LOST MARS: The Golden Age of The Red Planet edited by Mike Ashley. Book review

LOST MARS: The Golden Age of The Red Planet edited by Mike Ashley British Library, UK p/b £8.99 (UK) 302 pages

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan

Lost Mars is the companion volume to Moonrise, also edited by Mike Ashley. As with the previous volume, Ashley’s introduction gives a fascination and comprehensive discussion of the literature relating to Mars alongside the developments in our knowledge of the planet. Mars stories don’t date back as far as those relating to voyages to the moon as, until the telescope was invented, it was only seen as a wandering star. The publication dates of the include stories date from between 1887 and 1963.

Schiaparelli’s belief that he had seen straight lines on the surface which he described as canali or channels was interpreted as canals and gave rise to the idea that these were artificial so there was, or had been life of Mars and it must be intelligent. The idea influenced many stories even after it was realised that the atmosphere was unsuitable for Earth-type life. 

The earliest story, ‘Letters From Mars’ by W.S. Lach-Szyrma (1887) is a description of life on Mars from the view-point of an interplanetary traveller from Venus. Significantly, the Martians have fish-farms to provide food and use only natural resources to provide energy. H.G Wells’ story, ‘The Crystal Egg’ (1897), can be regarded as a precursor of the novel War of the Worlds as in it, an antique dealer discovers that he can view events on Mars through a crystal the creation of which indicated intelligence. In George C. Wallis’s ‘The Great Sacrifice’ (1903) the intelligent Martians are prepared to protect Earth from an impossible swarm of meteorites. The story is interesting for the ethics ascribed to the Martians and the way the lack of common language is overcome. This language problem is also evident in ‘The Forgotten Man of Space by P. Shulyler Miller (1933) where a marooned miner is befriended and helped to survive by native creatures. The story can also be regarded as an allegory against colonialism.

The idea that Martian life will not be bipedal but of infinite variety is shown in ‘A Martian Odyssey’ by Stanley G. Weinbaum (1934). It is another survival story, this time of a journey after the narrator’s ship crashes. 

Even when it was realised that Mars is unable to support life, the imagination continued to postulate the idea of dead civilisations. ‘Measureless to Man’ by Marion Zimmer Bradley (1962) it is an ancient city that has so far resisted attempts to enter while in J.G.Ballard’s ‘The Time Tombs’ (1963) the Martian equivalent of Egypt’s Valley of the Kings provides the hunting ground for the unscrupulous grave robbers to make money out of the artefacts they find.

Two stories consider the real difficulties of surviving in the thin, oxygen scarce atmosphere. E.C.Tubb’s ‘Without Bugles’ (1952) the dust is the main problem, clogging the lungs whereas in ‘Crucifixus Etiam’ by Walter M. Miller Jr (1953) the constant use of respirators pumping oxygen into the body results in atrophy of the lungs. 

No collection of Mars stories would be complete without a contribution from Ray Bradbury. ‘Ylla’ (1950) is part of The Martian Chronicles and takes the viewpoint from the other side with a Martian woman predictively dreaming of the invasion ships from Earth.

While many of these stories have been superseded by greater scientific knowledge and are a product of the time in which they were written, they give insight into the way SF authors were exploring at what, for them, was the cutting edge of that knowledge. Approaches to the genre have evolved along with our acquisition of data. This is a useful book in giving a taste of that evolution. It is worth pointing out that both these books, Moonrise and Lost Mars have covers by Chesley Bonestell, a pioneer in astronomical art.