Mars, as any reader
of OSS fiction is no doubt aware, is a world of perils uncounted. An Earther on
Mars may fall afoul of fighting machines, great white apes, murderous
telepaths, purple-moon priestesses, eldritch horrors - and that’s only the tip
of the ancient, cosmic iceberg. The Martian rogues’ gallery is as diverse as it
is deadly. However, there’s one antagonist who, despite (or perhaps because of)
his utterly mundane nature, raises my ire more than any other. His name is
Written in Dust by Melinda M. Snodgrass is the tenth entry in the Old Mars anthology, and unique among them in that the primary conflict is not, for the most part, one of life and death. It stems instead from a young woman’s desire to attend college on Earth, and her Grandfather’s insistence that she inherit the family farm on Mars.
Mr. McKenzie’s sins also include verbally browbeating his late wife and current son-in-law and showing a general disdain for everything and everyone - in short, he’s the sort of person you see at the family reunion and then try never to talk to for the rest of the year. And that’s what stirs up such hatred in my heart - unlike the white apes and priestesses, I have personal experience with people like Stephen McKenzie. I’ve never been cast into the arena with a Great White Ape, but I have been made to work a closing shift with a boss who had the personality of one.
Apart from Grandpa McKenzie, the rest of the story is equally interesting. In particular, the story makes use of “The Face of Mars”, that enigmatic rock formation that looks like a human face from the correct angle. It got to wondering why more NOSS authors don’t include it somehow; it seems a rare case of the RSS handing us something instead of taking things away.
Speaking of NOSS vs OSS, I’ve been enjoying (and even participated in) the debate between Zendexor and Troy Jones. Troy - welcome! It’s always great to have another voice, and I can’t wait to read your story when the anthology comes out! I’m sure you could convince Zendexor to put some more of your stuff on the site, if you have more, and I'll be just as sure to read it.
I generally take the position that there is room for all manner of OSS fiction, but personally I prefer to write stuff which matches modern sci fi in social matters while being true to the OSS planets. The capacity of science fiction to tackle complex political issues is part of what drew me to it in the first place, and I suppose I can’t help but be a creature of my time as far as those politics are concerned. That said, I’ll not complain about a pastiche either!
[Comment from Zendexor: I heartily second the motion, re contributions from Troy. Regarding the "Face on Mars", I agree it ought to have inspired some fictional visits. It does feature in Mission to Mars, the 2000 film (set in the year 2020, not so long now - NASA had better get a move on) with Gary Sinise as an astronaut.]