Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mars Day

Every now and then, Thanksgiving lands on my birthday. This isn’t one of those years, However, every day of the year is a holiday somewhere, and this Sunday, aside from being my birthday, is Mars Day – the planet, not the candy bar. So, I’ll make a double celebration with a slice of cake for me and a glass of wine – red, of course – for our celestial neighbor.

As the most earthlike of all the other planets of the solar system, Mars draws the eyes of 3rd Rock-lings, especially science fiction fans. This always has been so. Can one find a more archetypical scifi novel than War of the Worlds (1898) by H.G. Wells, in which tentacled Martian nasties attack the earth in tripod war machines armed with heat rays and poison gases? Edgar Rice Burroughs first sent John Carter off to the red planet in A Princess of Mars (1912), and his novels have stayed in print ever since. Ray Bradbury felt the gravitational pull of Mars as well, resulting in The Martian Chronicles (1950). In the 1990s, Kim Stanley Robinson published Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars, all of which read more like terraformation manuals than like fiction. Despite all this intimidating competition, I couldn’t resist visiting Mars in one of my own short stories, “Little Green Women” in Double Dose (2005).

I’ve never seen a flying saucer, much less been abducted by aliens, but there is a distant and fleeting family history with Arean types. Grovers Mill, located of outside Princeton, NJ, is where the Martians landed in 1938, as reported by Orson Welles in his famous radio broadcast. Grovers Mill is about an hour away by car from Mendham, NJ, where my maternal grandparents lived – and where I live now. On October 30, 1938, they heard Welles’ broadcast and learned the Martians were on the move. “I guess it’s the end of the world,” my dairy farmer grandfather opined calmly while puffing on his pipe. My mom was much more put out. In her opinion, it was all well and good for the world to end for the old folks, but she was only 10; she was angry about this disruption to her plans. My grandparents took their kids outside in front of the porch to look at the night sky for signs of the interplanetary war and for more Martian spacecraft. My Aunt Diane, a few years younger than my mom, recalls the evening as a warm and fuzzy family moment. Anyway, the sky stayed dark, so after a while they went back inside. As we all know, the Martian invasion was thwarted, so my mom never got to meet any Martians face to face. Or perhaps it succeeded and the secret has been kept from us. Did Martians seize the Mercury Theater, take over Orson Welles’ body, and then pretend the invasion was a hoax?

(Link to the alarming portion of Welles’ broadcast:

As that may be, I think it’s high time we earthlings returned a courtesy call on Mars, and what better time to dedicate ourselves to that goal than Mars Day? Besides, according to the following documentary, there are some mighty attractive women up there – and they’re all twins.

Martian Chicks Cut a Rug in Just Imagine (1930)

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