Monday, March 12, 2012

Imagining Mars

WHATEVER the faults of John Carter, the new film based on the early work of Edgar Rice Burroughs, we're happy to have the chance to head back to Mars. Given the way NASA funding is going, this may be our only chance.

As a species, we've been fascinated with the Red Planet for a long time -- the film is only the latest of a long line. Why does it draw us to it, and how has our thinking about Mars changed over the years? Those are the issues I tackled on Hero Complex; here is my story.

Science-fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson -- whose intriguing list of favorite Mars novels is here -- talked to me about images of Mars; when we spoke, he'd not yet seen the whole film, but was impressed by the trailer, calling its stark, mountainous Wild West-like terrain among the best Martian landscape he's ever seen.

"The was the film can have a real impact is if the true star of the movie is the planet," said Robinson, a longtime environmentalist. "The shape of a landscape is something very deep in human evolution. In hunting and gathering days, the landscape was pretty much what we had. There's part of the human brain that looks at new land and says, 'Wow, what's the potential here. Boy, you could live there."

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