Saturday, 6 June 2015

Human Martians

Most fictional Martians are not human beings. Indeed, how could they be? In fact, there are three exceptions. Poul Anderson's six or more Martian races are of course all aliens but Anderson's sf was preceded by, among others, the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

The first Martians encountered by ERB's John Carter - green, twelve foot, hairless, tusked, six limbed and egg-laying - sound more like giant insects. However, in any ERBian universe, the hero has to marry a Martian princess. Therefore, without any explanation or rationale, Carter soon encounters humanoid Martians. He not only marries the Princess of Helium but even gets her pregnant even though her metabolism is so different that, instead of giving live birth, she lays a large egg that will hatch their son. ERB's Mars, with its canals and thin but breathable atmosphere, was based on contemporary astronomical observations but his ideas about Martian life were off the wall.

Michael Moorcock pastiched ERB and rationalized human beings on Mars. His hero, Michael Kane, accessed Mars not by ERBian astral projection but by time travel into the far past. Thus, his Mars still had oceans, an atmosphere and a human race that had not yet migrated to Earth.

Thirdly, in SM Stirling's In The Courts Of The Crimson Kings (New York, 2008), mysterious beings with a higher technology have terraformed Mars and seeded (?) it with humanity originating on Earth. Thus, these tall, thin, dry humanoids are not products of extraterrestrial evolution but are related to us. I have started Chapter Two. So far, I am finding the text less accessible than that of the previous volume, The Sky People, because several passages are presented from the point of view of an unsympathetic Martian character whose historical and political context have not yet been fully explained.

A book on imagining extraterrestrials made the point that we have to imagine an organism that has originated and evolved elsewhere. Thus, a tall, thin, large-chested humanoid is not a Martian but a Terrestrial adapted to Mars. However, that is precisely what Stirling describes:

"...Highlanders even more eerily elongated than the standard Martians and barrel-chested..." (p. 53).


  1. H. Beam Piper mentioned human Martians in a number of his stories, although they were all extinct by the present day -- and, at least in his *Paratime* series, they were, as in Moorcock's version, our ancestors.

    There's a powerful scene in "Omnilingual" (NOT a *Paratime* tale) of Terran explorers in 1996 finding the bodies of several completely human-looking Martians who'd apparently tried to keep technological civilization alive in an otherwise deserted city 50,000 years ago -- and then their electrical generator had a breakdown they couldn't fix, and they gave up and committed suicide by asphyxiation.

    "Their power was gone, and they were old and tired, and all around them their world was dying. So they just came in here and lit the charcoal, and sat drinking together till they all fell asleep."

  2. Beam says, "...they may have come to us first..." in the Prologue of ...CRIMSON KINGS.

    1. Yes, I was delighted to see his contributions to the discussion in that scene.

    2. Dear Mr. Birr,

      I was very interested by your comments about H. Beam Piper's "Omnilingual." Piper is yet another SF writer I should read more of! And I think S.M. Stirling took some ideas from him on how to describe his own Martian hominids. Piper's Mars being a humanly settled world which became uninhabitable before "our" time rather than remaining so.