Water on Mars: A Literary Perspective

Anyone who went on the internet today probably noticed a lot of articles about Mars. Earlier this morning, NASA made their biggest announcement since the New Horizons probe passed by Pluto in July: researchers have discovered that present day Mars has liquid water.

WATER. ON. MARS! This could yield so many more discoveries! We already knew that Mars once held an ancient ocean and has polar ice caps, but running, liquid water is so much different. It contains the building blocks of life!

Hold up: isn’t this blog supposed to be about books? Yes. But as many of my friends know, I love outer space almost as much as I love books. Plus, there are many novels that take place on the red planet.

In fact, earlier this evening I saw multiple comments about how much easier it would have been for Mark Watney (from Any Weir’s The Martin) to grow potatoes on Mars with all this newfound water. If you haven’t read The Martin yet, you really should, especially before seeing Matt Damon on the big screen.

My immediate literary connection, however, was Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. This series of short stories was published as a collection back in 1950 before humans had even visited the moon. Before being published as a collection, Bradbury had his stories published throughout the 1940s in various magazines.

Martian Chronicles

The overall plot of The Martian Chronicles is something that many people have envisioned in the past few years: the colonization of Mars.

The first set of short stories see the first humans flying off to Mars in 1999 to begin settlements because Earth is slowly deteriorating. The first expedition of humans are met by an indigenous Martian and killed. While the second expedition of humans are travelling towards Mars, the Martians are able to pick up on their thoughts because they are telepathic.

The Martians telepathic powers cause such intense hallucinations for some that they are placed in an asylum. When the second expedition of humans arrive, they are believed to be yet another group of mentally ill Martians, and they too are placed in the asylum and eventually killed. The third expedition also results in failure.

Despite losing all contact with previous expeditions, the naturally curious humans on Earth continue to send more shuttles towards Mars. They are desperately trying to find a new location for human life to thrive, as an nuclear war is approaching.

By the fourth expedition, humans are successful. They discover that the majority of Martians have been killed by contracting the chickenpox from previous expeditions. This scene has often been juxtaposed with European explorers killing indigenous populations throughout the Americas with smallpox.

The rest of the stories are about humans colonizing and terraforming the planet in order to make it their new home. There are a number of stories depicting the last remaining Martians, the discovery of Martian ruins, and the extremely fast colonization of Mars.

When The Martian Chronicles was first published, Bradbury had already made a name for himself among science-fiction crowds. However, this collection of short stories brought him criticism, because it was seen as an unrealistic vision.

I can only imagine what Bradbury would have said today when NASA made their announcement about the discovery of liquid water on the red planet. This discovery brings humans one step closer to finding a second, habitable home; a vision that Bradbury put on paper over 60 years ago. 

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