August 26, 2002


The Spirit of Mars : the power to dream is what makes being human so much fun (John Carter McKnight, August 26, 2002, Space Daily)
For nearly a century Mars has been the blue screen onto which we project, in scientific speculation as well as literature, two powerful concepts: the West and the Other. Looking at the sequence of imagined Marses (see the previous edition of this column, "Barsoom's Legacy"), we [see] the evolution of American hopes and fears. In turn, these projections continue to shape the meaning of Mars for us.

Any attempt to advocate Mars exploration and settlement must be grounded in an understanding of the nuances of those memes of West and Other in our culture today. Central to Americans as motherhood and apple pie, they define the boundaries of the possible.

We find these memes expressed in both the Mars novel and the Western. The two have a common heritage in the pulp magazines of the early decades of the last century. Indeed, one of the great pulp writers, Edgar Rice Burroughs, published in both genres. His first novel, A Princess of Mars, literally began in the Wild West of Arizona before shifting to Mars.

This linkage still continues, down to the latest entries in each genre. Few might think to combine Paul McAuley's biotech Mars novel The Meaning of Life with Dreamworks' animated Western, Spirit, Stallion of the Cimmaron. Yet together the two works absolutely nail the zeitgeist, highlighting current views of the meaning of the West and the Other, with clear implications for Mars exploration.

Do you think his real name is "John Carter" McKnight? Posted by Orrin Judd at August 26, 2002 8:57 PM
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