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Depictions Of Intelligence In Science Fiction

4349 words - 18 pages

To most ancient peoples, Mars was a god, harbinger of war and destruction. While our knowledge of the nature of Mars changed greatly over the ensuing centuries, the attraction Mars holds for the human imagination never waned and continues to our day. Since the discovery that Mars was in fact a planet similar to Earth, the idea that it might harbor intelligent life has enthralled many people. Thus it is only natural that science fiction authors, those members of the human race who put into print the imagination of the species, should turn much of their efforts to speculation about the form and nature of such life. What is striking about this body of literature depicting Mars is its ...view middle of the document...

The premise that Mars was so much like Earth that no extraordinary measures were required for earthlings to live there was accepted without question by authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs (the “Barsoom” novels), C.S. Lewis (Out of the Silent Planet), and Ray Bradbury (The Martian Chronicles). That H.G. Wells’ Martians in War of the Worlds are similarly able to survive on Earth confirms his acceptance of the similarity of the two worlds.

With the information sent back from the Mariner missions, science fiction authors had to adapt their writing to the accepted facts of Martian reality. They adopted a number of ways of either incorporating or getting around these discoveries. The simplest of these methods was simply ignoring the conditions of Mars and continuing as before. An author who does this runs the risk of becoming obsolete, and perhaps these stories should be categorized as fantasy rather than science fiction. Fortunately, most of these stories were either written by authors such as Ray Bradbury, whose story “The Love Affair”, written in 1982, was basically nothing more than another chapter of The Martian Chronicles, who had established styles and were not expected to abandon them or as tributes to these authors, as in the case of Michael Moorcock’s “Lost Sorceress of the Silent Citadel”, Mike Resnick and M. Shayne Bell’s “Flower Children of Mars”, and Paul Di Filippo’s “A Martian Theodicy”. A notable exception is The Second Invasion from
Mars by Soviet brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, published in English in 1979. In this story, the reader is never quite certain whether those who take over power in the area in which the story is set are Martians or just really strange humans. The protagonist of the story, Mr. Apollo, is at first convinced that the invaders cannot be Martians: When will we ever learn to stop believing in rumors? For it is well known that Mars has an extremely thin atmosphere, its climate is excessively severe and almost lacks water, the basis of all life. The myths about the canals were thrown overboard a long time ago, since the canals turned out to be nothing more than an optical illusion. In brief, all this recalls the panic of the year before last, when one-legged Polyphemus ran around town with a fowling piece shouting that a gigantic man-eating triton has escaped from the zoo. (Strugatsky, 165)

Yet as the tale continues and Apollo is exposed to the invaders’ strange technology and obsession with stomach juice, he comes to the opinion that they are indeed Martians, despite the fact that the closest he comes to actually interacting with a Martian is a (perhaps imagined) encounter after which he and the friend he was with can neither clearly remember what happened nor agree on the details which they do remember (Strugatsky, 216-218). By using this subtle approach, the Strugatsky brothers are able to involve “Martians” as characters in their work without these Martians actually being present.

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