Mars has always been a special place for science fiction writers. Before the first Mariner probes traveled the gulf between Earth and Mars, the Red Planet was a tabla rossa upon which authors could write anything they could imagine. Whether it was Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom of warriors and maidens, Robert Heinlein’s more realistic Red Planet, or the sometimes whimsical Mars depicted in Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, Mars has served as a place where fantasies could be realized and political axes ground.
In Rebels of the Red Planet Charles Fontenay brings together a number of themes that were common in the science fiction of the fifties and early sixties. The first of these is a reaction to the conformity and consumer culture of the fifties. The monopolistic Marscorp serves to represent the faceless military industrial complex that seemed to dominate every facet of life in the fifties, from TV dinners to gigantic tailfins on cars.
The second is the idea that man was capable of a range of psychic abilities from telepathy to teleportation, if only his mind was freed from the constraints of his upbringing. For a time, there seemed to be some evidence for the truth of this idea. The experiments at the Rhine Institute for Parapsychology were receiving a lot of press, if not necessarily scientific credence. The belief that at least some individual could read minds, predict the future, or manipulate objects with their minds was widespread.
The third theme is that human evolution is not yet finished, that man is continuing to evolve both physically and mentally. The argument that the best way for man to survive in the hostile environments of alien planets was not to adapt them to his will, but to adapt himself to the environment, was a common theme in many science fiction stories and novels. The important question then became how would the adapted man interact with those who had not.
Fontenay has taken these three themes and woven them into a story set against a Mars that is not too far from what the best scientific guesses of the time indicated, a planet that was cold, dry, and with a an atmosphere too thin to breathe. The reality, of course, was that Mars was colder, dry, and with even less of an atmosphere than imagined. But it is the concepts, not the accuracy, of the author’s imagination that is important.
Rebels of the Red Planet remains of interest, not because it paints a realistic picture of a future on Mars, but for the underlying story that it tells. Resurrected Press is pleased to offer it to our readers.