what to see on
mars

For a scenic browse, and an answer-page for Guess The World...

meeting a mighty martian

...I went down on my knees.  Terror, when it reaches a certain stage, paralyses all the impulses, so that the mind operates seemingly in a vacuum, conscious of nothing but its own existence.  Blinded, bowed, I knelt there.

The light flicked on, flicked off.  As I had seen it do already, it ran up and down the visual scale.  But the creature had stopped.  It was not approaching me.

I think it must have been for a minute that I knelt like that.  I was conscious only of the changing colours of the light and its intermissions.  Somehow - how can I convey this? - I gained from those steady changes, unhurried and unstartling as they were, a sense of peace.

A thought broke through the mask that seemed to have settled on my brain.  I put my torch before me and pressed the switch.  I pressed it and flicked it off again.  It was my final throw of madness, to attempt to communicate...

...I received a signal that seemed to me to be a meaningless jumble.  I tried to imitate it, and must have succeeded, for I got another one, more difficult.  I failed at that, and we both paused, waiting...  What 'she' knew, I can't imagine... she had discovered some strange and puny, dim-witted creature in her domain.

She backed away and went carefully round me and away into the night...  an intelligence of some kind, and radiating a body heat which told of a metabolism and power beyond my dreams...

Rex Gordon, No Man Friday (1956)

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viewing memories on mars

...He seemed to be seeing a grove... from a viewpoint about a foot off the ground.  The viewpoint shifted steadily and erratically as if the camera were being trucked on a very low dolly here and there through the stalks...  The viewpoint would shift quickly for a few feet, stop, then change direction and move again, but it never got very far off the ground.  Sometimes it would wheel in a full circle, a panorama of three hundred and sixty degrees.

It was during one of these full rotations that he caught sight of a water-seeker.

It would not have been strange if he had not recognized it as such, for it was enormously magnified.  As it charged in, it filled the entire screen.  But it was impossible not to recognize those curving scimitar claws, the grisly horror of the gaping sucker orifice, those pounding legs - and most particularly the stomach-clutching revulsion the thing inspired....

The viewpoint from which he saw it did not change; it was frozen to one spot while the foul horror rushed directly at him in the final death charge.  At the last possible instant, when the thing filled the screen, something happened.  The face - or where the face should have been - disappeared, went to pieces, and the creature collapsed in a blasted ruin.

The picture was wiped out completely for a few moments, replaced by whirling coloured turmoil...

Robert A Heinlein, Red Planet (1949)

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sinister encounter on mars

...The avenue was wide.  On either side the buildings marched, or on occasion fell back to form an odd-shaped square.  Here where they were undamaged and free of ice the strangeness of their shaping was more vividly apparent...  Some of the structures seemed to have no useful purpose at all.  They shot up in twisted spires, or branched in weird spiky arms like giant cacti done in pink and gold, or looped in helical formations, sometimes erect, sometimes lying on their sides... 

Passing by one of the cactus-shapes, he saw that the metal spikes were long and very sharp, and that there were traces on them of some dark stain...

....Back beyond the pink-and-gold structure with the bloodstained spikes, five figures had appeared in the street.  Three of them held longish tubes with globed ends that might be weapons.  They were very tall, these figures...  but they were excessively slender and they moved with swaying motion like reeds before the wind.  They were dressed in an assortment of bright-colored garments and queer tall caps that exaggerated their elongated narrow skulls.  Their skin was a pale golden color, stretched tight over a structure of facial bones that seemed to be all brow and jaw with little in between but two great round eyes like dark moons...

One of them spoke.  His voice was a kind of high-pitched fluting, quite musical, like the call of some strange bird...

"Our weapons are invincible.  We can destroy you all..."

Leigh Brackett, People of the Talisman (1964)

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machine-city on mars

...They had called themselves the Machine-masters because all labor in their metropolis was eventually performed by imperishable, self-powered machines that worked in fixed, unalterable routines.

But the Machine-masters, with no toil or struggle to stimulate their energies, soon fell into decadence.  There was no need to worry about food.  It was all raised and brought to them by machines.  Their clothing was made by other machines.  They had not even any enemies to fear.  Around their city, mindless machine guards patrolled which would instantly slay any intruder.

So the Machine-masters, sinking further into decadence, had finally passed away.  But their wondrous Machine City remained.  In it, the imperishable machines continued the unalterable routine of labor and guarding that their masters had started.  For age upon age, the machines of this place had been working on in the same old way.  Everyone in the System had heard of the Machine City.  But few had dared even to approach it, so formidable were the great mechanical guards that still protected the place...

Edmond Hamilton, Galaxy Mission (1940, 1967)

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motto of the martian emperors

...Ahead of them, gold-robed warriors wearing masks like the faces of mantises and long ceremonial spears of translucent crystal stood before the huge circular gate of the fastness, graven with the solar disk.  Above it was a symbol that looked like a figure eight laid on its side, surrounded by a glyph in the High Speech of ancient times:  SH'U MAZ.  Sustained Harmony, from time out of mind the motto of anyone who wished to claim the status of Acknowledged Ruler.

A much smaller portal accommodated the real traffic.  The guards beside it carried swords and dart pistols, and one of them held a beast on a leash.  It looked a little like a dog, perhaps a starved, elongated greyhound with teeth like a shark, a high forehead, and disturbingly versatile paws.  All four of the party stood while it approached and sniffed them over...

S M StirlingIn the Courts of the Crimson Kings (2008)

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a martian seeking shelter from a storm

...It was cold in the shadow of the ridge, and the grak's long fur fluffed out automatically to provide extra insulation.  He looked like a big black owl as he stood scanning the western sky, sniffing the wind with his beaklike nose.  There was a tawny band low on the horizon, brightening as the sun rose.  He had smelled a storm early in the night, for he had all the uncanny weather-wiseness of his race and was sensitive to every subtle change in the quality of the atmosphere.  He had started for the nearest arm of the greenlands, intending to claim the hospitality of the first village he could find, but the storm front was moving faster than he could run.  He had seen the ridge only just in time...

P Schuyler Miller, The Cave (Astounding Science Fiction, January 1943)

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an underground martian sea

...Leaving Zuarra, who was cautiously sampling the fleshy meat of the great fungus growths, Brant climbed the mossy slope of the hill to where Will Harbin stood awestruck, staring with wondering gaze into the luminosity.

And Brant stopped short, uttering a grunt of amazement.

From a gemmy shore at the foot of the other side of the hill, for as far as the eye could reach, there stretched a shining sea.

The water was milky-white, quite opaque, and was clearly the source of the mysterious luminance, for the radiant fluit was like the essence of light itself, curdled into pearly fire.

"A... sea," whispered Brant faintly.  "Here at the bottom of the world...!"

"Yes.  In fact, it is the Last Ocean," said Will Harbin softly...

Lin Carter, Down to a Sunless Sea (1984)

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a mysterious park-like area on mars

...As I walked slowly down the imperceptible slope toward the sea I could not help but note the park-like appearance of the sward and trees.  The grass was as close-cropped and carpet-like as some old English lawn and the trees themselves showed evidence of careful pruning to a uniform height of about fifteen feet from the ground, so that as one turned his glance in any direction the forest had the appearance at a little distance of a vast, high-ceiled chamber...

The trees of the forest attracted my deep admiration as I proceeded...  Their great stems, some of them fully a hundred feet in diameter, attested their prodigious height, which I could only guess at, since at no point could I penetrate their dense foliage above me to more than sixty or eighty feet.

As far aloft as I could see the stems and branches and twigs were as smooth and as highly polished as the newest of American-made pianos.  The wood of some of the trees was as black as ebony, while their nearest neighbours might perhaps gleam in the subdued light of the forest as clear and white as the finest china, or, again, they were azure, scarlet, yellow, or deepest purple.

And in the same way was the foliage as gay and variegated as the stems, while the blooms that clustered thick upon them may not be described in any earthly tongue, and indeed might challenge the language of the gods...

Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Gods of Mars (1913, 1918)

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silent remains of a lost martian civilization

...Below us was a city!

I can recall as a child the pictures in the story books I read.  And always in such books there was the great castle in which the prince lived or the princess was imprisoned.  Dream castles they were, all slender spires, graceful minarets, sweeping towers, things of sheer unreal beauty against the picture-book sky.

So this city was, somehow ethereal, breath-taking.  A small fertilized area surrounded it, like green velvet about a fragile piece of carved ivory.  Yet in spite of its beauty there was a bizarre unearthly quality to the city that no terrestrial artist could have conceived...

Very cautiously we circled the strange city.  No signs of life greeted us.  On the alert for any hostile move we settled the ship on the red plain just beyond the circle of green that surrounded the cluster of tall spires...

Frederick Arnold Kummer, Jr., Signboard of Space (Startling Stories, May 1950)

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guardians of the martian underworld

...They rose from the rocky bottom to the height of giraffes, with shortish legs that were vaguely similar to those of Chinese dragons, and elongated spiral necks like the middle coils of great anacondas.  Their heads were triple-faced, and they might have been the trimurti of some infernal world.  It seemed that each face was eyeless, with tongue-shaped flames issuing voluminously from deep orbits beneath the slanted brows.  Flames also poured in a ceaseless vomit from the gaping gargoyle mouths.  From the head of each monster a triple comb of vermilion flared aloft in sharp serrations, glowing terribly; and both of them were bearded with crimson scrolls.  Their necks and arching spines were fringed with sword-long blades that diminished into rows of daggers on the tapering tails; and their whole bodies, as well as this fearsome armament, appeared to burn as if they had just issued from a fiery furnace.

A palpable heat emanated from these hellish chimeras, and the Earthmen retreated hastily before the flying splotches, like the blown tatters of a conflagration, that broke loose from their ever-jetting eye-flames and mouth-flames...

Clark Ashton Smith, Vulthoom (Weird Tales, September 1935)

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warm season at the martian equator

...They plunged into the depths of the forest.  It was not difficult going, despite the size of the vegetation.  Most of the trees' vigor was concentrated in the broad, flat leaves that made a ceiling far overhead to catch the Sun's rays.  It was a green, dim twilight through which they moved, resembling the vague depths of the hydrosphere. 

Above the jungle, Quade knew, it was pleasantly warm, but at ground level an icy breeze chilled him.  Some of the trees, he noticed, were thickly coated with a furry kind of moss, which apparently served to keep the cold from penetrating through the bark - a striking form of true symbiosis, mutual aid between parasite and host.

The Bouncer hopped along quietly, subdued and a little frightened.  His huge eyes, capable of seeing into the infra-red and ultra-violet, found the gloom no handicap, but more than once the two humans were forced to use light-tubes...

Henry Kuttner, The Star Parade (Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1938)

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mad martian's palace

...we were escorted into the interior of the palace.  The furnishings were striking, but extremely fantastic in design and execution.  The native wood of the forests had been used to fine advantage in the construction of numerous pieces of beautifully carved furniture, the grain of the woods showing lustrously in their various natural colours, the beauties of which were sometimes accentuated by delicate stain and by high polishes, but perhaps the most striking feature of the interior decorations was the gorgeously painted fabric that covered the walls and ceilings.  It was a fabric of unbelievable lightness, which gave the impression of spun silver.  So closely woven was it that, as I was to learn later, it would hold water and of such great strength that it was almost impossible to tear it.

Upon it were painted in brilliant colours the most fantastic scenes that imagination might conceive.  There were spiders with the heads of beautiful women, and women with the heads of spiders.  There were flowers and trees that danced beneath a great red sun, and great lizards, such as we had passed within the gloomy cavern on our journey down...

>>  Edgar Rice Burroughs, A Fighting Man of Mars (1930)

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illusion-trap on mars

...Their boots were deadened of all sound in the thick green grass.  It smelled from a fresh mowing.  In spite of himself, Captain John Black felt a great peace come over him.  It had been thirty years since he had been in a small town, and the buzzing of spring bees on the air lulled and quieted him, and the fresh look of things was a balm to the soul.

They set foot upon the porch.  Hollow echoes sounded from under the boards as they walked to the screen door.  Inside they could see a bead curtain hung across the hall entry, and a crystal chandelier and a Maxfield Parrish painting framed on one wall over a comfortable Morris chair.  The house smelled old, and of the attic, and infinitely comfortable.  You could hear the tinkle of ice in a lemonade pitcher.  In a distant kitchen, because of the heat of the day, someone was preparing a cold lunch.  Someone was humming under her breath, high and sweet.

Captain John Black rang the bell...

Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles (1950)

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a blue city on the red planet

...Varnal is more real to me, even in my memories, than ever Chicago or New York can be.  It lies in a gentle valley in the hills.... the Calling Hills.  Green and golden, they are covered with slender trees and, when the wind passes through them, they sound like sweet, distant, calling voices as one walks past.

The valley itself is wide and shallow and contains a fairly large, hot lake.  The city is built around the lake, from which rises a greenish stream, a delicate green that sends tendrils curling around the spires of Varnal.  Most of Varnal's graceful buildings are tall and white, though some are built of the unique blue marble which is mined close by.  Others have traceries of gold in them, making them glitter in the sunlight.  The city is walled by the same blue marble, which also has golden traceries in it.  From its towers fly pennants, gay and multicolored, and its terraces are crowded with its handsome inhabitants, the plainest of whom would be a sought-after beau or belle in Wynnsville, Ohio - or, indeed, Chicago or any other great city of our world...

Michael Moorcock, City of the Beast (also known as Warriors of Mars)  (1965)

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trudging through the martian desert

Fraser began to walk again. He walked a lot at night. The days were ugly and depressing and he spent them inside, working. But the nights were glorious. Not even the driest desert of Earth could produce a sky like this, where the thin air hardly dimmed the luster of the stars. It was the one thing he would miss when he went home.

He walked, dressed warmly against the bitter chill. He brooded, and he watched the stars. He thought about his diminishing whisky supply and the one hundred and forty six centuries of written history gone into the dust that blew and tortured his sinuses, and after a while he saw the shadow, the dark shape that moved against the wind, silent, purposeful, swift.

Out of the northern desert someone was riding…

Leigh Brackett, Mars Minus Bisha (Planet Stories, January 1954)

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furry bio-fabricators of mars

..."That bag of stuff, Bill... Who puts it beside the track?"

I'd been wondering if he would show any curiosity.  "A race of small, furry creatures," I answered.  "They're very shy.  They live underground, and dig ore for us."  I grinned at his puzzled expression.  "We don't want the ore, because it's usually only rock.  We're interested in the material of the bags.  It's as thin as paper, completely transparent, and yet it can withstand the weight of tons of rock.  They manufacture it from their own bodies, much the way spiders produce webs.  We can't seem to make them understand that we want only the bags..."

A E van Vogt, The First Martian (written 1939, published in The Far Out Worlds of A E van Vogt (1973))

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