Life on Mars in the 1960s

Since many of my friends and colleagues are contemplating leaving the planet this week, I thought it might be a useful time to reflect on life on Mars. Earlier this year I allowed myself to become completely immersed in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy. Red Mars stands as one of my favorite reads over the past year and that we before we had the opportunity to chat with Stan Robinson on the Caraheard podcast.

708773main PIA16453 sol64 from Rocknest WB

Over the last month or so, I’ve been working my way through Philip K Dick’s massive and engrossing corpus of work largely motivated by a paper that I have to give next week on archaeology, object biography, and technology. I’ve been fascinated with Dick’s interest in how the authenticity of objects (not just their tangible reality) anchored humans in time. This weekend, I read Dick’s Martian Time-Slip (1964) which deals less with objects and more with time and the human mind. Dick’s meditation on autism and schizophrenia are outdated and set on a wonderfully dated view of Mars filled with ample oxygen to breath, running water through ancient canals, and mystical aboriginal Martians who struggle to survive the encroachment of immigrants from earth.

Like Robinson’s Mars, the red planet is governed by an unease combination of the United Nation, national interests – concentrated in particular settlements – and folks engaged in particular kinds of work. One of the kingpins in Martian politics, for example, was Arnie Kott, the head of the Water Workers’ Union. Repairman, like the protagonist Jack Bohlen, were in high demand as the links to Earth remained tenuous despite regular contact. The Martian landscape was dry and the modest farms depended on water provided by the ancient network of canals that were maintained by officials from the U.N. The rugged FDR mountain range represented the margins of settlement, but were targeted by the U.N. for a massive co-opt style housing complex that would further displace the indigenous Martians and transform the local political scene. Arnie Kott looked to harness the power of autistic or schizophrenic minds (which Dick conflates) to see into the future or perhaps change the past. Unfortunately, the future of this complex witnessed by Jack Bohlen’s autistic neighbor was a beyond terrifying failure. 

The landscapes offered by Dick reflects an archaeology of a Martian past that offers an obvious prelude to the Martian landscapes of Kim Stanley Robinson. This is hardly surprising as Robinson wrote on Dick’s work for his dissertation.

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