Going to Mars Word by Word with an Optimistic Knight

We’re going to Mars today via the words of one of the “Big Three*,” Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s The Sands of Mars. Clarke said, “I have a special fondness for Sands, as it was my first full-length novel”. Published in 1951 it is an optimistic story of the early days of colonizing Mars. So hop aboard, let’s explore Mars with an Optimistic Knight.

Illustration of the Ares space-liner as it approaches Deimos and Mars, Going to Mars word by word with a optimistic knight, lynettemburrows.com

I read an omnibus edition paired with The City and the Stars. Warner Aspect published the omnibus in 2001.

In the introduction, Clarke makes wry note of the year, and says, “When I tapped out ‘The End’ on my Remington Noiseless (ha!) Portable in 1951, I could never have imagined that twenty years later I would be sitting on a panel with Ray Bradbury and Carl Sagan at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory waiting for the first news of the real Mars to arrive from the Mariner Space Probes. . .”. Nor could he imagine the Mars we’ve come to know through modern telescopes and NASA rovers.

Clarke does not romanticize the harsh conditions he imagined the colonists would have to survive. He used the best scientific information available at the time but admits there are errors in his speculations. Like many other science fiction authors, Clarke did not imagine the miniaturization of electronics. Nor did he imagine the development of personal electronic devices that resulted in a proliferation of computers and cell phones. His protagonist takes a manual typewriter on the spaceship. He faxes articles back to Earth. Faxes! And the crew of the space-liner smokes cigarettes. (Secondhand smoke was not an acknowledged issue in 1951.)

I am delighted that a multiple award-winning, best selling author like Clarke re-released this novel with all of its warts. The story is entertaining, though much slower paced than today’s novels. It suffers from stiff prose, weak conflicts, and internal story inconsistencies. All of which are fairly typical of a first or second novel. Personally, I can forgive and overlook those blunders if I enjoy the characters.


The first half of the book deals with the flight to Mars. The protagonist, a well-known science fiction author, rides a rocket ship into space. Martin is going to Mars on assignment. He is to report on what the colony is doing with the millions of Earth dollars spent on it.

Stricken with space-sickness, Gibson fears he’ll be sent back to Earth in shame. Fortunately, the space-sickness resolves quickly and he boards the next ship on his journey.

Ares is on her maiden voyage, a test run with a stripped down crew consisting of Captain Norden, an experienced space pilot; his engineer, the Scottish astrogator; the cynical electronics officer, the medical officer, and Jimmy Spencer, a Master’s degree student hoping to pilot his own spaceship someday. Jimmy, the junior member of the crew, must assist their only passenger, Gibson. Over the course of the three-month trip, Gibson discovers a link between Jimmy and Gibson’s own unpleasant college days.

When he first arrives on Mars, the spartan lifestyle in the small, claustrophobic settlement disappoints Gibson. As he explores the domed city and its surrounds, Gibson learns about the challenges of surviving on the planet. The weekly articles he writes and sends to Earth become more and more pro-Mars as his ideas about the colony change. He meets and grows to respect and like the locals, even his antagonist Warren Hadfield, Chief Executive of Mars. Finally, during one of Gibson’s excursions, a severe sandstorm forces his aircraft off course and he makes discoveries vital to the success of the colony, or so he thinks.

I found the ending satisfying, but in case you’d like to read this novel for yourself, I’ll keep that information to myself.


Clarke’s vision of Mars is more scientific and less descriptive than some. During the trip to the planet, the electronics officer confesses that he can’t see why anyone would want to go to Mars. “It’s flat, it’s cold, and it’s full of miserable half-starved plants looking like something out of Edgar Allan Poe”. The cities and scientific centers are contained in clusters of circular domes. Oxygen is ‘cracked’ from the iron oxide that tinted the soil a dark red.

Clarke does a remarkable job of evoking the orbiting moons, Deimos and Phobos, and the size of Mars. However, he speculates that lush brilliant green plants fill areas of the planet, though much of the planet was barren, red dirt and rocks. Infamously, he has his protagonist, Gibson, declare, “There are no mountains on Mars!” (That was true as far as anyone knew in 1951.) Finally, Clarke disables his protagonist and strands him in a deep trench. (In 1950 Clyde Tombaugh a member of the Lowell Observatory and discoverer of Pluto, proposed that the ‘canals’ of Mars were actually fissures radiating from craters which were the result of cosmic impacts.*)


Born in southwestern England, Arthur Charles Clarke (1917 – 2008) enjoyed stargazing and reading American science fiction magazines as a child. So much so, that he was active in science fiction circles before World War II. During the War he joined the Royal Air Force, serving as a radar instructor and technician. It was during that time he published his landmark scholarly paper, “Extra-Terrestrial Relays Can Rocket Stations Give Worldwide Radio Coverage,” where he set out the first principles of global communication via satellites in geostationary orbits.

His first science fiction story professionally published was “Loophole” for Astounding in 1946. Listing all of Clarke’s accomplishments as a scientist and author is not possible in this short blog post, but I’ll hit the major points.

Besides having been a radar instructor and technician, Clarke earned a first class honors degree in Physics and Mathematics in 1948 and served two terms as the British Interplanetary Society president.

He developed a keen interest in undersea exploration when he visited Sri Lanka (called Ceylon at that time) and moved there in 1956. He created a diving school. In 1962 a diagnosis of polio curtailed his diving activities. (The 2004 tsunami that hit Sri Lanka and Indonesia did not harm Clarke, his staff, or his home. It did destroy his diving school.)

Regarded as one of the chief prophets of the space age, he joined CBS newsman Walter Cronkite and astronaut Wally Schirra in narrating the 1969 Apollo lunar landing and returned for coverage of Apollo missions 12 and 15.

Childhood’s End, Rendezvous with Rama, and 2001: A Space Odyssey are among Clarke’s best-known works. His body of work includes more than 70 books of fiction and nonfiction.  He’s known for an optimistic view of the future of space exploration. Histories have accurate technical details and philosophical themes. He’s won Hugos, Nebulas, and the SFWA Grand Master. He was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 1997 and was knighted in 1998.


I would recommend reading this novel. Its characters are engaging. The argument of should we explore and colonize Mars is pertinent today. Finally, it’s fascinating to read the first novel of one of the best-known science fiction writers of all time. Go ahead, go to Mars in the words of Arthur C. Clark’s The Sands of Mars.


There are numerous websites where you can learn more about Sir Arthur C. Clarke. My references include the Clarke Foundation, arthurcclarke.net, and sf-encyclopedia.

If you’d like to read a Mars discovery timeline to make your own comparisons of the facts known in 1950 go to astrodigital.org

*science fiction authors, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Heinlein

I love it when you share your thoughts with me!

What do you think? Would you read a book with known inaccuracies?  

Will there be a colony on Mars one day?

Are exploration and colonization worth it?

Going to Mars, Word by Word: Bradbury and Unintended Consequences

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury is not a story in the traditional sense. In Bradbury’s own words, it is a series of “Martian penseés, Shakespearean ‘asides,’ wondering thoughts, night visions, predawn half-dreams.” So hop aboard for a lyrical ride with Bradbury and Unintended Consequences.

Bradbury and unintended consequences, mage of Martian in his Machine, from Martian Chronicles, lynettemburrows.com

Bradbury scribbled a dozen different tales of Mars and its folk before 1947, then filed them in a drawer. The tales might have languished there except for an editor at Doubleday. The editor suggested Bradbury had woven an unseen tapestry of Mars. Bradbury wrote an outline stitching his earlier writing together with new tales. The collection was published as Bradbury’s second book in 1950.

If you are the type of reader who needs to have a primary character to follow from one action to another, this may not be the book for you. But if you can ride the words, you’ll soar through the “Rocket Summer,” walk through a house of crystal pillars, hear ancient voices sing, and feel the Martian winds. You’ll take a ride like none other.


It’s difficult to write a summary that does Bradbury’s words justice. The penseé, or chapters, range from a single page expressing a vision, an emotion, or tone to true stories that are many pages long. It’s like an annotated timeline of the history of Mars. Each annotation represents a different slice of time.

Throughout, there is a visceral understanding of the loneliness of a new frontier and the passing of a dying culture. You sympathize with many of the characters who cherish and pursue a dream, usually a variation of the “American Dream.” But, because man brings his darkest fears and brightest hopes with him to Mars, there is a price, some unintended consequence, to be paid.

Not even the Martians are immune to this. In “February 2030: Ylla” we observe Mr. and Mrs. K, true Martians, once happy but not happy now. Mrs. K is haunted by dreams of a man from the sky and hums a foreign tune. She feels compelled to wait for an event to happen, for the man from the sky. Mr. K finds her obsession with this dream very unsettling. So he attempts to distract her, to take her away. When that doesn’t work, he tricks her into staying in the house on the very day she senses that the man from the sky will arrive. And though he doesn’t quite believe, Mr. K arms himself and goes hunting. When two shots ring out, though neither we nor Mrs. K witnesses it, we are convinced he has killed the astronaut and we mourn with Mrs. K.

There are many memorable scenes and characters:

Benjamin Driscoll, in “December 2032: The Green Morning,” arrives on Mars barely able to breathe its thin air. He refuses to be sent home. Instead, he creates more oxygen by planting trees and grass, becoming a “Johnny Appleseed” of sorts. While planting trees, he becomes aware that his chest and lungs are adapting to the Martian atmosphere. And the reader wonders if he will pay an unintended consequence.

In “August 2033: Night Meeting” Tomás Gomez meets a Martian he cannot touch in the “hills between time” and learns not to ask what is future and what is past.

The owner of the food stand at the crossroads misunderstands what the Martian in his machine is trying to tell him. And when he makes a decision based on that misperception, he pays the price.

While some of the characters in the book are genuinely trying to do the right thing, others are out for vengeance. Everyone is powerful. As a whole, the book evokes a hauntingly mournful, yet hopeful, feeling that stuck with me long after I finished reading.

How the Red Planet Is Portrayed

Don’t expect detailed description in the Martian Chronicles. The planet is hot and dry and mostly barren. Houses of crystal pillars, fossil seas, canals, and distant mountains are usually unimportant except as props. The emotional resonance is what matters in this book. And Mr. Bradbury delivers plenty in that area. You feel how ancient Mars is, how time is different there, and how silently the planet waits. You understand that man will renew Mars . . . for a time. You also understand man’s time on Mars is just a piece of the planet’s history, that it will wait, silently, for all time.

About Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury (August 1920 – June 2012) ended his formal education when he graduated from high school. He began selling newspapers by day and writing at night. During almost seventy years of writing, he had more than five hundred works published. But he didn’t just write novels, short stories, and essays, he produced an animated film, wrote plays and screenplays, was a creative consultant for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, and created interior metaphors for the Spaceship Earth display at Epcot Center, Disney. Other iconic titles by Ray Bradbury include The Illustrated Man, Fahrenheit 451, and Something Wicked This Way Comes. You can find a complete list of his books here.

Bradbury’s accomplishments, publications, and awards are too numerous to include in the blog. Please go to his website at raybradbury.com or read Sam Weller’s authorized biography, The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury, to learn more about him.

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Whew! That was some trip! I hope that if you haven’t read The Martian Chronicles, you’ll give it a try.


Have you read the Martian Chronicles? What did you think? If you haven’t read the Chronicles, I’d love to hear about what book you’ve read that affected you long after you finished.


Going to Mars Word by Word: C.S. Lewis style

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis is the third in my Going to Mars Word by Word series. It offers a fascinating view of Mars. So hop on board and enjoy the ride C.S. Lewis style.

The C.S .Lewis style, original illustration of the hross from Out of a Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis, lynettemburrows.com

The Book

C.S. Lewis first published this book in Britain in 1938 and in 1943, in the United States, this novel shows its age in some of the now out-dated language, writing style, and societal views. Its pacing is not like the action-packed novels of today, but if you persevere, the meat of the story yields imaginative delights and insights.

In this first book of C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy (also known as the Cosmic Trilogy), the protagonist, Dr. Elwin Ransom, a professor of philology, is on a hiking trip in the English Midlands. Looking for lodging, Ransom arrives at the home of a Mr. Devine, whom Ransom realizes is a former schoolfellow whom he “cordially disliked.” His arrival interrupts Mr. Devine and friend, Mr. Weston, as they struggle to force a mentally handicapped young man into the wash house. Grudgingly, Weston agrees to release the young man and share a meal and drinks with Ransom. But the after meal whiskey and soda causes Ransom to lose consciousness. When he awakens, he slowly realizes that he’s in a spherical spaceship, a captive of Devine and Weston who plan to turn him over to the inhabitants of Malacandra as a sacrifice in exchange for gold.

As the story progresses Ransom escapes from Devine and Weston and he begins an exploration of the planet Mars, called Malacandra by its inhabitants. Ransom’s terror is eventually replaced by a sense of wonder and appreciation for its landscapes and inhabitants.

The Planet

As Lewis describes it, Mars, aka Malacandra, is a delicious blend of color, texture, and size. “His first impression was of a bright, pale world – a watercolor world out of a child’s paint box . . . .” The air was cold and thin, but breathable. The water of the lakes wasn’t blue in certain light, as it was on Earth, but really blue. Stirred by a faint breeze its waves were something like “turreted waves,” impossibly tall and narrow. Rose-colored, cloud-like mass of vegetation in the background looked like “the top of a gigantic red cauliflower.” There was a forest of purple vegetation “about twice the height of English Elms, but apparently soft and supple” with smooth stalks and nearly transparent leaves the size of lifeboats.

The People

The hrossa (singular hross), are the first people of Malacandra that Ransom meets. They are six or seven feet tall and too thin for their height. “It was something like a penguin, something like an otter, something like a seal; the slenderness and flexibility of its body suggested a giant stoat.” Fishermen and farmers, they live in the lowlands. They are the poets, the storytellers of Malacandra. Ransom lives amongst them, learning their language and of the eldil, and the ruler of Malacandra, Oyarsa.

The eldil are almost invisible creatures of light. They are the messengers of Oyarsa and according to the hross, must be obeyed. The hrossa can see eldil and are surprised to discover that Ransom can only see a disturbance in light and hear the eldil whispers. When an eldil tells Ransom that Oyarsa has summoned him, the hross insists he be on his way.

The séroni (singular sorn), whom Ransom grew to fear while on the spaceship, are “spindly and flimsy things twice or three times the height of a man” with pale feathers and seven-fingered hands. They are peaceful and kindly, the scientists of the world. They live in the high country through which Ransom must pass as he travels to meet Oyarsa. It is a Sorn who supplies Ransom with an oxygen bottle and carries the human on his shoulder during the difficult part of Ransom’s journey to Meldilorn, the home of Oyarsa.

In Meldilorn, Ransom meets the third species of Malacandra, the pfifltriggi (singular pfifltrigg). The pfifltrigg’s face was hairless like a man’s, “pointed like a shrew’s, yellow and shabby-looking.” It was “much more insect-like or reptilian” than any other creature Ransom saw on the alien planet. These creatures are the builders, the technicians, miners, and the artists. What a sorn can think up, a pfifltrigg can build.

Finally, Ransom meets Oyarsa. Oyarsa is a being of light, an eldil, but older and wiser. The conversation between these two characters reveals the novel’s theme. There is a retelling of Lucifer’s rejection from heaven, his isolation on Earth (the silent planet), and how Lucifer ‘bent’ man. Ransom speaks for mankind and Oyarsa passes judgment.

I’m not going to reveal the judgment and ending of this novel.   Instead, I hope you’ll read it.

The Author

Clive Staples “Jack” Lewis was a novelist, poet, scholar, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian, and a Christian apologist born in Belfast, Ireland on November 29, 1898. His love of fantasy literature was evident even as a young boy. He created an imaginary world, Boxen, where animals talked and had adventures. He was educated at Oxford where he became friends with another student, J. R.R. Tolkein.

In 1917 Lewis left his studies to fight in World War I. He became a commissioned officer with the Sumerset Light Infantry and fought in France until he was injured in April 1918. After the war, he returned to his studies He became a member of the English faculty of Oxford. It was at Oxford that a group of writers, the Inklings, began weekly meetings. They met for more than thirty years. During their meetings, they would talk, ‘share a beverage,’ and discuss their work. Several of the writers in that group produced work that is well known today. Lewis became an internationally recognized writer and was featured on the cover of Time magazine in September 1947. Read more about Lewis at the C.S. Lewis Foundation and on Wikipedia.

C.S. Lewis Style or Realistic?

I must confess I had a bias against Lewis due to what I view as the heavy-handed Christian metaphors and allegories he used in his writing. I chose this book as a representative of the decade in which it was written and because Lewis, as an author, has an impact on people even today. There are blatant metaphors and allegories in this novel, an expression of Lewis’ belief that much of the suffering on Earth is due to evil choices people make. Yet, there are also delightful and thoughtful passages and fascinating descriptions that create something like an impressionistic-style mental painting of Mars.

C.S. Lewis knew, even when he wrote Out of the Silent Planet, that Mars was not as he described it. Yet, he chose to create a painting in his reader’s mind rather than re-create reality as he knew it. For this reader, it worked.

Next in this series: The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

How about you? Would you go to Mars C.S. Lewis Style? Do you prefer imaginative interpretations of Mars or realistic ones?

Going to Mars: Word by Word: A Princess of Mars

What do you get when you mix a Civil War hero with barbaric Green Martians, ferocious beasts, and a breathtakingly-beautiful Red Martian Princess? A novel of interplanetary romance and an action-packed adventure called A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs (ERB). Our first stop on our journey to Mars, Word by Word.

Princess of Mars, Trilogy book cover, lynettemburrows.com

Written in 1911, this story had several working titles: “My First Adventure on Mars,” “The Green Martians,” and “Dejah Thoris, Martian Princess.” Re-titled “Under the Moons of Mars” it was published under the byline Norman Bean as a monthly serial from February to July 1912 in All Story Magazine. Norman, aka ERB, was paid the extravagant sum of $400.

When I sat down to read A Princess of Mars, I made a conscious decision to overlook certain things. Societal views of the roles of men and women were quite different in 1911 from what we think of today. Some word choices that were perfectly acceptable then, have considerably different usage today. To present-day readers, turn-of-the-century writing traditions of asides, addressing the reader, and explicit foreshadowing seem archaic and heavy-handed. ERB, a writer of his time, used all of those traditions. He also used the device that the story was a manuscript written by the hero, Captain John Carter. This made the asides, etc. much less intrusive to me as a reader. Overall, I found that the tale still holds the charms of a wish fulfillment story where the hero is all the things a man could wish to be and the princess is alluring and in need of rescue.

The Summary

At the end of the Civil War Captain John Carter of Virginia had a handful of worthless Confederate dollars. Broke, he and a friend went to seek their fortune in Arizona. After savages kill his friend, he attempts to save his friend’s body from mutilation by hiding in a sacred cave. There he is overcome by a ‘delicious sense of dreaminess.’ When he wakens, Carter is in a strange, exotic land he knows at once to be Mars.

Before Carter can explore much of this new land, he is captured by fearsome, twelve-foot tall Green Martians. Over time he earns the respect of Tars Tarkus, a warlord of one of the Green Martian clans. But when the beautiful Red Martian, Dejah Thoris Princess of Helium, is taken captive by the Green Martians, John Carter falls in love.

Carter battles Green Martians, warring factions of Red Martians, and ultimately saves not only his beloved Red Martian Princess, but also unites the Green Martians, frees the besieged city of Helium, and ultimately saves the entire planet. And loses his love.

The Science

The planet Mars that Burroughs created for his story has little relation to what was known of the real planet even in 1911. In reality, gravity on Mars is about 1/3rd that of Earth so John Carter would be about three times as strong as the inhabitants of Mars. In the story, John Carter can launch himself thirty feet into the air and a hundred feet from his point of origin. Who doesn’t want to do that?public domain image of Mars from space, Going to Mars book reviews, lynettemburrows.com

ERB’s brief descriptions of Mars include some attempts to explain the variances from reality. There is a massive radium powered plant that manufactures the breathable atmosphere. Water from the melting polar caps is piped below ground to water a narrow strip of vegetation and crops. The moss-like vegetation that covers most of the planet is mostly water and sustains the various native beasts that wander the planet’s surface.

Throughout the book, there are glimpses of exotic people, animals, and customs. The barbaric culture of the Green Martians is in stark contrast to the ancient buildings they inhabit. Constructed of ‘gleaming white marble inlaid with gold and brilliant stones’ and filled with ‘evidences of extreme antiquity’ the buildings and their furnishings were proportionately small for the Green Martians.

The Red Martians are smaller, more human in appearance. Those from Helium are responsible for the scientific knowledge that maintains the water and atmosphere of the planet. But they, like the Green Martians, produce offspring by laying eggs.

There are airships and power in the eighth and ninth ‘rays’ of the sun. There are monstrous wild and domesticated beasts. These bits of background information create layers that invite your imagination to play.

The Rest of the Story

Burroughs did not sit idle while waiting for A Princess of Mars to be published. He wrote a number of poems, short stories, and articles during 1911 and 1912. He had rejections and he had sales. By June of 1912, he’d sold the novel, Tarzan, to be serialized in All Story Magazine. In July he began the first of what would be eleven novels in what we call the John Carter of Mars series. But it wasn’t until 1917 that A Princess of Mars came out as a book.

For more information about ERB’s life see the Later Bloomer post written by Debra Eve titled “Edgar Rice Burrows from Pencil Sharpener to Media Mogul.” or go to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ official website.

Final Thoughts

Critics say that Burroughs was inconsistent in style and eschewed research. But I think there is something that’s overlooked in those critiques.

Even though ERB’s Mars isn’t real, it entices the reader with hope. Tonight may be the night I fall asleep and awaken in a strange, exotic land. I could awaken tomorrow to epic adventures, thrilling sword fights, and daring rescues. Dreams can come true.

Isn’t that what we all wish for?

Next stop: C. L. Moore’s Northwest Smith

The Going to Mars, Word by Word series will be posted the first Monday of the month. You can see the first post in this series here.

The latest update from NASA’s rover, Curiosity.

Mars Rover Curiosity


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