Lost Mars

An Intriguing Look into Classic Martian Fiction

Martian fiction changed forever when Mariner 4 reached the red planet in 1965. The images of a cratered, dull desert planet brought an end to the great flourishing of unique Martian fiction. Great stories of canals across the planet surface and developed civilisations would disappear from science fiction, only appearing as call-backs to those times nowadays.

It’s those pre-Mariner 4 stories which makes up the British Library’s Lost Mars short story collection. Edited by popular fiction historian Mike Ashley, this short story collection contains some of the most interesting pieces of Martian fiction from the pre-Mariner 4 era. What is in here is a mixture of different stories of varying quality, which either spark inspiration or are relics of a bygone era of Martian fiction.

The front cover of Lost Mars that I got from my local library.

Well Known Names with Expansive Ideas

As with many classic short story collections, there are some very well-known authors in Lost Mars. These authors include H.G. Wells (The War of the Worlds), Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451) Walter M. Miller Jr. (A Canticle for Liebowitz) and J.G. Ballard (Empire of the Sun). Having names like this in the collection give it an authenticity and offer an insight into some of their earlier works.

The first digital images of Mars sent back to Earth from Mariner 4 in 1965. These images, as well as each successive one received from Mariner 4 changed Martian fiction forever.

Perhaps one of the strongest aspects of Lost Mars is the many expansive ideas inside it. This is a collection that showcases the various different pre-Mariner Martian stories; from the hostile intellectual life to expansive fantasy tales. There’s a little bit of everything within here, which is what makes it such an engaging read and the many different Martian tales of the time. It’s a great introduction to all of these different ideas that were present in classic science fiction and during the pulp/penny dreadful era of fiction.

The Awe-inspiring and the Boring

Collections of classic fiction often have a mixture of the awe-inspiring and the boring. Lost Mars is no different in this regard, containing its fair share of the good and bad of this era of Martian Fiction.

First I’ll begin with the good ones. My favourite stories from this collection are Ray Bradbury’s ‘Ylla’, Walter M. Miller Jr’s ‘Crucifixus Etiam’, and George C. Wallis’ ‘The Great Sacrifice’. These three stories are, in my opinion, awe-inspiring journeys into the imagination.

‘The Great Sacrifice’ was one I surprisingly really enjoyed and evoked the feeling of terror of superior Martians, as seen in H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds (1898).

‘Crucifixus Etiam’ especially for me was one well-crafted piece that felt relevant today. Reading it evokes the feelings I imagine one who works in an Australian mine would feel, only this time on Mars and with some truly terrifying contraptions attached to them to live. ‘Ylla’ I previously read in The Martian Chronicles (1950) and, like many of Bradbury’s works, is well-crafted and full of imagination. ‘The Great Sacrifice’ was one I surprisingly really enjoyed and evoked the feeling of terror of superior Martians, as seen in H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds (1898).

Front cover of one of the many paperback editions of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, a book that inspired countless stories of intelligent Martians.

Sticking with Wells, his story ‘The Crystal Egg’, which features in this book, is one of the few boring stories in the collection. While it has some good ideas, it suffers from being poorly written and just being boring in general. This is something other stories like Stanley G. Weinbaum’s ‘A Martian Odyssey’ and J.G. Ballard’s ‘The Time-Tombs’ suffer from being too boring too. Their ideas are there and they remain interesting in theory, they don’t have the same impact other stories in this collection have. These three were the ones I had the most trouble reading of the stories in here and would be best avoided outside of this collection.    

Summary

Lost Mars is an intriguing dive into the vast history that is pre-Mariner 4 Martian fiction. The stories here are expansive and a mixture of fun and boring. I recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in Mars, Martian fiction or of classic science fiction. It’s a detailed book full of stories from many well-known sci-fi authors of the time.

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