(Signet, $6.99, 320 pages, paperback, 1 June 2002; ISBN: 0756400880)
The Martians of H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds were conquering invaders, monstrous reminders of Europe's colonial crimes. Edgar Rice Burroughs, in his John Carter, Warlord of Mars series, imagined a planet Mars where virile adventures unfurled. For Ray Bradbury, in The Martian Chronicles, Mars was a surreal landscape where our collective subconscious took on a strange and resonant existence. In the Mars trilogy, Kim Stanley Robinson proposed a politically charged scenario for the colonization of Earth's neighbour. For NASA, Mars is the next frontier.
In Mars Probes, anthologist Peter Crowther gathers sixteen tales that evoke and celebrate these and other Martian dreams.
The book's only reprint, a rarely seen 1982 Ray Bradbury story titled "The Love Affair", sadly does not live up to the standards of the author's beloved classic. Otherwise, this is a very strong anthology.
Several of the book's most memorable stories are satires. Scott Edelman's unexpectedly tender "Mom, the Martians, and Me" lampoons UFO abductions. In "Flower Children of Mars", Mike Resnick and M. Shayne Bell concoct a delightfully silly confrontation between a conservative, manly Burroughsian hero and hippy culture. And James Morrow's "The War of the Worldviews" is a wickedly absurd romp.
Two stories stand out as masterpieces. Paul McAuley's "Under Mars" takes place in a theme park that simulates the various versions of Mars and is told from the point of view of the underpaid staff who labour within these illusions. Allen Steele's "A Walk Across Mars" is the poignant tale of a writer who uncovers the truth behind the legendary Mars walk of two famous astronauts.
Peter Crowther's thematic anthology is wonderfully diverse, both entertaining and memorable.
Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction
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© Claude Lalumière 10 August 2002, 12 April 2003