close to the distant horizon. As I gazed upon it I felt a spell of overpowering fascination--it was Mars, the god of war, and for me, the fighting man, it had always held the power of irresistible enchantment. As I gazed at it on that far-gone night it seemed to call across the unthinkable void, to lure me to it, to draw me as the lodestone attracts a particle of iron."

  • C.S. Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet stands in the noble tradition of stories using the interplanetary stage to comment on the human condition, and for once doing so by going there instead of depicting Martians coming here. Here he sees Mars (or Malacandra) as an unfallen world, inhabited by several kinds of thinking beings and concerned about the state of the "silent planet" - our own. Human adventurers are the snakes in Eden. "... the very name Space seemed a blasphemous libel for this empyrean ocean of radiance in which they swam."

  • Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles. These go yet farther into cautionary tales, into poetry, so that the Mars they depict is purely a fanciful backdrop for human folly and courage.

  • In the more realistic category, most well-known authors of science fiction have set action on the Red Planet. Some important stories have included the remarkably sympathetic depiction of very alien life in Stanley Weinbaum's Martian Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke's Sands of Mars, Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, and many other stories of all styles and impacts on memory. Recently, we've seen Kim Stanley Robinson's Red-Green-Blue Mars trilogy, dealing with terraforming the planet to open it up for human colonization. (Painting by Chesley Bonestell, reproduced courtesy of Novaspace Galleries).

    Marsfest | Bill Keel | UA Astronomy | Dept. of Physics and Astronomy | University of Alabama

    Last changes: August 2003