The Belgian writer J.H. Rosny aîné is little known in the English speaking world, but is an important figure in the history of SF. Before establishing a writing career in Paris, Rosny spent a number of years in England, where he learned evolutionary theory, which was the foundation of the “pluralist” vision that informed his science-fictional works. His early career overlaps Verne’s late works, and he was an exact contemporary of H.G. Wells. Compared with the fictions of these two writers, Rosny’s were more solidly informed by science. His evolutionism stands out against Verne’s positivism and the Cartesian vision of his French colleagues. On the other hand, he is more steadfastly evolutionist than Wells. All of Rosny’s works deal with evolutionary and ecological processes on Earth, where he chronicles the origin and demise of carbon-based life, looking forward to the advent of alternate life forms (e.g. iron-based life), to include the eventual possibility of slow-life among the mineral kingdom. Rosny’s final SF-related novel, Les Navigateurs de l’infini (1929) is an exception however. The “infinite” of the title however is Mars. Up to this time, Mars in literature was generally a surrogate for Earth: Wells’s and Burroughs’s Martians are both, if in opposite fashion, measured by the human norm. But what is the nature of the Martians’ Rosny’s evolutionist explorers find? Rosny stands on the threshold of Golden Age depictions of Martians, from Weinbaum to Heinlein and beyond. His work does not influence, instead it indicates new directions for the old planet, which this paper briefly explores.
The red planet is seldom mentioned by Jules Verne. Apart from a late minor text probably written by his son Michel, Verne’s Mars is never more than an astronomical entity, not a place you might visit, come from, or even think about much. It’s something of a puzzle: the most influential author of the scientific romance appears to have taken no interest in terrains that have become the quintessential topoi of modern science fiction.
I think the reason for Verne’s seeming neglect of Mars has to do with the formal logic of his fiction. With very few exceptions, the Voyages extraordinaires take place on, over, and under surfaces of the Earth. But these terrestrial locations are in a basic way incidental: Verne's fictions are “loxodromic” (as Michel Serres has observed); they are about paths, not places.
In this way of thinking about the puzzle, Verne doesn’t situate his adventures outside the terrestrial sphere because problems of place are less important to him than problems of process and movement. Martian terrains are absent because terrestrial surfaces are sufficient in and of themselves to situate Verne’s narrative and textual circuits; he doesn’t need Mars to stage transformative crises of movement over thresholds and beyond limits.
So, Verne represents a negative example of the Martian imaginary. And the relevance of a negative example would seem to be very limited. But his influence on the literary logic of science fiction is such that we have to wonder if a more general approach to the puzzle may be productive.
I will argue that Verne’s negative example can, if we generalize its formal principles, reorient our approach to the Martian imaginary to the extent that it directs us to considerations other than those of place. Place – as the scene of alterity, conflict, and transformation – is central to the construction and reception of science fiction worlds, and “Mars” has become our literary shorthand for the most basic of other scenes. That Mars is mostly missing from Verne can in a contrarian way orient us to operations of process and movement that sustain Martian places in works by other authors. My paper concludes with a few examples of this “Vernian” approach to process in a few such works.
The paper focuses on Aleksandr Bogdanov’s novel Red Star (1908) and its comparison with Aleksei Tolstoy’s Aelita (1923). One of the notable members of the Socialist-Democratic movement in Russia since 1896, Bogdanov was also a philosopher, economist and scientist, who founded the world’s first blood-transfusion clinic. Working on his novel in the aftermath of the first Russian revolution, he populates his Mars with an exemplary communist society, describing in great detail its structure, labor principals, gender relationship, and language. Fifteen years and a whole new, post-revolutionary, era later, Tolstoy writes his journey to Mars through the prism of an émigré liberal on the verge of repatriation. In a reverse parallelism to the Russian revolutionary Leonid, the protagonist of Red Star, who goes to Mars on a kind of internship, the main characters of Aelita, the engineer Los’ and the soldier Gusev, try to export the revolution from Petrograd into the galaxy. While the two novels borrow from the same sources when it comes to describing the space travel or the Martian landscape, they differ significantly from the other early texts because they exploit the symbolism of the color red as the color of the revolution, thereby, claiming Mars for the Russians. However, in the dialog between two Russian novels, the meaning of the key phrase, “red star,” gets paradoxically reversed, from Mars to Earth. The paper also muses over the principles of Gesamtkunswerk that inspire Aleksei Tolstoy to follow his characters and return to the USSR and, in an even more bizarre twist, turn Aleksandr Bogdanov into a Martian.
This paper will explore the imagination of modernity in two contrasting films – a Soviet silent and an American talkie – in which Mars functions as a locus of desire distinct from the terrestrial realm.
In Protazonov’s adaptation of Alexei Tolstoy’s novel about Bolshevik adventurers fomenting revolution on Mars, the emphasis falls more determinedly upon the task of building a post-revolutionary and modern Soviet Union. Retrospectively, the trip to Mars, the status of which has been ambiguous throughout, is fixed as a daydream. And just as the sexual desire which impels it is, like the terrestrial fears of infidelity it also depicts, ultimately constructed as a distraction from the imperative task at hand, so the Martian revolution, led by Queen Aelita, suggests that the cult of personality emerging around Stalin might best be understood as a regressive step towards the absolutism the Russian revolution was intended to overthrow.
Just Imagine is probably best remembered – if it is remembered at all – for its stunning vision of New York fifty years hence (which resembles, more than slightly, Norman Bel Geddes Futurama exhibition from the 1939 New York World’s Fair), and for the fact that this big-budget sleeper-awakes/utopian/sf/romance/comedy/interplanetary adventure is said to have been such a financial disaster that it put Hollywood off big-budget sf until the 1950s. However, in its construction of Martian society as primitive and predominantly female, it too functions as a distraction: the promise of a libidinous fulfilment denied by the rational utopia, but upon which consumer capitalism was dependent, even as the effects of the Wall Street Crash were beginning to take effect. Just three years later, a not dissimilar generic blend of sf/romance/colonial adventure about commodification and imperialism would see the repressed – denied by Just Imagine – return to New York in the form of a rampaging giant ape.
This paper will conclude by arguing that despite their manifold differences, in their self-conscious play with technologies of vision, both of these films make Mars a screen – akin to the cinema screen described by Christian Metz – onto which are projected presence and absence, desire and denial.
Lao She (1898-1966, the nom de plume of Shu Qingchun ) is widely recognized as one of the great Chinese writers of 20th century. His works are widely known and widely available. But what is not so well know is that in 1932 he wrote a satirical novel titled Cat Country (Maocheng ji), later published in 1949. This novel, set on Mars, describes the adventures of an astronaut whose ship crashes on Mars. There he discovers a civilization of intelligent “cat-people” with human bodies and feline heads. In the tradition of Utopia, the novel explores this new world. It portrays Chinese society in the most devastating terms, and today it is all but unavailable in China, despite Lao She's importance. I will also turn briefly to the comparative context, starting with the imagined Mars of several of his Western contemporaries, beginning with its most immediate temporal counterpart, the Martian Odyssey of Stanley G. Weinbaum, originally published in 1934. I will also speculate on the possible influence of Maocheng ji on Cordwainer Smith, another science fiction writer with important connections to China.
When I was editing Star Begotten a couple of years ago it never occurred to me to pursue the significance of the fact that the cosmic rays that cause all the commotion are supposed to come from Mars. I took it for granted that Wells himself did not have any special thoughts about Mars at the time, beyond the obvious and pointed allusion to his own colonialist allegory of forty years earlier. I have now come to think about that moment of the ‘thirties as a remarkable one in which Mars became a site for argument about what we can know, which becomes, because of the genre that is at that time in a crucial moment of formation , what can sf itself think?
Mars is often depicted as a special planet exactly because it stands for a social idea. The efficient, the Spartan, the warlike Martians show up in in War of the Worlds, or the six-legged creatures of Burroughs’ Barsoom, or even the kaleidoscopic images of fifties America in The Martian Chronicles. These images take part of their power and significance from their explicitness. In the ‘thirties in Britain, however, this special quality has become illusory and for writers of the left at any rate Mars has become a sign of not only enigma but of the very puzzle of social action.
The model here is Stapledon’s idea of the Martians in Last and First Men who, hard to read themselves, are themselves unable to read us. This explicitly oblique image anticipates a cluster of short Wells novels on the terror of the developing world situation which, as The Croquet Player explains, is too threatening to be faced fully and must be allegorized. There is a kind of self-referentiality here: a comment not just on the world situation, but on the adequacy of SF to treat it. SF itself is the veil that allows us to think about the unthinkable, but in order to do that it must not unveil. It is both an evasion of the real and, perhaps, the only way of addressing the real. An allegory that must hide its meaning.
C. S. Lewis poses an obvious challenge to this mode of thought. Out of the Silent Planet, appearing the year after Star Begotten, puts Mars in a theological scheme, wherein though one may start in confusion, one can learn to read. Theological mystery is, however, very different from scientific obscurity. Lewis may refigure traditional Mars, but his Mars still “means” in a way that is profoundly at odds with the confrontation with the unknown (Stapledon) and the inexplicable (Wells) that Wells and Stapledon’s sf has identified and addressed.
In my presentation I will be summarizing how numerous past visions of the conditions for life in the inner solar system were variants of the "too hot/too cold/just right" Goldilocks model and the "between two worlds, one dead the other powerless to be born" model (a riff lifted from Arnold's "Stanzas from the Grand Chartreuse" and recontextualized to Mars/Earth/Venus). From there I will move on to discuss how the recent growth of understanding of actual conditions on Mars (in particular) has led to a search for and cataloging of life in Mars-like conditions on Earth -- in so-called Mars analogs. Such analogs range from the search for extremophile organisms (in dry and cold Antarctic regions, cryptobiotic crusts generally, and meteoritic fossils) to the FMARS facility in a crater on an island in the Canadian arctic intended to simulate Mars colony conditions for pioneering humans.
In examining the possibilities for life on Mars, we have also begun to re-evaluate the habitable range and diversity of life on Earth. In considering the "extreme makeover" of Mars toward Earth, we have also been driven toward more fully understanding those Earth environments which are already like Mars. Revisions to our understanding of the conditions for life on Mars have opened up and continue to open up epistemic space for revisions to our understanding of life on Earth.
We most often begin to understand the unfamiliar in terms of the familiar ("horseless carriage," "e-book") and, since to some extent imagining the unfamiliar causes us to re- imagine the familiar, I will be looking at how Mars has already colonized Earth. To this end, I will be applying postcolonial literary theory (including "double consciousness," "unhomeliness," "colonial quotation," etc.) to our re-imagining of Earth via the works of Wells, Bradbury, Stapledon, and Lewis regarding Mars -- that other planet which we haven't yet physically colonized, but which has already colonized us via our imaginings of its Other/worldly conditions .
Early conceptions of life on Mars will be considered beginning with the tale of how a mistranslation from Schiaparelli’s “canali” to the English “canal” stimulated the imagination of astronomers and science fiction writers alike, including H. G. Wells, Stanley Weinbaum and Edgar Rice Burroughs. The great romances of Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, and Roger Zelazny will be contrasted with the developing pessimism concerning life on Mars that began with the Mariner 9 flyby in 1971 and continued as late as the early 1990’s. In science fiction we will see how this biopessimism culminated in Stan Robinson’s abiological trilogy. I will consider how institutional pessimism affected the interpretation of the Viking mission, still the only life detection mission ever attempted on another world. Finally I will show how certain speculations, now largely discredited, of fossil life in a Martian meteorite invigorated the Martian biooptimists, creating a climate more conducive to a biological interpretation of the Viking results, as well as of the more recent discoveries of ice, geological and mineralogical features indicating that vast torrents of water once flowed on Mars, and the detection of atmospheric methane very possibly produced by Martian microbes.
I will sketch the basic requirements for life in any environment and how those requirements may have been met in the geological past or perhaps in the current day in certain microenvironments on Mars, comparable to certain exteme environments on earth. I will show how some modern authors such as Greg Benford and Greg Bear have incorporated such constraints in the Mars life they have described. I will consider how the presence or absence of life on Mars affects the motivation to terraform Mars, as opposed to “Marsforming” of possible human colonists, as in Fred Pohl’s Man Plus. Finally, I will consider the prospects for detection of life or its precursors in future Mars missions, including Phoenix Mars, scheduled to land on Mars just one week after this year’s Eaton Conference.
In 1752 Voltaire published his classic short tale, Micromégas. He tells the story of two giant visitors from other worlds who visit Earth. These visitors are not only enormous in size, but are also super endowed with senses and intelligence far beyond any comprehension by the mere humans who inhabit planet Earth. Of course, they are used as props to emphasize that humanity is not the center of creation and that the new scales of the cosmos as discovered by science must force humans to re-evaluate how they view themselves in relation to the universe around them.
The literary descendants of Voltaire’s story in science fiction are myriad. Though most science fiction studied today are those written in English, there is a vibrant French tradition that even includes a genre tradition, which was imported from America. When looking at the publisher Fleuve Noir’s Anticipation line of science fiction novels and their portrayal of Earth’s neighboring planet, Mars, the use of the Red Planet as a device with which humans can view themselves from a different perspective is very evident and can be said to belong firmly in the tradition of Micromégas. The novels of F. Richard-Bessiere, B.R. Bruss, Kemmel, Maurice Limat, and Gilles d’Argyre (Gerard Klein) will be examined in light of France and its modernization policies during the 1950s. Despite the American-style of genre publishing that was introduced to France after World War II, and the often simplistic adventure stories that dominated their pages, the influence of Voltaire’s story continued to thrive in these novels. The issues of France’s modernization policies during the 1950s are treated with Mars used to examine either extremes of certain human developments or models of desired social improvement..
Examining this segment of science fiction could help in expanding both the definitions of science fiction and the perceived notions concerning the origins of science fiction.
As scientific knowledge about Mars increased in the 1950s and 1960s, culminating in the photographs by Mariner 9 in the early 1970s, fictions about Mars—with a few notable exceptions—became more mythic and reflexive in method, declaring themselves artifices, playfully quoting not only from the earlier literature of Mars but from the broader literary tradition, and often veering toward either parable or parody. Their authors’ visions were sometimes hallucinatory, sometimes melancholy, sometimes relentlessly ugly—and at other times perversely retrograde conceptions defying the emergent scientific understandings of the planet. Later in the century, in the aftermath of the Mariner and Viking missions, writers developed exciting new possibilities for combining realism and romance in their imaginings of Mars. But the period between the launch of the first satellites in the 1950s and the insertion of Mariner 9 into Martian orbit in 1971 was a particularly challenging time for fiction-making, with the old romantic Mars discredited and no new model to put in its place. In works by Walter Tevis, Lester del Rey, Philip K. Dick, Leigh Brackett, and D. G. Compton, among others, we can see the dilemmas facing writers struggling to come to terms with a subject from which scientific advances seemed to be draining all the romance.
It is frequently noted that, when Leigh Brackett began writing and publishing Mars and Venus stories for the pulps in the 1940s and 50s, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series of the early 20th century was her inspiration. Despite this common observation, the intertextual relationship between the two authors has not been closely analyzed. Brackett, the undisputed “Queen of the Space Opera,” was no imitator of Burroughs; indeed, she quarreled with certain fundamental aspects of his paradigm, which Burroughs closely modeled on popular American Historical Romances of the late-19th and early-20th century. Whereas Burroughs left virtually untouched the colonial ideology underpinning popular tales of heroic American explorers who restore peace and stability to foreign lands, Brackett complicates it considerably through an ambiguously characterized hero and the morally questionable motives of the colonial interests that he only partially serves. This paper will examine Brackett’s improvisations on Burroughs’ paradigm, focussing in particular on the authors’ respective figurations of the primitive, which we will situate in the context of imperialist discourse in early- and mid-20th century American culture.
Ray Bradbury's Mars, as originally presented in magazine short stories, was an inconsistent planet. Sometimes resembling Barsoom, other times Arizona or Illinois, it was only with the book presentation of The Martian Chronicles (1950) that some sense of unity was given to the place. Yet over the decades, episodes from the Chronicles have continued to be removed from this context and re-presented singly as adaptations in radio, film and television.
This paper explores the ways in which Bradbury's tales have maintained a dual existence: as pointed, isolated, sometimes contradictory single stories, popular in adaptation; and as elements in a rich and complex re-telling of the American experience, never out of print. The paper will examine key adaptations of Bradbury's Martian tales, many of them authored by Bradbury himself, and address the presentation of Mars as both simplistic backdrop and complex arena.
“From here on, a lot of science fiction is going to be theological—a combination of theology and science—because a lot of the same problems attract theologians and writers. We’re all up to the same thing.” (Ray Bradbury. From an interview with the Christian Science Monitor, November 25, 1980. Interview included in: Conversations with Ray Bradbury. Edited by Steven Aggelis. University Press of Mississippi, Jackson. 2004. p. 108.)
Citing primarily interviews and his own writing, this paper looks at Bradbury’s efforts to demonstrate, articulate, and define, philosophical and religious ideas within the setting of a Fantasy and Science Fiction world created by his imagination. Nathaniel Hawthorne frequently spoke of his stories as tales, rather than stories. The reason he did this was that he wanted to create a world where the human condition could be explored in an imaginary (as opposed to a realistic) realm. This allowed him to be more creative in expressing his ideas. Bradbury does the same in much of his writing—he creates a sort of mythological world in which his ideas (many of them religious and philosophical) can be demonstrated and explored.
While he has stories which are located in the asteroid belt, on Venus, and on Earth, the setting he uses most frequently for much of his theological myth-making is the surface of the planet Mars. In this setting—created in his imagination—Bradbury explores the nature and meaning of man, the existence or definition of God, the creation of ethics, the power of love and hope, the adaptation of religious symbolism, the question of love, and many other ideas impacting the attempt to define values and meaning in our lives.
This paper will look at both how he accomplishes this, and what some of the primary ideas are that he seems to want to convey in his writing. How does he accomplish this? Why does he do it? What are some of the fundamental issues that regularly rise to the surface in Bradbury’s stories?
In spite of being a regular theme in Philip K. Dick’s work, planetary colonies are rarely situated away from the Solar System. Surely, there are minor obsessions with Albemuth and Proxima or sometimes Alpha Centauri, but, when not strictly on Earth, it is within our system that most of his novels take place. And even then, there seems to be a preference for not traveling too far. Particularly on his early 60s production, as Kim Stanley Robinson has noticed on the very first PhD dissertation on Dick, Mars is the planet of election, so much that Robinson classifies the novels of that period as “Martian”. While, indeed, that is the period in which the red planet appears more often as a setting, the analysis drifts from that epithet, at least enough for the inclusion — merely on chronological grounds — of The Game-Players of Titan, which takes place mostly on Earth. Guiding his argument there is, however, the general claim that “Mars […], is a representation of the America in which Dick wrote the novels, in which certain facets of the society have been augmented, others suppressed.” In this paper, we propose a re-evaluation of that assertion, which may have a scope beyond the chapter where it is stated, as it may be true also for (earlier or later) titles, both the novels and the shorter fiction.
In order to pursue that goal — and, indirectly, to check if Philip K. Dick's depiction of Mars is coherent throughout his work —, we must take into account not only the titles where that is one of the settings but also those (such as The Simulacra or Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep?) where references to the planet have a crucial role in the narrative. Provided that Robinson also said that “dystopia […] is the most common element in all of Dick's work,” we will also check how firmly the dystopian mode is coupled with that typically science-fictional device that is Mars.
Generally the word “Martian” is used in a narrow anthropomorphic sense, evoking intelligent aliens analogous to humans, beings like ourselves who have language, technology, or whatever else we think distinguishes us from the worldaround ecology of other fauna and flora on Earth. That "Martian", in popular usage, is a metonym for "alien" more generally opens up questions about all depictions – and searches for – alien life. Indeed, just as Martian is a metonym for alien, so the process that makes "Martian" or "Terran" stand for an entire set of planetary ecological relations is metonymic as well, metonymy being that trope by which something is replaced by another thing associated with it. In this case, humans are associated with the Earth, and therefore earn the name “Terran”, a process analogous to what Fredric Jameson calls, in LeGuin’s case, "world reduction”. Of course, much of the history of the sf genre's romance with other planets – Mars and Venus first among them – is marked by world reduction; in the sense I’m giving it here, world reduction serves to foreground human or human-analogue behavior and intrigue, reducing the nonhuman world to a backdrop.
Displacing and critiquing both anthropomorphic understandings of the word "Martian" and reductive processes of worlding is a vital aim of “Chronicling Martians”. In doing this, I hope to open up the word “Martian” - and the related word "alien" - to an ecological understanding. In the last forty years or so, ecological thinking has started to take hold both in the sf genre and in the wider mode of awareness I call, following Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., the sf mode. Indeed, I suggest that not only is ecology vital to the sf mode but also that the sf mode is vital to ecological thinking. Ecology - literally "household knowledge" – is of course an important tool for thinking both the futures of life on our home planet and the possibilities of life on any other. In fact, one of the most evocative and important ways of thinking worldaround ecology here on planet Earth, “Gaia Theory”, was developed by James Lovelock in the course of his work on planetary life detection, specifically in looking for atmosphere on Mars. Until Gaia theory, the standard scientific – and sf – view was that planets somehow had atmospheres which permitted life; whether the entire planet was a desert, a ball of ice, or even (in Star Wars) an asteroid made no difference. Among other visions, Gaia theory marks an early moment in a growing global ecological consciousness, one that in the latter half of the 20th and the first years of the 21st century is a vital, if not the vital, issue of our times. As global warming and mass species extinction attest, thinking ecologically – that is, thinking in harmony with this household called Earth – is essential for fruitful worlding, on this planet and on any other.
The sf mode – well-versed in worlding, thinking at global scales, imagining long time frames, and telling stories of first contact – is itself an asset to any form of ecological thinking. As Kim Stanley Robinson suggests, evoking Teilhard de Chardin's distinction between the biosphere and noosphere, on Mars the noosphere precedes the biosphere. Approaching varied and often contradictory visions of Martians as one ecology of memes, one noosphere, “Chronicling Martians” intervenes in both Martian and Terran worlding, affirming and encouraging a tradition of ecological thinking in the sf mode. If, as William Gibson suggests, sf does not so much predict the future as colonize it, then understanding and critiquing the worldviews we use in our sf colonizing is a vital action in the now, one that opens up amazing possibilities – both here on Earth, and on Mars.
At first glance, there is a sharp contrast between Kim Stanley Robinson’s early Mars novel, Icehenge (1984). and his later Mars trilogy (1993-96): closed systems open out, uneasy repetition becomes momentous progress, isolated monads join in messy but productive collective action, what was unreliable and elusive in history becomes substantial and determinate. This paper complicates the contrast, using the notions of transparency and nontransparency. It suggests that aspects of what shaped Icehenge persist in Robinson’s later fiction, troubling its confident activism, in the form of haunting or fantasised females, and of moments of epiphany, areophany and lapses of memory.