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Imagining Mars: A Literary History Hardcover – Jan 3 2011

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Well-Red Planet March 14 2011
By Don R. Lago - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The last few years have brought a rich addition to the literature about Mars--that is, Mars as an idea, as cultural history. Three new books have much to offer: Robert Crossley's Imagining Mars, Robert Markley's Dying Planet, and K. Maria Lane's Geographies of Mars. While there have been quite a few previous books that trace the human fascination with Mars, most were written by space exploration enthusiasts or science fiction enthusiasts, who didn't always have much depth as cultural historians. These three new books have been written by professors whose trade is cultural history and who can place ideas about Mars in larger perspectives. Each book has its own strengths. Robert Crossley offers us the best-ever literary history of Mars, focusing mostly on the fiction about Mars--though as he points out, much of this fiction was really about us back on Earth, our values and worldviews and fantasies, our hopes and fears. Crossley has done amazingly deep research into Martian fiction, finding many obscure but fascinating books that deserve to be remembered. Most of us probably imagine that Martian fiction began with H.G. Wells, but Crossley shows it was already going strong well before then. He offers entire chapters on Mars as utopia, Mars and the paranormal, Mars as a theater for male fantasies. Crossley shows how changing scientific ideas about Mars have continued shaping Martian fiction, most notably Percival Lowell's canals, then the Space Age revelation of a barren Mars. Martian fiction has made a strong influence on scientific ideas about Mars, not always for the best. Martian fiction has evolved from imagining Martian civilizations to today's imagining humans bringing civilization to Mars. Crossley's judgments about changing scientific ideas and historical trends and fictional themes seem accurate and insightful. Occasionally his praise of some books seems a bit too generous, but then I haven't read these books, and now I am planning to do so.

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