Deep Ice: We’d bring everybody down to his knees (Edison’s Conquest of Mars, Continued)

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Previously, on A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

Edison's Conquest of Mars

Most adaptations leave out the part where Gulliver goes to the island of gimp suit fetishists.

We’re somewhere around the end of January, 1898, and readers of the New York Evening Journal have for a couple of weeks now been reading the adventures of an all-star cast of a war-fleet two thousand men and a hundred electrical space ships strong, set out under the command of Thomas Edison on an expedition to make war against the red planet in bloody retribution for the War of the Worlds they’d recently visited.

H. G. Wells had described the Martians as, “Minds which are to our minds as ours are to the beasts that perish.” Garrett P. Serviss is more direct: “During the brief war with the Martians upon the earth it had been gunpowder against a mysterious force as much stronger than gunpowder as the latter was superior to the bows and arrows that preceded it.” But thanks to the inventive genius of the Wizard of Menlo Park (with some nonspecific assistance by the world’s other great scientific minds), Earth was now equipped to go on the offensive. Though the Martians possessed superior intelligence, Edison had discovered the underlying scientific principles of their warships, the breakthrough which allowed him to develop technology that equaled and in some cases exceeded the would-be invaders — this will eventually be explained as a simple stroke of serendipity: Edison’s most fantastic inventions derived from highly precise manipulation of electromagnetic fields using a particular combination of metals not found on Mars.

Of the original crew of 2000, 940 remained when the fleet descended into the Martian atmosphere. And I can’t for the life of me account for those losses: I put the total number dead at fifty-five (Three to a meteor strike, forty in the two ships destroyed by heat ray, and twelve in the ground battle on the gold asteroid). It’s a bit difficult to square away the possibility of Edison losing half his fleet without the narrative noticing, so I’m going to assume this is just an editorial blunder.

Regardless, really, of whether the Earth expedition numbered just under a thousand or (as seems more likely) closer to two thousand, their initial survey of Mars daunts our heroes a little. Without coming right out and saying it, it seems like they’d taken for granted that Mars was a dying planet, and were surprised to find, “There could be no longer any question that it was a world which, if not absolutely teeming with inhabitants, like a gigantic ant-hill, at any rate bore on every side the marks of their presence and of their incredible undertakings and achievements.” They had somehow neglected to consider that two thousand men was not really a lot to conquer a population that numbered in the millions.

"Karte Mars Schiaparelli MKL1888" by Unknown - Meyers Konversations-Lexikon (German encyclopaedia), 1888.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Karte_Mars_Schiaparelli_MKL1888.png#/media/File:Karte_Mars_Schiaparelli_MKL1888.png

Schiaparelli’s map of Mars, probably Serviss’s primary reference

Descending for a better look at the surface, Edison’s fleet runs afoul of a fleet of Martian airships, prompting more concerns that perhaps humanity had not thought this invasion all the way through, and maybe it wasn’t a great idea to stick every competent scientist on the planet on one ship. Returning to orbit, they decide to circumnavigate the planet for a reconnoiter before launching a proper attack. This leads into a brief but enjoyable “marvel at the alien wonders” segment, where everything on Mars turns out to be weird exaggerations of their terrestrial equivalents. Like the canals, much like irrigation canals on Earth, but far vaster in scope. These “canals” had been “discovered” by Giovanni Schiaparelli in 1877, and basically kicked off the whole notion of Mars being potentially inhabited, and thereby being one of the inspirations for this story’s antecedent (though Wells doesn’t reference them directly). Two problems with this: first, that Schiaparelli didn’t actually claim to have seen canals (“canals” being only a loose translation of the Italian word “canali”, which can refer equally to man-made canals and to natural gullies or riverbeds), and second, that the canals don’t exist. In the early 20th century, improved telescopes, photography, and later, satellite imagery revealed that what Shiaparelli had seen was not a network of interconnected straight-line canals, but random disconnected dark streaks in the landscape. But in one last twist, earlier this year, NASA confirmed that liquid water does indeed still seasonally flow on the surface of Mars. And what’s more, the reason we know this is that these seasonal flows are extremely briny, and therefore they leave behind evidence of their passing in the form of hydrated salts in the Martian soil which appear as — I really hope you’ve guessed it — dark streaks in the landscape. Everything on Mars is huge and exciting and classy in a way that if you mix it with the narrative’s casual racism, means it could probably pull 35% of the vote in the Republican primary. The red trees average a thousand feet in height. The buildings are made entirely of metal. The density and composition of the clouds makes them iridescent. They’ve got dogs the size of oxen. The Martian capital stands at the edge of a lake half again larger than the Caspian Sea.

No sooner have they completed their circuit than the Martians mount their defense, shrouding the entire planet in a cloud of black smoke that seems like it must be related to the black smoke from the novel, though the narrator doesn’t seem at all familiar with it. The smoke is identified as stifling, but not poisonous, its main feature being its opacity, which precludes any sort of direct attack on the surface without the risk of being ambushed. Before Edison can consider the logistics of settling in for a long-term siege, the commissary decides that this would be the most dramatically appropriate time to reveal that something’s gone wrong with their food cube storage and they’ve only got about ten days worth of food left before they’re forced to resort to cannibalism.

Which honestly would make an awesome story, but instead, Edison works out the frequency for smoke and sets the disintegrator for it. They rain down disintegration through the smoke at the huge city around the Lake of the Sun until the Martians start shooting back with heat rays (though by now, they’re just straight-up “electric beams”), destroying one ship and damaging three or four more. For no clear reason beyond bloodlust, the fleet descends through the smoke and has a go at laying waste to the city below, but they’re badly outnumbered. Though the flagship “seemed charmed” in escaping destruction, the rest of the fleet is less fortunate, and of the more than 90 ships that had descended through the smoke, only sixty survive to retreat back to low orbit. Down another 600 men, they realize that a direct assault won’t work, but with their provisions dwindling, retreat isn’t an option.

At this point, the narrative gains a new character, Colonel Alonzo Jefferson Smith (who I think must be actually fictional, since I’ve found no reference to a real one), described as an, ahem, “Old army officer who had served in many wars against the cunning Indians of the West.” In another of those moments of over-the-top comedy racism, he later refers to the Martians as “Indians”. Colonel Smith comes up with the idea of sending a third of the fleet around to the opposite side of the planet on a raid, while the remainder stays in orbit over the Lake of the Sun, outside the range of Martian weapons, basically just firing randomly at the planet to keep the Martian defenses focused there. Naturally, the narrator accompanies Smith’s expedition, because otherwise the story would get really dull for a few chapters. Colonel Jefferson’s ship is able to land undetected in a sparsely populated area, and he and the narrator become what they briefly assume to be the first humans on the surface of Mars.

They are disillusioned in this respect very quickly, thanks to the combination of the dumb luck that keeps working in favor of the Earthmen and the sorts of things that always have to come up in this kind of old-fashioned pulp adventure story. Edison's Conquest of MarsTo wit, the first building they come to, they find four Martians just sort of hanging out listening to the singing of a human slave girl, a descendant of ancient abductees — if I’m not mistaken, that also makes this the first alien abduction story. After murdering the owners, they get the girl to show them where the pantry is, and are able to reprovision the fleet with food cubes (They call it “compressed food”, one of the few inventions that the Martians and Edison both mastered). Colonel Jefferson’s expedition returns to the main fleet, pausing only long enough for a few paragraphs of exposition about Mars’s moons that is so randomly inserted that you expect it to end with Serviss telling us that knowing is half the battle.

An unnamed linguistics professor from Heidelberg identifies her native tongue as proto-Aryan. I get the feeling he might be based on a real person, possibly a parody, due to his distinctive Yoda-like speech pattern: “I have her tongue recognized!”, “This girl, to the oldest family of the human race belongs. Her language every tongue that now upon the earth is spoken antedates” (Holy fuck, an SOV dependent clause in the middle of an SOV sentence). But he’s no one I could identify. With a month’s worth of food, Edison decides that their only chance at winning the war will be if the human woman can reveal some key weakness. So the fleet withdraws to the shadow of Deimos for two weeks while he asks the linguists from the fleet to learn her language. They say they’ll try. Except for the Heidelberg professor, who says, “It shall we do.”

It takes them three weeks, in the end, during which tensions are raised by a love-quadrilateral between the rescued woman, Jefferson, the Professor and “another handsome young fellow in the flagship”, but the Heidelberg professor eventually “masters the tongue of the ancient Aryans,” which he is confident, “will the speculations of my countrymen vindicate.” Which sounds kind of ominous in retrospect. The woman, who now identifies herself as “Aina”, tells the story of her people, and, um. Wow. This is some prime grade-A Von Daniken stuff. Her ancestors came from “The Vale of Cashmere”, which I think must refer to an old-timey name for Kashmir Valley, and not the section of Prospect Park. The Martians invaded and for some reason forcibly relocated the population to Egypt, where they used their amazing alien technology to build the Sphinx and also the pyramids, as a kind of reproduction of the mountains they’d been so impressed by in Kashmir (Serviss’s Mars being mountainless). Because the pyramids couldn’t possibly have been the work of “puny man”.

History Channel Aliens MemeThe Egyptian Martians were eventually afflicted by disease, just like their modern counterparts. I notice that it seems like Serviss has modified Wells’s presentation of the Martian downfall: it seems not to simply be that the Martians have no immunity to bacteria, but rather that they’re overly susceptible to one specific illness, not unlike the “Martian Flu” in The Great Martian War. They’d abandoned Earth then, but took Aina’s ancestors with them because they liked Earth music, but couldn’t get the hang of playing it themselves. Thousands of Mars-bred human slaves had served as entertainers to the Martian elite for millennia until Edison’s fleet had shown up. Fearful of a slave uprising, the Martians had slaughtered the humans, sparing only Aina, because this is a late nineteenth century adventure story and it always ends up being the undoing of one of the native chiefs that he’s taken a particular lecherous interest in the pretty white woman.

She goes on to explain that Mars is heavily fortified due to a war with, of all places, Ceres, and as such, the human force isn’t nearly great enough to defeat them head-on, but she does, as hoped, know their weakness. What follows is a detailed and boring account of nineteenth century scientific theory about Mars which is detailed and reasonable and which we have long-since learned to be wrong in every major respect. In brief, at the height of summer in the southern Martian hemisphere, the southern ice cap melts rapidly, and what with Mars being so flat (In the story. In real life, Mars is about three times bumpier per capita than Earth. But in 1898, all we knew of Martian topography came from its albedo, based on which Mars appeared to decompose neatly into “uniformly more shiny” and “uniformly less shiny”), the only thing that prevents the whole planet from flooding is that the water can flow from the shallow ocean on the south side of the planet to the shallow oceans on the north side through the Syrtis Major, where, it being winter up there, they rapidly freeze into the northern polar ice cap. Only the Martians threw up a big dam across Syrtis Major in order to control the movement of water back toward the poles and extend the growing season. And Aina reckons, because it seems to be something the Martians had worried about the Ceresans trying, that if they close the floodgates right around the solstice, it’ll flood the planet. That seems a little extreme to me, but I guess maybe they just mean it’ll flood the densely populated parts of the planet. And as luck would have it, the height of the seasonal flooding is happening right as we speak.

Edison's Conquest of Mars

If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the M-Team.

Which just leaves it to a small group of five — Edison, Smith, Serviss, Sydney Phillips (the “Handsome young man” from earlier) and Aina — to break into the most heavily guarded facility on the planet and sabotage it… Did Serviss just invent the Five Man Band trope? The actual mission doesn’t have much to it: they break in, shoot the guards, and close the floodgate. There’s two moments that might possibly be described as tense. When they reach the controls, Aina proves unable to help them determine which one closes the floodgates. And immediately afterward, they’re caught unawares by three Martian dam operators. The second problem is solved by the simple expedient of Serviss, Phillips and Smith shooting them with their disintegrators, which isn’t even as exciting as back when they rescued Aina, because it’s three-on-three rather than three-on-two, so they don’t even have to do any clever aiming to hit them all (Yeah, that was a thing. They had to angle their shots to hit two of them at a time because you’ve got to fiddle with the disintegrator for a minute to reset it between shots). The first is resolved by the even less exciting method of “Edison looks at the control panel for a minute and uses his genius to deduce which knob it is.”

Mars being basically Texas with a thyroid problem in this story, the closing of miles of floodgates has an instantaneous and colossal effect. “The great Syrtis seemed to gather itself for a moment, and then it leaped upon the obstruction and hurled its waters into one vast foaming geyser that seemed to shoot a thousand feet skyward … the baffled waters instantly swirled round in ten thousand gigantic eddies.” The team is nearly swept away by the deluge themselves, and are just barely rescued by the crew of their ship. I am not really up enough on my nineteenth century misconceptions about the geography of Mars to explain why it is that once the floodwaters get high enough to cover the continents, they don’t all pour off the other side into the northern oceans, but instead they completely inundate the continents (Modern knowledge of Martian geography is no help here, since, among other things, Syrtis Major is actually not a sea but a volcano). The closest thing I can work out is that the initial flooding of Syrtis Major causes a chain reaction because the interiors of the continents are below sea level, and the initial rush of water carves down the natural and Martian-made embankments. Every time the flood reaches a new body of water, rather than draining into it, it ploughs down the banks and causes it to start emptying into the countryside as well. I have no idea how plausible any of this is, even granting the initial premise of Mars having big oceans and canals which surge every summer as the planet’s entire water supply melts and flows from one side of the planet to the other.

Now that we had let the awful destroyer loose we almost shrank from the thought of the consequences which we had produced. How many millions would perish as the result of our deed we could not even guess. Many of the victims, so far as we knew, might be entirely innocent of enmity toward us, or of the evil which had been done to our native planet. But this was a case in which the good—if they existed—must suffer with the bad on account of the wicked deeds of the latter.

There’s a weird moderation to the narrative’s bloodthirstiness. The Martians are hardly ever described without derision, and there is never any question raised as to the justness of the humans’ mission of vengeance. But there are moments, as when Edison declared his intent to not, “murder them without necessity,” on the asteroid (Speaking of which, the prisoner completely disappears from the story once they get to Mars. Maybe they threw him overboard), when they briefly acknowledge the horror in their actions, even acknowledging, once it’s safely too late to do anything about it, that, “We were all moved by a desire to help our enemies, for we were overwhelmed with feelings of pity and remorse.” Even Colonel Smith admits to feeling sorry for them, though he predicts that the fraction of their population that will survive the catastrophe will be, “as many left as will be good for us.” Which is pretty much exactly the right sort of thing for a guy whose claim to fame is slaughtering the indigenous population of North America to say. Next to the, “Hey, let’s steal all their natural resources,” bits, this is the most Victorian thing in the whole story, this sense of “It sure is sad, but this entire civilization overwhelmingly composed of completely innocent people who never did us any wrong needed a culling.” And yet, I see something chillingly familiar and kind of prescient in the extent to which this story embraces an attitude of, “Maybe we can suffer a tiny minority of them to live, sufficiently browbeaten and defeated that they could never possibly rise again above the level of bare subsistence, with even that questionable. But the vast majority of them we should just kill, not just the fighting men, but the civilians, women and children, just to be on the safe side. It’s not like they’re people anyway. Oh, but we should totally feel real bad about it, because it’s not like we’re monsters.”

The final battle between Edison’s fleet and the Martian air force takes place during the flood, with hundreds of Martian airships taking time off from rescuing their drowning countrymen to take pot-shots at the Earth ships with their electrical weapons. It’s a complete rout for the Martians this time, Edison and company now knowing better than to descend into their range. Only a few of the electric ships are seriously damaged, while hundreds of Martian airships are destroyed, and most of the rest incapacitated.

Whatever sympathy they fail to feel for the 90% of the Martian population being exterminated below, they do feel when they happen across a 40-foot-tall captive from Ceres, described as, “perfect in form and in classic beauty of feature as the Venus of Milo,” who, despite their attempts to rescue her, is swept away and drowned in the flood.

When they reach the Emperor’s palace, they find it flying flags of truce, and Edison declares, again, that they can’t just butcher the lot of them — maybe it’s just me, but he seems a bit half-hearted: “We shall have to go down and have a confab with them, I suppose,” he says. Another ground fight breaks out in the palace when one of the guards inexplicably takes a swing at Aina. The human delegation, with air support, slaughters the entire imperial guard. Fortunately, Aina recovers, since she’s the only one who speaks enough Martian to handle negotiations. Edison demands and recevies unconditional surrender, the Emperor swearing an oath of non-aggression. It honestly hardly seems necessary, since Edison is convinced that the Martians face pretty much certain extinction, but it’s important to him to keep his hands clean:

Nothing that we could now do … would in my opinion save you from ultimate destruction. The forces of nature which we have been compelled to let loose upon you will complete their own victory. But we do not wish, unnecessarily, to stain our hands further with your blood. We shall leave you in possession of your lives.

Lord Kelvin is more optimistic, believing that the tenth of their population that isn’t already dead stands a good chance of survival, though he agrees that the important thing is that they personally are only responsible for near-genocide, not complete genocide.

While the ships are repaired and reprovisioned for their return trip (They demand a booty of delicious Martian food cubes from the Emperor, and refill their water from the saltless Martian sea. In a minor change of pace, the technology to preserve and compress water is attributed to Moissan rather than Edison), the fleet’s scientists engage in some shotgun scientific exchange with the Martian survivors. The fleet has been reduced from 100 ships and over 2000 men to 55 ships and 1,085 men. Which I know is a net increase from the last number I gave. It’s got to be a misprint. The author sadly reports that many famous people died on the mission, but, “Fortunately this number did not include any of those whom I have had occasion to mention in the course of this narrative.” Reminds me a lot of a line from Much Ado About Nothing, where a messenger reports that in the recent war, Don Pedro had lost, “But few of any sort and none of any name.”

If the narrative this far hasn’t provided you with enough dodgy science and dodgy ethics, I’ve got good news, because next up are the affirmation of phrenology, and Martian gender essentialism. Because, obviously, one of the first questions the humans have is, “Why you so ugly?” The answer turns out to be that Martian technology allows them to selectively develop individual regions of the brain, resulting in hypercephaly which is, because of course it is, perfectly in line with the predictions of 19th century phrenologists: soldiers all develop big old lumps on their head in the sections that are supposed to correspond to aggression and fearlessness, poets are lumpy in the creativity region, and so forth. This hyperdevelopment gave Martian men an instinctive ability to comprehend their own fields without study. But, of course, that’s only for the men: women received only a general education, since it’s not like women would have jobs or anything. Resultingly, they don’t develop lumpy heads, and, aside from being twelve feet tall, look just as beautiful as Earth women. Well, given their complexion, as beautiful as Italian women. I’m not making that up. The narrator actually says that.

They finally have their fill of Mars and leave the Martians to their own slow, horrible starvation deaths. On the way out, Colonel Smith offhandedly executes the Martian Emperor when he sees him beating his wife in the rear-view mirror. I am not making this up either. He’d been shaking his fist on the balcony in impotent rage as Edison’s fleet departed, no doubt muttering the Martian for, “I’ll get you, Gadget, next time!”, and she tripped and bumped into him and he cold-cocked her, so Smith zaps him with the main gun. At this point, Aina finally decides it’s the right time to reveal that the Martians believed the Emperor to be an immortal god-king, personally responsible for the invasion of Earth (and, by Martian tradition, the same dude whose face is on the Sphinx. Though Aina indicates that her people thought that was just propaganda and he’s really the dude’s great-great-great-etc-grandson), and unlikely to keep his word. Pity she didn’t bring this up sooner. Given the comparative ease with which they’ve accomplished everything else, they could have just assassinated him a week ago and avoided all that unpleasant genocide business.

The conquerers return to Earth two months later to much fanfare, circumnavigating the globe to drop off their homesick personnel along with a press release about their adventures, starting from Mt. Fuji in Japan and going all the way to New York City. Because fuck Austrialia. The story of the second Martian war takes something of a cue from Wells, ending on a more romantic note, with the narrator attending the wedding of Aina to Sidney Phillips. The heartbroken but noble Colonel Smith gives the bride away before heading back to the plains to pursue his remaining passion, slaughtering the native population.

The wedding serves as a symbol, right at the end, the joining of “the first stem of the Aryan race … with the latest offspring of that great family,” representing the way that the nations of all the world had come together, united for the first time in history as one people, brought together in New York, the de facto capital of this new united Earth, “and the link which had served to bring them together was the far-away planet of Mars.”

At least for white people.

When I first read this novella about a year ago, there wasn’t really anything in it that I latched onto. It’s pulp schlock to be sure. Its casual racism is striking in a lot of ways. Foremost for me is in how nuanced it is. I think we like to imagine the racism of the past as being huge, overblown, hateful caricatures, and to be sure a lot of it was. But here we see it on a much more subtle and pernicious level, the straight-up level of “There’s nothing really wrong with them, but they’re not quite as fully human as we are.”

And there’s also the… (this is an awkward sentence) diversity of it. Modern American readers are I think trained to imagine racism almost purely along the line of skin color. But that comes up very little, actually: for all the racism in the story, once we get to the expedition, if it weren’t for the bit at the end where they explicitly mention dropping crewmen off in Tokyo and Beijing (or “Tokio” and “Pekin”), you’d never know there was a single person of non-European descent aboard. But there’s still plenty of ethnic stereotyping: The stuffiness of the British. The pompous belligerence of the Germans. The veiled barbarism of the Russians. The random, out-of-nowhere slam on the Italians. The only other American work I can think of that showcases this kind of white-on-white racism is Jacob Riis’s How the Other Half Lives (which is heavily concerned with how European immigrants have to assimilate and divest themselves of their traditional culture to get reclassified as properly white in order to get ahead in America. With a side note about how it was a shame that, through no fault of their own, black and east-Asian people were pretty much stuck since no amount of cultural assimilation would change the shape of their eyes and the color of their skin. And I should be clear here, I’m not calling Riis out for racism: he’s one of the first writers to identify cultural attitudes toward largely arbitrary racial delineations as a problem.). We really want to forget that it’s only decades into the 20th century that Anglo-Saxon Americans actually considered eastern Europeans, southern Europeans and even the Irish to actually even be “white”.

Weirder is how none of this seems to bother anyone even to the point of affecting their ability to interact: there’s a delegation from the Sioux nations at the great congress of the nations, which you would think would be awkward since the US government is apparently still trying to exterminate the Native Americans by the end of the story. The Prince of Wales expresses his great relief that it’s an Anglo-Saxon who’ll be leading the Mars mission, and the Czar of Russia and Kaiser of Germany “exchange glances,” but everyone still claps and cheers and goes along with the plan. That’s universal brotherhood for you. If Goliath felt strange in how all the old rivalries and hatreds still existed despite everything having changed, this story feels strange in how all the old rivalries and hatreds have been set aside despite everything that underlies them having stayed the same.

Being a man who was born well after the 1940s, a great and ominous shiver shoots right up my spine over that whole, “first stem of the Aryan race” thing. Whenever someone gets to musing on the mythical Arcadian golden Aryan civilization from which all that is good and right and white and did we mention white, that’s going to be… awkward. Especially when it’s a really pompous German academic doing it. And my first time through, I was able to bracket it with the help of the way that the narrator is clearly amenable to framing that whole sequence as, “Oh, those silly Germans, always insisting that everything worthwhile came from their branch o’ the old family tree,” like it’s the Russian Inwention running gag on Star Trek. But the story never actually disagrees with it, even going as far as to use it explicitly in its final scene to summarize Mars’s role as the catalyst for the unification of humanity. Aina serves multiple times to spur the heroes to action: her liberation, her defense and retribution for the enslavement and massacre of her people all act as immediate personal motives for the crew, even to the point of having her brutalized by a Martian to justify the last ground fight. She’s lucky the Martians haven’t invented the home refrigerator yet. And of course, her entire existence as a character is down to “An important Martian found the pretty white girl way hotter than his own species and therefore spared her.”

I don’t, by calling Serviss’s work out for this, mean to say that Edison’s Conquest of Mars shouldn’t be read. If you want a disincentive to reading it, it’s enough to point out that it’s cheap pulp fiction, full of sensationalism and dodgy science, and that it suffers from numerous structural weaknesses arising from Serviss having clearly written it week-to-week: characters like the Martian pirate vanish without a trace. The way that they suddenly notice for the first time how gravity works in space two months into the trip. There are occasional misplaced asides that have the feel of, “I’m below my word-count this week, so here’s some fun facts about Mars,” or, “Oh, right, I probably should have mentioned this weeks ago…” There are funny little contradictions, such as Serviss misplacing half the fleet at the start of chapter 10, and the mysterious transformation of heat rays into lightning guns.

But if you’re into that sort of thing, I think this really is a story that you should read, not in spite of the casual unthinking racism and sexism, but actually because of it. The way that it manages to simultaneously be unmistakably overt and also casually subtle, I think it gives you a real sense of how racist memes and attitudes and notions infest and shape society at all levels, and you don’t have to put on a white hood or call for suspending Article VI to be part of the problem. That’s not a message we’re great at selling. And besides, it’s a fast, fun read.

But even beyond the casual realistic racism, this reading really struck me far harder than my previous one in its dimension of being a story where a US-led coalition leads a war of choice to a distant land, not really appreciating what they were getting into, winning a quick, decisive victory using shock and awe, with little concern for civilian casualties, left a civilization in ruins, declared the mission accomplished, and patted themselves on the backs for the way that they didn’t personally murder the entire population, just triggered an ecological catastrophe that killed 90% of them and left the survivors with uncertain chances. All in the name of protecting the homeland from the recurrence of a one-off unexpected shocking attack that left everyone scared, confused and indiscriminately angry.

Last year, I didn’t live in a world where a sitting elected official mused on personally shooting refugees in the head. Last year, I didn’t live in a world where the leading candidate in a presidential primary called for religious tests for immigration. Last year, I didn’t live in a world where an elected official would publicly speak in praise of the WWII internment of Japanese-American citizens. Last year, I didn’t live in a world where half the country says we shouldn’t let refugees escape a country where one gang of thugs will murder them for their political beliefs, another gang of thugs will murder them for their religious beliefs, and faceless fiery death from above will murder them because bombs and missiles and drones and chemical weapons don’t give a fuck about your religious or political beliefs, and the guy who’s considered “moderate” on the issue says we can let them in, but only if they can pronounce “shibboleth” properly.

Well. That went dark all of a sudden. Um. Merry Christmas?

War of the Worlds The Series returns next week.


3 thoughts on “Deep Ice: We’d bring everybody down to his knees (Edison’s Conquest of Mars, Continued)

  1. Nate

    “An unnamed linguistics professor from Heidelberg identifies her native tongue as proto-Aryan. I get the feeling he might be based on a real person, possibly a parody, due to his distinctive Yoda-like speech pattern: “I have her tongue recognized!””

    I assume that’s just German, because all famous scientists were basically German before Hitler destroyed the academy; the verb at the end of the sentence putting a stereotypically German language pattern is.

  2. Nate

    Also, this level of casual genocide will continue in English-language science fiction *at least* until the end of Lensman, in 1954.

    The casual racism of Buck Rogers (‘good old white boys n girls must fight to free America from EVIL CHINESE SCIENTISTS!’) in 1928 is something to witness though.

  3. Pingback: Deconstruction Roundup for December 25th, 2015 | The Slacktiverse

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