Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ray Bradbury's "Mars Is Heaven" aka "April 2000: The Third Expedition": Humans explorers conned by hostile Martians

I liked this story in spite of having a general idea of its plot. I originally got its reference from Adam-Troy Castro's "Sunday Night Yams at Minnie and Earl's".

Story summary.
A human exploration spaceship with 17 crew members is headed to Mars. The year is 1960. Ship is the third in line; we are not told where the earlier two went, but a little Google search tells me the previous ones were also to Mars in different earlier stories of Bradbury.

One crew member dies on the way; 16 land on Mars. But the landing is at an amazing place: "on a lawn of green grass. Outside, upon the lawn, stood an iron deer. Further up the lawn, a tall brown Victorian house sat in the quiet sunlight... Around the rocket in four directions spread the little town"! Ship's chemist declares that "the atmosphere is fine for breathing".

So earth-like a place on Mars makes Captain John Black very suspicious. So he will go out for first exploration with two members - Samuel Hinkston, archaeologist, & Albert Lustig, the navigator.

No one else is to get out. They will man guns. In case of trouble, they will "lift the ship and get the hell out", leaving the 3 behind.

OK - the party gets out. And knock at first door they see. Knock is answered by a lady, & the conversation is comical - & somewhat on lines of Arthur Clarke's "Trouble With The Natives":

"If you're selling something, I'm much too busy and I haven't time."

"What town is this?"
"How could you be in a town and not know what town it was?"
"But we're strangers here. We're from Earth, and we want to know how this town got here and you got here."
"Are you census takers?"

"How long has this town been here?"
"It was built in 1868".

"Look here. We're from Earth."
"From where?"
"From Earth!"
"Where's that?"
"Out of the ground, do you mean?"
"No, from the planet Earth!" "come out on the porch and I'll show you."
"No, I won't come out there. You are all evidently quite mad".

"We came in a flying ship across space... We came from the third planet from the sun, Earth, to this planet, which is Mars."
"But. This is Mars, is it not?"
"This, is Green Lake, Wisconsin, on the continent of America, surrounded by the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, on a place called the world, or sometimes, the Earth. Go away now."

"What year is this?"
"1926, of, course!"

Now the visitors are left scratching their head. Has there been a technical fault, & they landed back on earth? Or have they traveled across time? Or was there a previous secret colonization of Mars?

That is when Lustig runs away to a place he finds familiar. He meets his grandparents there, & this is their house - very familiar to him. Only they have been dead 30 years! His grandma informs him that they have been here "Ever since we died"!

Soon, they hear commotion outside. And find the ship surrounded by people, & the crew left there has been mingling with the crowd, in spite of instructions to the contrary. A little investigation, & Captain finds everyone of ship has met long dead dear ones! That is when he meets his own long dead brother, who carts him off to his own old house - and meets his dead parents too!

Dark thoughts emerge late at night, when Captain has been rationalizing the day's mad events. "Just suppose ... that there were Martians living on Mars & they saw our ship coming... Suppose ... that they wanted to destroy us, as invaders, ... & they wanted to do it in a very clever way, so that we would be taken off guard. Well, what would the best weapon be that a Martian could use against Earthmen with atom weapons? ... Telepathy, hypnosis, ... Suppose all these houses weren't real at all ... but only figments of my own imagination, given substance by telepathy and hypnosis by the Martians... Suppose these houses are really some other shape, a Martian shape, but by playing on my desires and wants, these Martians have made this seem like my old home town, my old house, to lull me out of my suspicions?"

In panic, he tries to run out of room. But he won't make it. His suspicions are true.

Next day morning, we see burial of all 16 visitors, & destruction of their ship. And Martians returning to their true shapes.

See also.

  1. Eric Frank Russell's "Mesmerica": Similar very hostile telepath hypnotist aliens that can pick human explorers on their planet by luring them with familiar visions.
  2. Robert Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land": Very competent Martians contemplating destruction of earth & humans is a minor subplot that runs through the story.

Collected in.

  1. Robert Silverberg (Ed)'s "The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: Volume One, 1929-1964".
  2. Ray Bradbury's "The Martian Chronicles".
Fact sheet.
"Mars Is Heaven" aka "Mars Is Heaven!" aka "The Third Expedition", short story, review
First published: "Planet Stories" magazine, 1948
Rating: A
Related: All stories of Ray Bradbury.


Anonymous said...

I agree, I loved the twist at the end... The way it keeps you guessing and wondering what the hell is really going on.

=) I'd love to read more stories with similar feel! ("Thus I Refute Beelzy" is also a very well written short story.

Kudos to that!