Wednesday, October 3, 2012

War Of The Worlds: The H.G. Wells Ocean and The Lowell Canal

Next week, we will be covering the release of Kevin J. Anderson's The Martian War, which, along with the recent  Curiosity landing, has gotten us excited about all things Martian.  We indulge that excitement today with Mark Schelske's look at the influence H.G. Wells had on our hope to find life on Mars.

War of the Worlds (1898) by H.G. Wells still invades the popular imagination with its proposition that “...long before this earth ceased to be molten, life upon its (Mars') surface must have begun its course.”  And for Martian life to have evolved there must be water which, according to Wells, is a dwindling resource on Mars since “its oceans have shrunk until they cover but a third of the surface.”  Water, then, becomes the basis for the novel’s plot and we’ve been searching Mars for it ever since. 

The Earth is observed by the Martians for its abundant resources.  We have vast oceans; Mars no longer does.  Thus the Martians have their motive to invade our world.  They are technologically superior given their advanced state of evolution.  Their bodies are mostly brain matter, with tentacles to give them motility.  They are, in fact, much like a squid - a water dwelling creature.  They also suck liquid from other creatures for sustenance:

“Strange as it may seem to a human being, all the complex apparatus of digestion, which makes up the bulk of our bodies, did not exist in the Martians.  They were heads - merely heads.  Entrails they had none.  They did not eat, much less digest.  Instead, they took the fresh, living blood of other creatures, and injected it into their own veins.”

When the Martians invade in cylinders that land on Earth like meteorites, they build their tripods in the craters from their crash landings.  Each tripod has a Heat-Ray to wipe out all opposition.  Yet the Martians do not just conquer; they take advantage of the Earth’s water to colonize our planet with their own red plants:

“Apparently the vegetable kingdom on Mars, instead of having green for a dominant colour, is of a vivid blood-red tint.”

At first humans are obliterated by the Martians, but then they are rounded up as a source of food:

“He (Martian) used no Heat-Ray to destroy them (humans), but picked them up one by one.  Apparently he tossed them into the great metallic carrier which projected behind him, much as a workman’s basket hangs over his shoulder.  It was the first time I realised that the Martians might have any other purpose than destruction with defeated humanity.”

Humans drink water as part of their digestive process, but Wells describes how the Martians’ direct injection of blood is superior since there is “tremendous waste of human time and energy occasioned by eating and the digestive process.  Our bodies are half made up of glands and tubes and organs, occupied in turning heterogenous food into blood.”

Water, without question, must exist on Mars to fuel the idea of extraterrestrial life.  War of the Worlds expressed this idea in fiction, but Percival Lowell, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, popularized the theory of canals on Mars.  The presence of such canals would mean an advanced culture, and prove life on Mars.  But the “canals” seen by telescope were nothing more than optical lines, yet Lowell claimed that the lines not only were canals but were built to reach the polar ice caps to access water. 

Mariner 4 (1965) and Mariner 9 (1972) sent NASA enough visual evidence to put Wells’ oceans and Lowell’s canals to rest.  Yet the fascination with life and water on Mars continues.  NASA’s Curiosity survived its seven minutes of terror to land safely in the Gale Crater of Mars - aka The Bradbury Landing Site, named for Ray Bradbury, author of the Martian Chronicles, who passed away this past June.  But I have a humble suggestion for NASA:  Should Curiosity ever find evidence for an ocean, give the naming rights to H.G. Wells.  The rover already found evidence for an ancient stream bed.  Here is a link to an article about this discovery, along with a video:  

I know that I'm not the one in charge of naming things on Mars, but if it were up to me, this stream bed should be called The Lowell Canal.

By Mark Schelske