A Fictional Mars

Douglas Forsythe

On the 18th of February, 2021, the Perseverance Rover reached Mars and took its first photo of the Jezero Crater. With this spectacular development, I think it would be interesting to talk about how Mars has been depicted in fictional worlds. One of the first stories to depict Mars and its inhabitants is the classic Sci-Fi tale War of The Worlds (1898) by H. G. Wells. While not a direct representation of the Red Planet, the story actually depicts an invasion of Earth, specifically England, by Martians seeking a new planet to inhabit. 

Fourteen years after War of The Worlds was released, Edgar Rice Burroughs published A Princess of Mars (1912). This first part of an eleven part series which follows the protagonist, John Carter, as he is transported to Mars. On Mars, he finds a very diverse population and becomes a warlord who seeks to “bring order” and “save the peoples of mars.” Due to the elements previously mentioned, as well as the views of the author, the novel is definitely seen as dated in modern times. Not only is the main character a former member of the Confederate army from the American Civil War, but the series also follows the “White Savior” trope. While Burroughs’ novel is very influential, it is by no means well written. Compared to the other novels presented here it is very simple and in no way anything spectacular. This is mainly due to being published in Science Fiction Pulp magazines. A place where action-packed stories were prioritized over others with complex themes or narratives.

Next up is Aelita (1922) by a Soviet Science Fiction author, A. N. Tolstoy. Aelita happens to be one of the first examples of Soviet Science Fiction. The novel shows a Soviet expedition to Mars, led by an engineer  named Mstislav Sergeyevich Los. Over the course of the novel, Mstislav falls in love with the Martian princess, Aelita. The novel’s main plot follows Los and a former soldier, Alexei Gusev, as they stage a failed communist uprising on the red planet. 

There is quite a large gap in time between  Aelita and the next truly notable example of Mars in fiction. Olaf Stapledon also wrote about a war between humanity and the inhabitants of Mars in Last and First Men (1930). C. S. Lewis (most known for writing The Chronicles of Narnia) tried his hand at Mars in 1938 with Out of the Silent Planet

In 1950 The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury was published. The novel is an assorted collection of previously published stories along with other stories that were written for the collection. The stories chronicle a history of Mars and human colonization of it. From the first human encounters with Martians to the last vestiges of humanity fleeing nuclear annihilation. Many publications leave out several of the stories or add new ones. June 2003: Way in the Middle of the Air has often been left out of several editions (I happily own a copy that includes the story). It illustrates the events of the African American population of America leaving Earth for Mars. While the narrator chosen for the story (A racist repair shop owner) wasn’t in any way the best choice, the story is definitely one of the most poignant of the collection. The collection also critiques colonialism and has many references and allusions to the invasion and colonization of the Americas. Of all the pieces of media I have listed so far, this is one of the best. 

In 1955, DC comics unveiled the character The Martian Manhunter, the last Martian left in existence. In an interesting turn of events. A later vision of his origin story depicts the scientist who found him as being a fan of the Bradbury stories of Mars found in books like The Martian Chronicles.

In my opinion, the best novel relating to the Red Planet would have to be Andy Weir’s 2011 novel, The Martian. It follows Mark Watney stranded on the planet after the rest of his fellow explorers were forced to evacuate during a storm. Then, there is the 2015 film by Ridley Scott, which was based on the novel. Many other television shows and films often reference the Red Planet.The Pyramids of Mars is one of the most famous examples of this along with The Waters of Mars (the former being from 1975 and latter from 2009). Cowboy Bebop has many episodes, and a movie, set on Mars. The British Science Fiction series Doctor Who also has many episodes set on mars. The Ice Warriors also originate from the planet. The video game series DOOM is often set on Mars. In reality, there are more pieces of media featuring Mars than I could possibly list in this one article Hopefully though, this article will start to help you understand how Mars has been portrayed in media over the years.