“In one respect at least the Martians are a happy people, they have no lawyers.”
--John Carter, Warlord of Barsoom
The REAL Mars
People have always been fascinated with Mars, that bright red spot up in the night sky. The red color had the ancients think it must be related to the god of war, since it was blood-coloured. Hence, the name. Since Schiaparelli noticed the appearance of channels across the surface of Mars in 1877, people have speculated that Mars was inhabited. This springs somewhat from the mistranslation of the word he used, canali, meaning "channels," for "canals." The lines have since been proven to be an optical illusion. But that is boring, real world science, and I like Victorian Science Fiction!
As far as Victorian Sicence Fiction is concerned, we have two distinctly different models: Edgar Rice Burroughs's Barsoom and H. G. Wells's War of the Worlds version. I'll start with my favorite, BARSOOM!
|The Races of Barsoom (from an ERB website)|
Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote about Barsoom starting with his novel A Princess of Mars, first published in 1917. In it, we are introduced to a world of warriors, with flying ships, giant aliens, and beautiful women. Swords flash, guns blaze, and many a buckle is thoroughly swashed over the course of the eleven novels. They are set in years from roughly 1866 to 1940, but on Barsoom, very little changes in the course of the series. The books are romanticist pulp at its finest, with dashing heroes, despicable villains, and beautiful, constantly-emperiled heroines. The planet itself is dying, slowly, its oceans long dry, and the atmosphere maintained only by the wondrous atmosphere plant, which John Carter (the hero of many of the novels) saves at the end of Princess of Mars.
Barsoom was the inspiration for Frank Chadwick's own Mars of the Space: 1889 universe. naturally, Frank made a number of changes to make it his own. And I love them, too. Flying High Martians, nomadic Hill Martians, Canal Martians huddling in their dying cities, the flying ships held aloft by liftwood, and all of it open to European imperialism! What's not to love in that? The VSF universe that I use is primarily based around this vision of Mars.
Another popular vision of Mars is that descended from the writings of H.G. Wells. In 1898, he published The War of the Worlds, a tale about an invasion of England by Martians. Unlike the humanoid Martians of Burroughs's novels, Wells creates monsters. Their technology is superior to Earth's, however, and their giant tripod war machines go about southern England, slaying indiscriminately with heat ray and poisonous black smoke. Wells was most likely influenced by invasion literature of the era, especially The Battle of Dorking, which postulated a surprise German ("K" is for Kaiser!) invasion of Britain. The book (The War of the Worlds, that is) is a cracking good read, and has spawned several comics and both TV and film versions (I prefer the 1953 film, even though it lacks tripods). It has never been out of print.
|Cover of the 1927 reprint in Amazing Stories|
|Tripod vs. HMS Thunder Child|
In VSF gaming, the tripod, black smoke projector and heat ray are the most commonly seen Wellsian devices. Some companies (Parroom Station and Black Hat come to mind) make "Cephalopod" figures, tentacled brains much like Wells's Martians. While I personally do not prefer the Cephies, they are described in many VSF gaming sources. I do like their tripods, however, and construction of tripod war machines is somewhere in my long, long list of projects.