Conquest of a Sister Planet
This snow-festooned winter I have been reading science fiction books that had been amassed years ago by me and my son, and I may have finished as many as eight or nine of the novels and short stories. And I noticed a definite leitmotif that ran through many of them -- the desire to relieve humankind's population explosions and also to spread the good word, mainly civilization rather than religion, by colonizing places beyond Earth and even beyond the Solar System and on to the far reaches of the Universe, if the huge distances could somehow be managed.
In my earliest reading and writing days I read a lot of science fiction, but I wrote very little in that genre, mostly a novella that I eventually abandoned, maybe because of having felt that it too closely resembled Brian Aldiss's 1958 classic, "Starship." Actually I had been thinking much more about the drugs of the 1960's, but is it possible to write anything , in science fiction or in any other genre that can't be seen as being modeled on something that has already been written? Already in Biblical times, the author of Ecclesiastes was complaining that "Of the writing of many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh."
But now, in all the eager talk, mainly by those in the space business, or racket, about the prospects of going not merely back to the Moon but even onward to Mars, a scenario for a novel has kept drifting through my mind lately, though this post is the first thing that I have written down that could serve as the beginning of notes about my project. And even this idea has been anticipated, to a certain extent, by Ursula LeGuin, an author that I can't remember ever having read, till just last week, when I finally tackled her "The Dispossessed," which is turning out to be a quite interesting book.
In this novel, which is thickly textured with ideas more than with events, she imagines two planets of nearly the same size and in clear sight of each other, roughly like the Earth and the Moon, though the inhabitants of both worlds dismiss the other planet as being only their Moon. Though it doesn't seem to hve been terraformed, one of them is far less fortunately endowed than is the other, geographically speaking, being covered only by water and a desert, with only one species of tree and absolutely nothing in the way of fauna but fish, worms, and 20 million people. And those people have been there for only a few generations, being a colony of idealists who fled there from the other planet, which is much more alive, fruitful, and beautiful, like Earth.
LeGuin's emphasis is on contrasting the idealism of that colony on that nearly barren planet -- for instance money and profit are big no-nos --with the world that its inhabitants have so happily left behind, a dream that has been indulged in by many groups in Earth's history but never this successfully, because in "The Dispossessed" the idealists are almost completely shielded from the Old World's pernicious influence by space and the inhospitality of their new home's geography.
My idea, however, has nothing to do with an ideal colony or a barren world. Instead my scheme transports Mars back to its state millions of years ago, before its atmosphere was all cooked away and its waters were reduced to ice sunk into the soil. Mars in my story is very much like the Earth is today, including hosting an advanced civilization. But the question is, how advanced? in my story that is not known, and in fact the presence of possibly other human-like beings living there has only been detected for sure in recent years.
Mainly, then, I would be looking at Mars from the viewpoint of modern geopolitics, i.e. stupidity and greed, and meanwhile I would be keeping in mind those hateful scenes that one sees in films about the European cxplorers, especially the ones about Columbus, showing him and his cohorts striding ashore from their ships and taking no account of the possibility that those lands have already been discovered and claimed, and instead they immediately thrust a flag deep into the sands and declare everything in sight and way beyond to be henceforth and forever the property of their kind, their king, and their god.
In my novel today's national powers would hungrily stare through their telescopes at the ever-inviting blue, green, and gray lands that would be cover ing Mars, and I would try to conceive of all the maneuvering that would go on as they jostled each other, at times violently, while trying to map and claim ahead of time all that they can see and at the same time rushing to perfect spaceships that would enable their militaries to get there as quick as possible to make good their desires and what they see as their inalienable needs and rights.
And in the meantime only a few weirdos would come up with the question of whether Mars isn't already filled with human-like creatures who at the very same time are looking at Earth with exactly the same kind of desires and ambitions of conquest and rapacious exploitation in mind.
Surely a concept as obvious and simple as this has already been made into maybe more than one novel years ago. Still, if somehow -- and it is a very big somehow -- I could find it in me to set aside other things to dash this off this manuscript in mere weeks, which I could do if moved enough, it would hurt absolutely nothing, any more than have all the novels that I have already finished, just as there's no danger of anybody stealing this idea of mine from this weblog of mine. I am paradoxically safe, because this weblog, like all those other novels, has no readers, and there's no awareness except my own that those meritorious works even exist.