A Martian is a native inhabitant of the planet Mars. Although the search for evidence of life on Mars continues, many science fiction writers have imagined what extraterrestrial life on Mars might be like. Some writers also use the word Martian to describe a human colonist on Mars.
Martians in fiction
Aleriel, or A Voyage to Other Worlds (1883) by W. S. Lach-Szyrma is reputed to be the first published work to apply the word Martian as a noun instead of an adjective. The usage is incidental; it occurs when Aleriel, the novel's protagonist, lands on Mars in a spacecraft called an "ether-car" (an allusion to aether, which was once postulated as a gaseous medium in outer space). Aleriel buries the car in snow "so that it might not be disturbed by any Martian who might come across it."
15 years later, H. G. Wells' landmark novel The War of the Worlds (1898) was published by William Heinemann, Ltd. when the latter was a relatively new publishing house. In this story, the Martians are a technologically-advanced race of cephalopod-like extraterrestrials who invade Earth because Mars is becoming too cold to sustain them. The Martians' undoing is a lethal vulnerability to Earth bacteria.
In his book Mars and Its Canals (1906), astronomer and businessman Percival Lowell conjectured that an extinct Martian race had once constructed a vast network of aqueducts to channel water to their settlements from Mars' polar ice caps, Planum Australe and Planum Boreum. Lowell did not invent this Martian canal hypothesis, but he supported it. The belief that Mars had canals was based on observations Giovanni Schiaparelli made through his reflecting telescope. Although the telescope's image was fuzzy, Schiaparelli thought he saw long, straight lines on the Martian surface; some astronomers came to believe that these lines were structures built by Martians. This idea inspired Lowell, who returned to the subject in Mars As the Abode of Life (1910), wherein he wrote a fanciful description of what this Martian society may have been like. Although his description was based on almost no evidence, Lowell's words evoked vivid pictures in his readers' imaginations.
One of the people Lowell inspired was Edgar Rice Burroughs, who began writing his own story about Mars in the summer of 1911. The story is a planetary romance in which an American Civil War veteran named John Carter is transported to Mars when he walks inside a cave on Earth. He finds that Mars is populated by two species of warring humanoids, and he becomes embroiled in their conflict.
In February 1912, an American pulp magazine called The All-Story published Burroughs' story as the first installment of a serial novel, which the editor titled Under the Moons of Mars (retitled A Princess of Mars in subsequent editions). The book was the first in Burroughs' Barsoom series.
Although the noun Martian can describe any organism from Mars, these and later works typically imagine Martians as a humanoid monoculture. Martian, in this sense, is more like the word human than the word Earthling. (Few writers describe a biodiverse Mars.) In science fiction, Martians are stereotypically imagined in one or more of the following ways: As alien invaders; as humanoids with a civilization that resembles one on Earth; as anthropomorphic animals; as beings with superhuman abilities; as humanoids with a lower intelligence than humans; as human colonists who adopt a Martian identity; and/or as an extinct race who possessed high intelligence.
Martians as invaders of Earth
H. G. Wells' novel The War of the Worlds (1898) and its adaptations have been an extraordinary influence to science fiction writers for more than 100 years. Wells' Martians are a technologically advanced species with an ancient civilisation. They resemble cephalopods (such as the octopus), and walk around Earth in fighting machines that have great, stilt-like legs. They invade Earth because Mars is cooling down, and they decide that they need a warmer planet to live on. They attack cities with rayguns that they fire with their tentacles.
In Last and First Men (1930), Olaf Stapledon visited Wells' theme of Martian invasion. Last and First Men summarizes tens of thousands of years of invasions and war between Martians and humans. Eventually, humans destroy the Martians' empire.
In 1948, Warner Bros. introduced a new villain to their animated films: Marvin the Martian, a short, slender figure with comically oversized eyes, hands, and feet, but no visible mouth. His big, spherical head is either completely black or always under the shadow of his helmet. His clothing is patterned on that of Mars, the god of war in Roman mythology. In Marvin's film debut, Haredevil Hare (1948), he attempts to blow up Earth because it "obscures [his] view of Venus".
Invaders from Mars (1953), a film that was remade in 1986, fuses the tentacles of Wells' Martians to little green men. In his 1955 comic novel Martians, Go Home, Fredric Brown spoofs the Wellsian invasion, and reinterprets the Martian invader as a rude houseguest. Brown, too, employs the "little green men" trope.
In Mars Attacks! (1996), a sci-fi black comedy written by Jonathan Gems and directed by Tim Burton, the Martian invaders are loud, irritating, and dim-witted, despite having outsized heads with extremely large, protuding brains. They invade a town in the Midwestern United States during a re-broadcast of the 1938 radio dramatisation of The War of the Worlds.
In "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?", a 1961 episode of The Twilight Zone, Martians attempt to colonize Earth, but are thwarted by Venusians. Here, the Martians are disguised as humans, but towards the end we see that they have three arms.
In Mars Needs Moms (2007), a picture book by Berkeley Breathed, Martians are squat, humanoid beings with antennae and skin color that varies by individual. When they travel to Earth, they wear transparent helmets and a bulbous, ribbed outer garment. In the story, a five-year-old boy learns to appreciate his mother more after three Martians kidnap her while he sleeps. Writer-director Simon Wells and his wife Wendy adapted the book into a film, Mars Needs Moms (2011).
Little green men recur in the 2009 video game Stalin vs. Martians, a spoof of earlier strategy video games. As the president of the Soviet Union, the player defends Earth from Martian invasion. This time the caricature of the Martians appears to be influenced by H. R. Giger.
Martians as civilized humanoids
In April 1911, about a year before The All-Story published the first installment of Burroughs' Under the Moons of Mars, Modern Electrics began publishing Hugo Gernsback's own romance, Ralph 124C 41+, which takes place on Earth. Gernsback's Martians live among the humans on Earth; they are taller and physically stronger than humans, with green skin and large eyes. The serial wasn't republished as a book until 1925.
1923 saw the publication of Aelita, or The Decline of Mars, a novel that is equally science fiction and political fiction. Its author, Soviet Russian writer Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy, tells a story of a Soviet engineer who builds a rocket and invites an acquaintance to accompany him in it to Mars. There they find a humanoid race of Martians who are the offspring of both an elder Martian species and of humans from Atlantis. The Martians live in a class society; the workers rise up against the ruling class, but the revolution fails. All the while, Mars is entering a phase of climate change that threatens disaster for the population.
Red Planet (1932), a play cowritten by John L. Balderston and John Hoare, also deals with radical environmental change on Mars, except in this case it occurs through terraforming. Balderston was one of the few playwrights of the 20th century to adopt Mars or Martians as a subject for the stage. He was, however, also a screenwriter who specialized in fantasy film and horror film. Many years later, United Artists bought a screen adaptation that Balderston and fellow screenwriter Anthony Veiller wrote. Harry Horner directed the film, called Red Planet Mars, and it was released to cinemas in 1952. In the film, a scientist communicates with Martians by radio, and they tell him that Mars is a utopia. When the news circulates, it causes widespread unrest among the people of Western nations. The US government tries to silence further messages, then later announces that the Martians have informed them that they must all worship God in order to save themselves. After millions of people revolt against their governments, it seems the Martian communiques may haven been a hoax.
In four stories by Eric Frank Russell published in the early 1940s and collected in the classic Men, Martians and Machines (1955), a crew of humans and humanoid Martians are shipmates and compatriots on an interstellar voyage. During their travels, they encounter hostile aliens.
Ray Bradbury's novel The Martian Chronicles (1950) depicts Martians as a refined and artistic race of golden-skinned beings who closely resemble humans. The Martians are almost completely wiped out by the diseases brought to Mars by human invaders. At the end of the book, the human inhabitants of Mars realize that they are the new Martians. The novel's themes and its portrayal of Martians resemble Bradbury's 1949 short story "Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed".
Brothers Jim Thomas and John Thomas teamed with Graham Yost to write Mission to Mars (2000), a film that depicts Martians as tall, feminine, peaceful humanoids who left Mars to escape the havoc caused by a massive meteorite impact.
Martians as anthropomorphic animals
C. S. Lewis wrote, in Out of the Silent Planet (1938), about three humans who visit Mars and meet three different kinds of intelligent native creatures: The hrossa, the sorns/séroni, and the pfifltriggi. They are dying out, but are resigned to their fate. The books also describe a prey animal called hnakra, which is hunted. The planet is ruled by the Oyarsa, who are also called "eldil".
As a writer for Doctor Who, Brian Hayles created a Martian species of reptilian humanoids called Ice Warriors, who move stiffly and speak in a husky whisper. Most of the Ice Warriors that the Doctor encounters are brutish and belligerent. As Mars' climate becomes less favorable to sustaining them, the Ice Warriors seek a new planet.
These reptilians debuted in The Ice Warriors (1967), a Doctor Who television serial about an impending ice age in Earth's future. As British scientists try to slow or avert a glacier encroaching on Great Britain, they find an Ice Warrior near their base, frozen in the glacier, and apparently in suspended animation. No one knows the being's identity, but they understand that it is probably from another planet. When the Ice Warrior revives, he attacks the first person he sees and kidnaps a young woman.
Martians and human colonists
Many of Robert A. Heinlein's Martian characters are humans born and raised on Mars. In Red Planet (1949), boys attend a boarding school in a human colony on Mars. A population of native Martians tolerates them until the colony administrator threatens a Martian child. The Martians demand that the humans leave Mars, but a human doctor convinces them to let reconsider.
In Heinlein's 1956 novel Double Star, humans have colonized the solar system, and a politician on Mars faces the civil rights issue of granting a native Martian species (who are second-class citizens) the right to vote.
In Philip K. Dick's novel Martian Time-Slip (1964), a human colony on Mars is trying to cope with arduous environmental conditions. They treat an aboriginal race, whom they call "Bleekmen", with casual racism. In The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965), Mars has no indigenous life. To cope with the sterile habitat, the human colonists abuse drugs such as "Can-D" and "Chew-Z."
Dick previously published a shorter version of the story in 1963, called All We Marsmen. Like Heinlein's Double Star, All We Marsmen was conceived at a time in US history when many marginalized people were fighting especially vehemently for more civil rights. US President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law on 2 July 1964.1
Total Recall (1990) is a science fiction action film about an apparently unsophisticated construction worker who turns out to be a freedom fighter from Mars who has been relocated to Earth. He later learns of an alien artifact that proves Mars harbored life before the human colonization.
The character designers for Futurama, a comical American animated series, imagine Mars after human colonization as being like the American frontier; native Martians inhabit zones analogous to Indian reservations. One of the series principal characters, Amy Wong, is a scientist of Chinese descent who was born on Mars. Her parents have amassed an enormous fortune and enterprise there.
Rebecca Bloomer's novel Unearthed (2011), the first in a series, describes a futuristic human colony on Mars amidst the populations of native Martians.
Martians as an extinct race
For his Known Space series of novels, Larry Niven conceived humanoid Martians with a primitive material culture who inhabit an environment of red dust and nitric acid, and for whom water is lethal. In the 1973 novel Protector, a man named Jack Brennan allies himself with a ruthless, xenophobic humanoid species called the Pak. To preclude the possibility future competition for Pak offspring, Brennan engineers a Martian genocide by sending an ice-covered asteroid to collide with Mars.
Quatermass and the Pit (1958–59) is a British television serial in which a crashed spacecraft is discovered in London. The wreck evidences that the human population of Earth resulted from the experiments of a Martian civilisation, now long dead. A film remake was released in 1967.
Ghosts of Mars (2001) human invaders war with Martians in an attempt to conquer Mars.
In the Invader Zim episode "Battle of the Planets" (2001), Zim discovers that a Martian race died off after converting Mars into a giant spacecraft.
Martians as superbeings
In Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), a man raised by native Martians emigrates to Earth, where he must reacclimate. In the novel he functions as a Christ figure. Soon he demonstrates psychic powers, superhuman intelligence, and an ability to manipulate higher dimensions. He founds a church on Earth based on Martian philosophy, and starts a cultural shift. At the novel's climax, he is murdered by a mob from a rival religious group.
In 1963, American television network CBS premiered a sitcom called My Favorite Martian. The series proved popular in the US, especially during the first season, and CBS broadcast more than one hundred episodes before canceling it when the third season ended in 1966. In this comedy, a Martian anthropologist (who passes for human in most respects) crashes on Earth, where he is harbored by an American man who keeps the Martian's identity secret. Also secret are the Martian's extraordinary abilities, not the least of which are invisibility and telepathy. CBS's rival networks, NBC and ABC, did not fail to notice the success of My Favorite Martian, or the comic potential of a character with secret powers. In 1964, ABC introduced Bewitched (a sitcom about a married, suburban witch), and NBC countered the following year with I Dream of Jeannie, a sitcom about an astronaut who discovers and marries a genie.
In Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967–68), the Mysterons are a race of invisible superbeings from Mars who are at war with humans from Earth. The conflict begins when Captain Black, a human officer investigating radio signals from Mars, mistakes a surveillance camera for a weapon. In violation of his orders, he attacks, but the Mysterons immediately repair the damage he caused. The conflict escalates, and the Mysterons attempt to assassinate the president of Earth.
DC Comics introduced the first Martian superhero to the DC Universe in 1955. Martian Manhunter (J'onn J'onzz), a green humanoid who is believed to be the last of the peaceful Green Martians, joins the Justice League. Meanwhile, the warlike, shapeshifting White Martians regard the Green Martians as enemies. The White Martians adopt a humanoid form which, they say, expresses their distinctive philosophy. DC introduced a White Martian superhero, Miss Martian, in 2006. A third race, the Yellow Martians, may or may not have survived as long as the Green and White Martians.
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- Forsyth, Mark (16 September 2010). "Wladyslaw Lach-Szyrma and the First Martian". The Inky Fool. Retrieved 4 August 2013.
- Alfred Russel Wallace refuted Lowell's conjecture in his own book Is Mars Habitable? (1907), in which he argues that neither the atmosphere of Mars nor its climate could sustain life as we understand it.
- Caplinger, Michael (April 1995). "Life on Mars". msss.com. Malin Space Science Systems. Retrieved 4 August 2013.
- "Black Magic on Mars" Superman 62 (January 1950), DC Comics
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- Shohat, Ella; Stam, Robert (1994). Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media. London: Routledge. ISBN 9780415063241. OCLC 29477921.