Ah, Mars. Its vivid red soil has entranced the imaginations of humans since it was first identified.
In the late 19th century, astronomer Giovanni Schiapparelli note Uncle to the surrealist couturer, Elsa Sciapparelli observed what appeared to be water channels on Mars. When his writings were translated into English, the Italian word canali was mistranslated as canals. For decades afterwards, it was widely believed that these had been built by intelligent aliens. Predictably, Martians featured in a large amount of Science Fiction of the first half of the 20th century.
However, when the Mariner 4 probe flew past Mars in 1965, it was conclusively shown that the canals didn't actually exist. When the Viking probes landed (the Soviets got there first with Mars 3, but the lander was taken out by a dust storm 14.5 seconds after landing), the planet was shown to be lifeless, and the concept of Martians quickly became discredited. More recent observations suggest that Mars may have supported life in the distant past, and some people still cling to hope that life may reside underground, no matter how unlikely it is. However, the red planet has had such a hold on human imagination for so long that it is not going to be lost as a setting any time soon.
Mars regained its prominence in human imagination in 1976 when the Viking 1 probe reached the planet; equipped with more advanced technology, it was able to take a number of impressively high resolution photographs. One of these showed what appears to be a human face. Though quickly debunked by every legitimate authority, it has taken its place alongside the Nazca lines and the Pyramids of Giza in conspiracy lore - especially as one of the photographs from the mission has yet to be declassified. Fictional representations of Mars were changed as well; no longer a destination, but a stepping-stone to greater glories in the form of ancient ruins filled with Lost Technology, waiting for humanity to discover it and thereby leapfrog into the stars. One way or another, that particular argument will remain unsettled until people actually go there unregulated.
More modern stories tend to have Mars being colonized, either as a plot point or part of the Back Story. This isn't an unlikely scenario in real life; it has more of the basic elements needed for life than any other non-Earth world in the solar system and it's quite similar to Earth in several aspects, including day length (24h 39m 35.244s), temperature (-2 to -87 °C, chilly, but overlaps a fair amount with Earth), and an atmosphere (although Martian "air" is mostly carbon dioxide and averages about 1/100th of the Earth's pressure). It's also our neighbor along with Venus (which we have yet to keep a probe functioning on for more than a few minutes). For these reasons, Mars is the planet that is most frequently subject to Terraforming. Strangely, regardless of how otherwise Earth-like it may be, Mars tends to retain its distinct red soil.
Because the Martian day is almost, but not quite, the same length as Earth's day, NASA scientists working on Mars missions reckon the local time there by "sols" (Martial solar days). There's no special name for the Martian year, however.
Despite its many Earthlike qualities, Mars is nowhere near as big as the Earth. It's only half the Earth's diameter, and has only 38% of Earth's surface gravity. The total surface area of Mars is about equal to the land surface area of the Earth (i.e. that small portion of the Earth's surface that isn't under water). Nevertheless, Mars has a canyon (Mariner Canyon) that's far, far larger than Earth's Grand Canyon, and a volcano (Olympus Monsnote Not to be confused with Olympus Mons) that's far, far larger than Earth's Mount Everest.
The most damaging is that Mars has a core that's dead, so there's no magnetic field to keep the solar wind from keeping the planet more or less sterile. Although science holds out hope that they will one day discover evidence that life once existed on Mars, there's very little hope they will find life living there now. Today, the moons Europa and Enceladus are considered more likely to currently harbor life, both having verified subterranean liquid water and the protection of their respective home planets' magnetic fields. (Europa's surface ice is also a protective barrier from Jupiter's latent radiation.)
And as we all know from pop-psychology, men are from there.
Mars has two moons, called Phobos and Deimos. Named after two figures from Greek mythology, they are both extremely small; Phobos, the larger of the two, is only ten miles across, and Deimos is half that. Their surface gravity, such as it is, can be measured in micro-g. They're really not much more than irregular rocks, asteroids that were captured by Mars' gravity. Irregular rocks namedFear and Panic.
Although these moons both orbit the planet in the same direction, Phobos is close by and orbits faster than Mars rotates, while Deimos is farther away and orbits slightly slower than Mars rotates. Phobos rises in the west, sets in the east, and rises again in the west 11 hours later. Deimos rises in the east, sets in the west 2.7 [Earth] days later, and rises in the East again 2.7 days after that. What this essentially means is that at some point Deimos is going to fling itself into space (hopefully not in our direction), while Phobos is going to make a very large new crater on Mars.note Actually, Phobos won't survive intact that long. When it passes inside the Roche Limit, about 2.1 Mars radii away from the planet, tidal forces will break it apart into a bunch of smaller rocks. Phobos is only held together by its own gravity.
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The God of War, Wonder Woman enemy, used to have his base here, generally because the two shared a name. The idea was lost after Crisis on Infinite Earths, where he got renamed Ares, his Greek counterpart.
The Sands of Mars, by Arthur C. Clarke, which interestingly is one of the more realistic stories to be set on Mars. Indeed, quite a few of Clarke's novels and short stories involve Mars in some way.
The John Carter of Mars series by Edgar Rice Burroughs, who went on to write Tarzan. Unusually for the time period, Burroughs did take into account existing hypotheses on the livability of Mars, and turned it into a dying world supported by a technological atmosphere plant to keep the air breathable, and a polar ice extraction system to keep the canals filled.
Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. Unknown to many, Stranger is actually a prequel of sorts to RAH's excellent juvenile book called...wait for it.. Red Planet. Red Planet was written decades earlier but featured the same Martians seen in Stranger. When it was finally discovered that Mars and other planets in our Solar System are lifeless, Heinlein points out his alternate universes have life on them and one of his characters expresses disappointment in our universe's Solar System. The Animated Adaptation moved this to a planet "New Ares", which wasn't in our solar system but resembled pre-Mariner Mars.
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451) is more of a collection of short stories connected by an overarching continuity than a real novel. Human characters can breathe on the surface (albeit the air's thinner), communicate telepathically with the Martians, and use typewriters.
The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut (1959). Except the Martians in this novel are actually human colonists.
In H. Beam Piper's Paratime stories, Mars was the original home world of humanity. Their world was dying, 75,000 years ago, so they attempted colonizing Earth — with varying success on different timelines. The maximum probability was the cluster of timelines including what we laughingly call "reality": "...the colonists evidently met with some disaster and lost all memory of their extraterrestrial origin.... As far as they know, they are an indigenous race..."
Like many things fictional involving Mars, this is a case of Science Marches On: back when these stories were written, knowledge of human origins and evolution was still vague and fragmentary enough that the exogenesis theory wasn't completely implausible.
Piper's short story "Omnilingual" also involves apparently human Martians who died out millennia ago. An archeological expedition in 1996 is exploring the ruins of Martian civilization, and finds the mummified bodies of one of their last communities. "Their power was gone, and they were old and tired, and all around them their world was dying." So they quietly committed suicide.
Leigh Brackett's Planetary Romance stories featuring Eric John Stark, The Secret of Sinharat and People of the Talisman, were set on a Burroughs-esque dying Mars suffering from Terran colonization, with a distinct Heroic Fantasy flavor and plenty of Weird Science. Another story, "The Sword of Rihannon," sent its protagonist back in time to ancient Mars, before its oceans dried up. After Mariner she set Stark's further adventures on extrasolar planet Skaith.
Otis Adelbert Kline wrote a couple of Planetary Romance stories set on Mars, which has a Barsoom-type civilization full of swashbuckling and Schizo Tech . He does imply that the humans who travel to Mars traveled through time as well as space, and that modern Mars is lifeless.
The anthology Old Mars is a homage to the pre-Mariner era stories, with tales by contemporary sci-fi writers.
The Ice Warriors in Doctor Who were originally from Mars, even after Martian life was discredited (they were originally from the distant past preserved as Alien Popsicles, and later from colonies in outer solar systems).
My Favorite Martian, which started a couple of years before the Mariner, and ended shortly afterwards. The 1999 movie obviously was well post-Mariner, but played with its blatant scientific inaccuracy in a funny opening sequence which shows scientists looking at the wrong part of the planet and missing, by about half a mile, a gigantic Martian city.
Disney's Mars and Beyond.
The second and third series of Journey Into Space involves a mission to, and the attempt to get back from, Mars.
The manga ARIA is set on Mars a hundred and fifty years after terraforming. Surprisingly, no one lives under domes and most of the planet is covered in water that was intentionally pumped from underground, but since they got a lot more than they had planned on. Mars has been renamed Aqua, Earth is now called Manhome, and the story happens in the city of Neo-Venizia, recreated from the remains of the lost (ironically from rising global ocean levels) city of Venice.
Another watery Mars can be seen in a game and anime Mars Daybreak, which, interestingly, is set in the same universe with the Gunparade March series.
Mars plays a major role in Gundam F90: the remnants of Neo-Zeon from Char's Counterattack retreated there, and thirty years later have built a giant railcannon for the purpose of destroying Earth.
The strange thing is that this is the only UC Gundam work it appears in. This may be due to the aborted Turn A Space series plan, which eventually became ∀ Gundam, which was meant to serve as a Distant Finale not only to all of Gundam, but Tomino's other Humongous Mecha anime as well. This would have included Daitarn3, in which Mars is the home of a race of evil cyborgs known as the Meganoids. Not exactly the friendliest place in the Solar System.
But then, no Gundam series really ever ventured away from the Earth Sphere. F90 and Crossbone series are a little known spinoffs, and any other series paid the Outer System only a mention at best. Even Zeta Gundam, which featured a Jovian, Paptimus Scirocco, still have him visit the Earth Sphere.
Mars gets a couple of mentions in Gundam Wing, as Relena makes terraformation her pet project after becoming Vice Foreign Minister near the end of the series. The sequel novel Frozen Teardrop gives Mars a much larger role: the planet is terraformed a couple of decades after the anime ended thanks to miraculous algae from Jupiter's moon Europa, leading Zechs Merquise to become the first President of the Martian Federation, and war clouds may be stirring between the red planet and Earth.
Finally, the Red Planet is the home of the series villains in Mobile Suit Gundam AGE. It was revealed that the Unknown Enemy are Martian colonists abandoned by the Earth Federation, and because of what it thinks to be betrayal, have initiated a revenge by attacking colonies in the Earth's orbit.
Whenever asked, Chao Lingshen of Mahou Sensei Negima! would claim that she was from Mars. Thanks to events in chapter 257, this no longer seems so random with the confirmation of Mundus Magicus being located on Mars itself.
...sort of. Mundus Magicus is essentially "out of phase" with Mars. It occupies the same area and the geographic features more or less line up, but it's not "really" Mars. Just layered on top of it.
The first several episodes of Ninja Senshi Tobikage are set on Mars, which has been made a prison colony.
ABC Warriors is mostly set on Mars. complete with Martians who resent human colonization. The titular robots spent a long time fighting on the side of Earth, but eventually ended that arc by forcing the president of Earth to become half-Martian. In the current stories, the primary inhabitants of Mars seem to be robots, though public restrooms have separate stalls for men, women, and Martians.
In Watchmen, Mars is where Doctor Manhattan retreats in chapter 4, after being accused of causing his former colleagues and his ex-girlfriend to contract cancer. After reflecting there on his past, present and future, he teleports Laurie to the planet so she can make an argument for his intervention in human affairs. The Galle Crater is used both in the comic and the film in keeping with the story's recurring Smiley motif.
John Carter, being based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' decidedly pre-Mariner Barsoom series, had to explain why Mars had breatheable air and a living civilization. The (brief) answer was that we primitive, backward humans are ignorant of the real conditions on the planet. Either that, or the planet became an uninhabitable wasteland some time between Victorian England and the Mariner missions.
Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars Trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars) tells the story of the colonisation and terraforming of Mars over several generations.
Larry Niven's Known Space books and stories feature native Martians; to be fair, the first few stories were published just before the Mariner landings. They eventually get killed off by the Knight Templar Brennan, who has been mutated into a superintelligent being with inhuman motivations. However, The Ringworld Engineers has some surviving on the Ringworld's Map of Mars. Niven's Martians swim through sand and have alien biochemistry not based on water.
The lack of our discovering them is later justified by their living their entire lives underneath the sand (the details of the sand is of course another matter entirely). In-story, they weren't discovered until the 2100s, when a colony was mysteriously found dead from spear damage... on a planet thought uninhabited until then.
Spin has a Martian colony, which due to the book's premise becomes technologically advanced enough to develop interstellar travel (of a sort) and longevity treatments within the lifetime of the protagonists.
S.M. Stirling's The Lords of Creationreconstructs the pre-Mariner image of Mars, with scientists making discovery after discovery through the early part of the twentieth century that indicate both Mars and Venus are life-bearing worlds. The Viking lander (in 1962!) finds a classic decadent canal-based near-human civilization, and later Earth explorers/ambassadors discover that Precursors are responsible for terraforming Mars and Venus with ecologies transplanted from Earth.
Prior to the main story in The Pentagon War, Mars was colonized by the Western powers on its southern hemisphere and by China on its northern hemisphere. The two colonies quickly grew to each others' borders and had a war, which was quelched when the World Federal Government stepped in and subjugated both sides.
As part of Ben Bova's Grand Tour series, he wrote a novel whose entire title is just ... Mars. It's about the first manned mission to Mars, a joint international venture consisting of Astronauts straight out of a Jackie Collins novel. He eventually wrote two sequels, Return to Mars and Mars Life.
Ian McDonald's Desolation Road and Ares Express are set on a far-future terraformed Mars. His treatment of Mars combines hard science and magic realism.
In Greg Bear's Moving Mars, scientists living in a Martian colony discover how to turn Bell's Discontinuity (a theory from quantum mechanics) into a long-range weapon of mass destruction.
Harry Turtledove's novel A World of Difference is a response to the Viking discoveries by setting the story in an Alternate History universe where instead of Mars, there is an Earth-sized planet in its place called Minerva. As the preface states:
Mars is boring. Turns out it's too damn small. But what if it weren't...?
In Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos, Mars is home to the Palestinians; shortly after winning independence from Israel, they got caught in the crossfire of a regional nuclear war, and, finding their land uninhabitable, they moved to Mars. Additionally, FORCE, the Hegemony's military, was based here. As for characters, Col. Kassad is a Palestinian from Mars, as well as a FORCE officer.
In Babylon 5, a colonized Mars is an important (and restive) member of the Earth Alliance. Commander Sinclair was born and raised there, and numerous human military charactersnote Commander Sinclair, Chief Garibaldi, Captain Sheridan, Commander Ivanova, and Lieutenant Commander Takashima were stationed there earlier in their careers (often tying in with Mars's and Earth's backstory in the show paralleling the relationship between England and Ireland.) It was outright stated that many of the Earth Alliance and Earth Force agencies on Mars were blatantly corupt.
In Star Trek, Mars was colonized between the events of the movie First Contact and the series Enterprise. The Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards, where the the Enterprise-D was built, are in synchronous orbit above the Utopia Planitia region on the Martian surface. (This would have to be a powered orbit, as Utopia Planitia isn't on the equator.)
There was an ABC miniseries of The Martian Chronicles that aired in 1980. It starred, among others, Rock Hudson, Darren Mc Gavin, Bernadette Peters, and Roddy McDowall. Richard Matheson wrote the script, which was significantly different from Ray Bradbury's novel.
Post-Mariner/pre-Viking, the Fourth Doctor visits the Red Planet in Pyramids of Mars- the titular pyramid is a receiver set up by Ancient Astronauts to keep the story's Big Bad from escaping the pyramid he's imprisoned in on Earth.
In Warhammer 40,000, Mars is the homeworld of the Adeptus Mechanicus and the prison of the Void Dragon, at least during the Horus Heresy and prior.
Red Faction is another video game about a Martian colonial revolution.
Doom 3 and the original Doom take place on Mars and its moons respectively. Which, miraculously, all seem to have Earth-normal surface gravity as established by the rate at which your character falls when stepping off a high place. (Unless your Space Marine is really two centimeters tall.)
Justifiable in the original Doom, as Deimos is hovering over hell.
The third game in the UFO After Blank series takes place entirely on Mars, as human colonists try to terraform it. Then they're attacked by the remnants of an old Martian Civilization. Then by alien invaders. Then more alien invaders. Then the Martians come back. And over the course of the game, the red planet slowly turns green.
The second and last game in the Ultima Worlds sub-series was titled Martian Dreams. Despite all the knowledge that we had about Mars at the time the game was created, the game is set on an extremely fictionalized version of the Red Planet. For one thing, you don't need a space suit to breathe. For another, you can get there in a ship that's launched like a bullet from the Earth. And finally, the resident plant life is desperately trying to kill you. However, the game is set in the late 19th century, with the common misconceptions of the time being true.
The final part of Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders is set on Mars and features the "Face on Mars", which, alongside with many Earth monuments (Stonehenge, the Aztec and Egyptian pyramids, etc.) was apparently made by the Caponians, the titular aliens.
Mars is one of the three real planets (the other two being Earth and Venus) that appeared in SimEarth's scenario mode, which the player had to terraform and colonize.
The titular colony ship UESC Marathon is actually the moon Deimos having been hollowed out and turned into a multi-generationational starship. Mars itself has been colonized but become a place of poverty, with the Marathon becoming a symbol of the UESC's neglect since the ship is going to be used to flee Mars rather than preserve it.
In Waking Mars, life has been discovered on Mars deep within the caves below the surface. It is the job of Liang to research these new lifeforms and grow the ecosystem to a state of harmony. Later on in the game it is discovered that Mars was inhabited by sentient beings which left clues to the puzzle of Mars's big secret. Later you meet them personally and you wouldn't know they were sentient by just looking at them. They appear to be levitating tangled balls of... stuff which can only communicate via radio-sent images.
In A Miracle of Science, the human colonists on Mars have become much more advanced than elsewhere in the solar system, forming a kind of Hive Mind and allowing them access to much greater technology.
Mars held an important position in the Orion's Arm universe from the nanoswarms through the first federation era, around one or two thousand years. It's still the most populated and influential planet in Solsys by the setting's present day, though the system itself is fairly inconsequential.
In the 80's animated series Star Com, Mars was long ago the home to a vanished advanced civilization, and archaeologists are diligently exploring any buried ruins they can find.
A Real Life example of getting Mars wrong: Former US Vice President Dan Quayle, who was not known for his intelligent remarks (in fact, he was basically known solely for his mangling of the English language), once famously declared, "Mars is essentially in the same orbit [as Earth]....Mars is somewhat the same distance from the Sun, which is very important. We have seen pictures where there are canals, we believe, and water. If there is water, that means there is oxygen. If oxygen, that means we can breathe."
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, while touring JPL in 2005, asked if the Mars Pathfinder probe could see the flag planted by the Apollo 11 astronauts. On the Moon. (Perhaps she was asking about the probe's deep-space telescope capabilities.) (Or perhaps she's just an idiot.)
(Or if the far-side of the moon would be facing Mars at the time.)