“It is good to renew one’s wonder…”

by Tyler Wilson

Gale Crater via NASA’s Curiosity rover; NASA, JPL, Caltech, Malin Space Science Systems

“You don’t question Providence. If you can’t have the reality, a dream is just as good.”
Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles

Remembering Ray Bradbury, who passed away on June 12, 2012…

The Boulevardiers send this tribute his way, wherever Ray Bradbury now resides…

Image from video fly through of the SDSS III galaxies; Miguel Aragón, Johns Hopkins University; Mark SubbaRao, Adler Planetarium; Alex Szalay, Yushu Yao, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; NERSC, The SDSS III Collaboration

Mars has always been about escapism, a reminder that the grass can always be greener (redder) on the other side. Once our population balloons out of control and we have no more resources left to feed or house them, the solution is simple, just look to the red planet. It has transformed in popular culture from a place of vast ancient alien civilizations in the late 1800’s, to a last ditch terra-forming and refueling station for our expansion into the cosmos. Writers have been using Mars in this way for years, from the earliest mass-produced science fiction stories in pulp magazines to present day movies.

From Wikipedia: The Martian Chronicles is a 1950 science fiction short story collection by Ray Bradbury that chronicles the colonization of Mars by humans fleeing from a troubled and eventually atomically devastated Earth, and the conflict between aboriginal Martians and the new colonists. The book lies somewhere between a short story collection and an episodic novel, containing stories Bradbury originally published in the late 1940s in science fiction magazines. The stories were loosely woven together with a series of short, interstitial vignettes for publication.

Dunes on Mars, NASA’s Mars via Reconnaissance Orbiter; from NASA, JPL, Caltech, Cornell

 

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ works were key influences. In an article written shortly before his death, Bradbury said the “John Carter of Mars” books and the Harold Foster 1931 series of Tarzan Sunday comics had such an impact on his life, that “The Martian Chronicles would never have happened” otherwise. In an introduction he wrote for The Martian Chronicles Bradbury cited the Barsoom stories and Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson as literary influences.

 

Dunes on Mars, NASA’s Mars via Reconnaissance Orbiter; from NASA, JPL, Caltech, Cornell

The background of Mars shared by most of the stories, as a desert planet crisscrossed by giant canals built by an ancient civilization to bring water from the polar ice caps, is a common scenario in science fiction of the early 20th century. It stems from early telescope observations of Mars by astronomers from the early 19th century who believed they saw straight lines on the planet, the first of them being the Italian Giovanni Schiaparelli in 1877. Schiaparelli called them canali (a generic Italian term used for both natural and artificial “grooves” or “channels”), which was popularly mistranslated into English as “canals”, man-made water channels. Based on this and other evidence, the idea that Mars was inhabited by intelligent life was put forward by a number of prominent scientists around the turn of the century, notably American astronomer Percival Lowell. This ignited a popular fascination with the planet which has been called “Mars fever.”

Planetary astronomer Carl Sagan wrote: “Mars has become a kind of mythic arena onto which we have projected our Earthly hopes and fears.”

Erebus Crater via NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity; from NASA, JPL, Caltech, Cornell

 

From Neil Gaiman: “I can imagine all kinds of worlds and places, but I cannot imagine a world without Bradbury. Not Ray Bradbury the man (I have met him. Each time I have spent any time with him I have been left the happier for it.) but Bradbury the builder of dreams. That Bradbury. The man who took an idea of the American Midwest and made it magical and tangible, who took his own childhood and all the people and things in it and used it to shape the world. The man who gave us a future to fear, one without stories, without books. The man who invented Hallowe’en, in its modern incarnation.”

 

The Martian North Pole; NASA, HiRISE, MRO, LPL (Univ. of Arizona)

 

Not everyone’s introduction to the red planet is the same, but the sense of wonder is. Whether it’s through classics like Bradbury or Burroughs, or modern (and slightly misguided) interpretations like the 1990 Total Recall. No matter the era, Mars has always been a springboard for our imaginations, either literally as a way-station on our journeying out amongst the stars, or as a posited home for extraterrestrial cultures. Since the planet’s first orbital plotting by Egyptian astronomers in 1543 BCE and extensive study in the Greek Ptolemy’s Almagest, Mars has been an enticement to the galaxy; its iron oxide rich rock and massive frozen CO2 poles beckoning our feet and minds. NASA’s recently launched Curiosity rover gives us the most recent hopes and dreams of discovering more than we ever have before about the surface and geology of our red celestial neighbor…

 

 

Previous post:

Next post: