Discovering the
Secrets of the
Red Planet

Paul Raeburn
(National Geographic Society)
It was named after Mars because Mars is the god of war --- if you can believe in the weirdness of having a god of war. Very bizarre, like having "chaplins" or "priests" or men-of -god in the Marines.

The good soldier, when he's fighting, goes all over the place. Mercury and Venus wandered, too, but their wanderings were predictable. Mars would go forward across the sky every night, and then stop, and then back up some, and then stop again, and then move forward again. That's the way a crazy planet and a good soldier do.

So Mars drove people bonkers. A hundred years ago, a man named Lowell --- not the crazy poet Robert, lord knows, but a more crazy astronomer Percival --- predicated canals on Mars. Well, the Cabots speak only to the Lowells, and the Lowells speak only to god, and besides, can you imagine being saddled with the monicker "Percival?" Everyone figured he knew something that the rest of us didn't, and the idea of Life on Mars was born.

This gave rise to one of the best pieces of science-fiction, ever, The War of the Worlds, by H. G. Wells, and if you haven't read it yet, drop what you are doing right now (go on, this review isn't going anywhere, anyhow) and access the American Booksellers Exchange --- --- and I just looked it up: there are nineteen copies of the Seven Famous Novels of H. G. Wells available, and get it and read The War of the Worlds. You'll thank me, I tell you.

What Raeburn wants to tell us in the present volume, 9 X 12, yclept Mars, is that the planet inspires us to many strange deeds, like going out and spending $40 to buy a book with many words and dozens of gorgeous but definitely red photographs from that corner in space.

Sixty years ago, this mad-making planet --- being a projection of all of us, according to Joyce, as much as the moon is a projection of our female woman womb-ly part, and the sun is a projection of our bright thrusting male-father self (I didn't make this up, I swear) --- this self-same Mars inspired people to leave their homes, to get in their cars and run away because Orson Wells had put on a Halloween program in which he took the Wells novel, transferred it to radio (and to New Jersey), and had these wet, sticky, gooey Martians rising up out of their cylinders to ray people to death. I tell you, everyone wanted to be out of that scene.

The most recent case of the Mars Crazies concerns NASA. What they want to do is spend $2,000,000,000,000 or so to put us in Mars. Well, not you and me, but those military-talking ("fiver, niner") military types with their funny haircuts and their strange way of speaking to someone called "Roger." Great.

They could send a poet like Al Hefid or Ignacio Schwartz, but no, they'll send these soldiers with their rigid backs, people who'll get about as much a kick out of Mars as mowing the lawn.

On top of all this nonsense, they've found, via Sojurner, that the planet has about as much charm as Orlando or Dallas or Las Vegas (without the casinos) --- being little more than a red-dust farm, with red rocks and not a single bird, not even a robin red-breast. So we get to spend $2,000,000,000,000 so that these captains and colonels will be able to take a few months getting there so they can view the red dust and the rocks, close up, and the sun going down in a smog that beats anything LA or Washington or New York could stir up in a lifetime, and then come back home. You figure.

--- Carlos Amantea

The topmost picture, the one of the guy with the fat cheeks, is Nicolaus Copernicus, who insisted --- another case of Mars-madness --- that the sun was the center of the Universe. The second one is from an early 20th Century drawing of the Invasion, from Wells' story. Both of these are from Mars (the book, not the planet --- the planet hasn't given us anything yet but brain-damage.)
Mars comes with 3-D glasses and actual 3-D photos from up there so you can see what you are getting into before you sign up for the trip. These pictures prove that our earlier evaluation --- that Mars is not much more interesting than downtown Phoenix. In fact, it looks like Phoenix before there even was a Phoenix.
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