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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » You think we can still put aliens on Mars?

Author Topic: You think we can still put aliens on Mars?
Member # 1818

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So, I'm kicking around an idea for a story that involves humans discovering sentient life on another planet (I know, groundbreaking, right?). It's not the story's core, just its backdrop. In other words, the story is not about finding life on another planet; that's just a part of the setting that the story takes place in. I want this to be on a world that humans have colonized , and the sentient alien/native species (aliens to us, but natives to the planet) is oppressed and discriminated against by the humans (don't worry, it's not a "humans are so mean" preachy story).

Do you think, given that it is common knowledge that no sentient species live on Mars, I could get away with placing this on Mars? Would you be willing to suspend your disbelief, or your knowledge, really, to accept that in the universe of this story, sentient aliens live on Mars? Or has the time to write stories about aliens on Mars passed away with the growth of our knowledge about our solar system?

I ask because, from a literary standpoint, I feel like it would be some benefit to my story to use a place like Mars, that people have some familiarity with, rather than inventing a brand new, completely unfamiliar planet. I don't necessarily want to spend a lot of words explaining the setting, which I think I would have to do more using a made-up planet than a familiar one.

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Member # 1681

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I think that at this point, widespread sentient life on Mars is something that can only be done in some form of alternate history (steampunk, the John Carter movie, etc.) or just campy fun (Mars Attacks!) Our explorations of Mars have moved such stories out of the realm of plausible science fiction. (I think extinct and/or hidden sentient life on Mars is still within the realm of the plausible, as our probes have barely scratched the surface.)

For the purposes of your story, though, I think most SF readers are familiar enough with the concept of Generic Colonized Planet that you're better off using one of those instead of Mars, so the reader doesn't have to make the extra suspension of disbelief that's necessary if you use Mars.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Do the aliens have to be native to Mars?
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Member # 9148

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Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
Do the aliens have to be native to Mars?

And/or underground? Not sure if they have done any exploration-of any type-that shows if there is anyone underground. I believe they still think there was water on Mars ages ago. And/or found some ice underground.
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Crystal Stevens
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What if Mars was transformed to accept human life so those from Earth could start colonies there? Heck, I might try something with that idea myself [Smile] .
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Robert Nowall
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Greg Bear, "A Martian Ricorso," did so effectively. (It must have, 'cause I remember the story and the title and the writer this time.) Published back in the 1970s, but by then, the Mars-with-aliens was pretty much displaced by so-called reality...
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Member # 1818

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Kathleen: "Do the aliens have to be native to Mars?"

Not necessarily, but that is a question with some interesting possibilities. So many times, what you really need to get a story moving is not the right answer but the right question. You've got my little brain working in a new direction. Thanks.

LDWriter2: "And/or underground?"

Kind of like H.G. Wells' Morlocks. Interesting. Definitely a possibility. Maybe humans colonized Mars with no idea there were "people" under them, and by the time they discovered the aliens/natives down there, they had already started to think of Mars as theirs, hence the widespread oppression and discrimination once they make contact. Maybe the aliens/natives used to live on the surface in the very distant past, but climate change (the one we theorize is responsible for the water on the surface disappearing) drove them underground, where they have lived for long enough for all traces of them above ground to have been wiped away. But, racism AND climate change in a story that has no intention of being preachy?

EricJamesStone: I suspected that was the case, which is why I threw the question out here, of course. I don't know, though, I'm just drawn to using Mars for this. Not sure why, I just am. We'll see. Still mulling this one over. Just because I'm drawn to it does mean it's a great idea.

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Member # 9345

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How about if some other species arrives on Mars about the same time, and tries to colonize it? As KDW suggests, the aliens need not be native for there to be a conflict -- especially if they're more suited to surviving on Mars (say it's a similar environment to wherever they evolved). Give them only sublight space travel, and they won't be expecting reinforcements from home any time soon either -- so even tho they may have an advantage on Mars, Earth's proximity and teeming population balances out their natural advantages.

[I'm thinking this would make a fun challenge -- how many different scenarios could SF authors cook up, given this base?]

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Member # 8019

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I think a possibiliity exists for life-on-Mars fiction to be done retro or metaphorically. Willing suspension of disbelief is only one of the three meaning spaces from which readers approach fiction. Exotic secondary setttings; not exotic per se in the sense of fantastical, but at least different from the everyday routine alpha world settings of our routine everyday lives; and participation mystique are the other two meaning spaces. Accommodating all three in proportional emphases works more appealing than focusing emphasis on only one.

Participation mystique, if readers feel they participate meaningfully in the mystique of the created world, the degree of fantastical make believe can be quite elaborate and exotic.

Metaphorically, life on Mars can potentially symbolize a near infinite representation of the human condition. Creative writing is meaning making. What might life on Mars mean to you, to your readers in the context and texture of the created world?

Retroactively, life on Mars could portray the beliefs of the later nineteenth and early twentieth century or any time after people came to know that Mars is a planet similar to Earth: post Galileo. Even if set in a proximation of present time or some future time, a fiction work with life on Mars could work--be appealing--since, on one hand, a belief may exist among a fraction of the population that Mars indeed does hold life, even scientists.

On the other hand, more importantly, fiction writing is make believe, not only creating fictional circumstances but also making readers believe in the moment of reading in the created reality of a narrative. Science fiction is escapism literature, both as concept, escape from everyday existence, and as escapist entertainment. Give readers who appreciate escapism an entertaining read. Whether life on Mars exists for real shouldn't matter.

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Pyre Dynasty
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Don't think that because we've dropped a few go-carts on there that there still isn't room for speculation.

Mars has a volcano that's bigger than the moon. There's plenty of space for a whole civilization in there. It has a canyon named the Noctis Labyrinth that would take us a hundred years on planet to explore. Take a nice deep look at mars and I'm sure you'll find a place for life. Although with the thin atmosphere and low gravity it might need to be a rather hardy form of life.

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Member # 10087

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The idea of alien settlers on mars really appeals to my sense of irony. In fact, just had a story idea come to mind--which I'm certain would be lightyears different from anything you'd write--I 'd go for it
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Member # 9757

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Depends on whether it was recognized as life right away. Also perhaps on whether it was based on carbon or silicon. Also whether it was part or a photosynthetic ecosystem, or one that drew energy from geothermal energy and the processing of sulfur, and/or some other method. Also, of course, subteranean. Mars was once much like earth, and it has been gradually getting colder, dryer, and losing its atmosphere for billions of years. Plenty of time for a life form, or an ecosystem, to adapt to changing conditions and follow the water/oxygen as it sank into the ground.

On earth, I believe life has been found literally miles underground. In solid rock, if I am not mistaken.

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Member # 1818

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If you're interested, I posted my first 13 for this story in frags and feedback. Your line of questioning here had a huge influence on where this story went (after several false starts and 4 complete overhauls of the story).
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Member # 9331

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Heck, I think you can still put *canals* on Mars -- but only in certain kinds of story.

As for sentient Martian life, even civilizations, in a consistent-with-known-science kind of story, sure. Why do I say that? Because you can never prove the non-existence of a thing. Lots of science fiction stories feature things on *Earth* which we have no evidence exist. The trick is to explain how they've escaped our notice.

For example, imagine a story about an alien spaceship that crashes on the Earth in the year 1500. The passengers of that ship establish a colony and their descendants live on the Earth to this day. How do they manage that? There's all kinds of ways to make that happen. Maybe they live underground. Maybe they genetically engineer themselves to look human. Or like house cats. Or perhaps they're only 0.5 mm tall. Or they're as big as houses, but their bodies are gas-filled semi-transparent balloons that float well up in the stratosphere.

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