A place for me to share my pictures, reports and thoughts on all things Martian - in particular the excellent new miniature Wargame due out in December - All Quiet on the Martian Front.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Earthmen are from Earth, Martians are from Mars...

Right - finally done with painting entries up for the Lead Painters League over on the LAF - a rather time consuming endeavour!

So where to begin with our Martian Odyssey?

Well it would seem logical to start at the source of the Martian scourge - H G Wells and his hugely influential novel, War of the Worlds. I'm sure if you're reading this you'll be more than familiar with the plot so I think I'll have a start by looking at the themes and tropes that Wells either created or developed from earlier works of fiction and scientific discoveries of the period and why the story has stuck in my and the popular imagination for so long.

First up the Martians themselves!

War of the Worlds was one of the first Alien Invasion stories to be told. As is so often the case with Wells, much of his story telling is a reaction to prevailing social trends and political and technical developments. The story sits within the (at the time) popular trend of Invasion stories, most of which were concerned with the threat an increasingly powerful Germany was becoming.

Only this time it wasn't beastly Huns trying to get a toehold in Blighty - this time it was actual Aliens!

Title page from the 1927 Amazing Stories, by Frank Paul
Kudos to Wells for imagining something a little different to the Humanoid Aliens, or indeed Rubber Forehead Aliens, we often see in other Sci-fi works. Do we detect the influence of Darwin and his recently published theories, so prevalent elsewhere in some of the big themes of the book, in Wells' description of the Martians?

 I think everyone expected to see a man emerge--possibly something a little unlike us terrestrial men, but in all essentials a man. I know I did. But, looking, I presently saw something stirring within the shadow: greyish billowy movements, one above another, and then two luminous disks--like eyes. Then something resembling a little grey snake, about the thickness of a walking stick, coiled up out of the writhing middle, and wriggled in the air towards me--and then another...

... A big greyish rounded bulk, the size, perhaps, of a bear, was rising slowly and painfully out of the cylinder. As it bulged up and caught the light, it glistened like wet leather.
Two large dark-coloured eyes were regarding me steadfastly. The mass that framed them, the head of the thing, was rounded, and had, one might say, a face. There was a mouth under the eyes, the lipless brim of which quivered and panted, and dropped saliva. The whole creature heaved and pulsated convulsively. A lank tentacular appendage gripped the edge of the cylinder, another swayed in the air.

Those who have never seen a living Martian can scarcely imagine the strange horror of its appearance. The peculiar V-shaped mouth with its pointed upper lip, the absence of brow ridges, the absence of a chin beneath the wedgelike lower lip, the incessant quivering of this mouth, the Gorgon groups of tentacles, the tumultuous breathing of the lungs in a strange atmosphere, the evident heaviness and painfulness of movement due to the greater gravitational energy of the earth--above all, the extraordinary intensity of the immense eyes--were at once vital, intense, inhuman, crippled and monstrous. There was something fungoid in the oily brown skin, something in the clumsy deliberation of the tedious movements unspeakably nasty. Even at this first encounter, this first glimpse, I was overcome with disgust and dread.

 “War of the Worlds” (1898) by artist Henrique Alvim CorrĂȘa (1876-1910)
This becomes more apparent as the narrator muses over what he observes of the Martians during his incarceration in the ruined house on the way to Leatherhead.

Strange as it may seem to a human being, all the complex apparatus of digestion, which makes up the bulk of our bodies, did not exist in the Martians. They were heads--merely heads. Entrails they had none. They did not eat, much less digest. Instead, they took the fresh, living blood of other creatures, and injected it into their own veins. 

Having evolved past the need of a body the Martians replace these inefficient processes with machinery, 

It is worthy of remark that a certain speculative writer of quasi-scientific repute, writing long before the Martian invasion, did forecast for man a final structure not unlike the actual Martian condition. His prophecy, I remember, appeared in November or December, 1893, in a long-defunct publication, the Pall Mall Budget, and I recall a caricature of it in a pre-Martian periodical called Punch. He pointed out--writing in a foolish, facetious tone--that the perfection of mechanical appliances must ultimately supersede limbs; the perfection of chemical devices, digestion; that such organs as hair, external nose, teeth, ears, and chin were no longer essential parts of the human being, and that the tendency of natural selection would lie in the direction of their steady diminution through the coming ages. The brain alone remained a cardinal necessity. Only one other part of the body had a strong case for survival, and that was the hand, "teacher and agent of the brain." While the rest of the body dwindled, the hands would grow larger.

Martian Machines from the Jeff Wayne inspired computer game
There is many a true word written in jest, and here in the Martians we have beyond dispute the actual accomplishment of such a suppression of the animal side of the organism by the intelligence. To me it is quite credible that the Martians may be descended from beings not unlike ourselves, by a gradual development of brain and hands (the latter giving rise to the two bunches of delicate tentacles at last) at the expense of the rest of the body. Without the body the brain would, of course, become a mere selfish intelligence, without any of the emotional substratum of the human being.

I think this is partly why War of the Worlds is so satisfying - the Martians aren't just bad guys from space - a faceless unreasoning enemy with no particular reason for their invasion.

Are the Martians any worse than us Humans and our colonial/genocidal ways?

And before we judge of them too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?

Are their dietary habits any worse than ours?

I think that we should remember how repulsive our carnivorous habits would seem to an intelligent rabbit

And what would we do in their place?

The secular cooling that must someday overtake our planet has already gone far indeed with our neighbour. Its physical condition is still largely a mystery, but we know now that even in its equatorial region the midday temperature barely approaches that of our coldest winter. Its air is much more attenuated than ours, its oceans have shrunk until they cover but a third of its surface, and as its slow seasons change huge snowcaps gather and melt about either pole and periodically inundate its temperate zones. That last stage of exhaustion, which to us is still incredibly remote, has become a present-day problem for the inhabitants of Mars. The immediate pressure of necessity has brightened their intellects, enlarged their powers, and hardened their hearts. And looking across space with instruments, and intelligences such as we have scarcely dreamed of, they see, at its nearest distance only 35,000,000 of miles sunward of them, a morning star of hope, our own warmer planet, green with vegetation and grey with water, with a cloudy atmosphere eloquent of fertility, with glimpses through its drifting cloud wisps of broad stretches of populous country and narrow, navy-crowded seas.

Might we even feel a touch of sympathy for the Martians in the end, terrible though they are in purpose and technological might, yet tragically doomed despite their best efforts?

Fantastic illustration by Geoff Taylor - Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds
It was near South Kensington that I first heard the howling. It crept almost imperceptibly upon my senses. It was a sobbing alternation of two notes, "Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla," keeping on perpetually. When I passed streets that ran northward it grew in volume, and houses and buildings seemed to deaden and cut it off again. It came in a full tide down Exhibition Road. I stopped, staring towards Kensington Gardens, wondering at this strange, remote wailing. It was as if that mighty desert of houses had found a voice for its fear and solitude...

... As I crossed the bridge, the sound of "Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla," ceased. It was, as it were, cut off. The silence came like a thunderclap.

The dusky houses about me stood faint and tall and dim; the trees towards the park were growing black. All about me the red weed clambered among the ruins, writhing to get above me in the dimness. Night, the mother of fear and mystery, was coming upon me. But while that voice sounded the solitude, the desolation, had been endurable; by virtue of it London had still seemed alive, and the sense of life about me had upheld me. Then suddenly a change, the passing of something--I knew not what--and then a stillness that could be felt.

This idea of pitying the Martians reminds me of a John Wyndham story which follows similar themes of a doomed Mars, Sleepers of Mars, but more of that later when I take a look at Mars related fiction.

Besides the Martians are given something of a get out of jail free card in the epilogue - perhaps their invasion of Venus was more successful...

Lessing has advanced excellent reasons for supposing that the Martians have actually succeeded in effecting a landing on the planet Venus. Seven months ago now, Venus and Mars were in alignment with the sun; that is to say, Mars was in opposition from the point of view of an observer on Venus. Subsequently a peculiar luminous and sinuous marking appeared on the unillumined half of the inner planet, and almost simultaneously a faint dark mark of a similar sinuous character was detected upon a photograph of the Martian disk. One needs to see the drawings of these appearances in order to appreciate fully their remarkable resemblance in character.

As well as the Darwinian and Colonial slant you can apply to them, its also interesting to look at the scientific background of the time and how they influenced Wells' creation. I love the fact that he was no doubt inspired by real events at the time. The book starts with the observation made of a great light on the surface of Mars, made from the Lick Observatory by Perrotin of Nice.

Here's the original report

Since the arrangements for circulating telegraphic information on astronomical subjects was inaugurated, Dr. Krueger, who is in charge of the Central Bureau at Kiel, certainly has not favoured his correspondents with a stranger telegram than the one which he flashed over the world on Monday afternoon :-
"Projection lumineuse dans region australe du terminateur de Mars observee par Jarvelle 28 Juillet 16 heures Perrotin"

This relates to an observation made at the famous Nice Observatory, of which M. Perrotin is the Director, by M. Javelle, who is already well known for his careful work. The news therefore must be accepted seriously, and, as it may be imagined, details are anxiously awaited; on Monday and Tuesday nights, unfortunately, the weather in London was not favourable for observation [Observation in London!], so whether the light continues or not is not known.

It would appear that the luminous projection is not a light outside the the disc of Mars, but in the region of the planet not lighted up by the sun at the time of observation. The gibbosity of the planet is pretty considerable at the present time. Had there been evidence that the light was outside the disc, the strange appearance might be due to a comet in the same line of sight as the planet. If we assume the light to be on the planet itself, then it must either have a physical or human origin; so it is to be expected that the old idea that the Martians are signalling to us will be revived. Of physical origins we can only think of Aurora (which is not improbable, only bearing in mind the locality named, but distinctly improbable unless we assume that in Mars the phenomenon is much more intense than with us), a long range of snow-capped hills, and forest fires burning over a large area.

Without favouring the signalling idea before we know more of the observation, it may be stated that a better time for signalling could scarcely be chosen, for Mars being now a morning star, means that the opposition when no part of its dark surface will be visible, is some time off.

The Martians, of course, find it much easier to see the dark side of the Earth than we do to see the dark side of Mars, and whatever may be the explanation of the appearances which three astronomers of reputation have thought proper to telegraph over the world, it is worth noting that forest fires over large areas may be the first distinctive thing observed on either planet from the other besides the fixed surface markings.

Add these observations to Lowell's ideas of a Martian civilisation, discussed in his 1895 book,  Mars. 

To review, now, the chain of reasoning by which we have been led to regard it probable that upon the surface of Mars we see the effects of local intelligence. We find, in the first place, that the broad physical conditions of the planet are not antagonistic to some form of life; secondly, that there is an apparent dearth of water upon the planet's surface,and therefore, if beings of sufficient intelligence inhabited it, they would have to resort to irrigation to support life; thirdly, that there turns out to be a network of markings covering the disk precisely counterparting what a system of irrigation would look like; and, lastly, that there is a set of spots placed where we should expect to find the lands thus artificially fertilized, and behaving as such constructed oases should. All this, of course, may be a set of coincidences, signifying nothing; but the probability points the other way. As to details of explanation, any we may adopt will undoubtedly be found, on closer acquaintance, to vary from the actual Martian state of things; for any Martian life must differ markedly from our own.

The fundamental fact in the matter is the dearth of water. If we keep this in mind, we shall see that many of the objections that spontaneously arise answer themselves. The supposed herculean task of constructing such canals disappears at once; for, if the canals be dug for irrigation purposes, it is evident that what we see, and call by ellipsis the canal, is not really the canal at all, but the strip of fertilized land bordering it,--the thread of water in the midst of it, the canal itself, being far too small to be perceptible. In the case of an irrigation canal seen at a distance, it is always the strip of verdure, not the canal, that is visible, as we see in looking from afar upon irrigated country on the Earth.

The idea that Mars is a place like Earth is accepted - as well as the notion that water is scarce and that the presence of "canals" must point to the presence of intelligent life. 

So to is the idea of Mars as older and thus dying planet - 

Mars being thus old himself, we know that evolution on his surface must be similarly advanced. This only informs us of its condition relative to the planet's capabilities. Of its actual state our data are not definite enough to furnish much deduction. But from the fact that our own development has been comparatively a recent thing, and that a long time would be needed to bring even Mars to his present geological condition, we may judge any life he may support to be not only relatively, but really older than our own. From the little we can see, such appears to be the case. The evidence of handicraft, if such it be, points to a highly intelligent mind behind it. Irrigation, unscientifically conducted would not give us such truly wonderful mathematical fitness in the several parts to the whole as we there behold. A mind of no mean order would seem to have presided over the system we see,--a mind certainly of considerably more comprehensiveness than that which presides over the various departments of our own public works. Party politics, at all events, have had no part in them; for the system is planet wide. Quite possibly, such Martian folk are possessed of inventions of which we have not dreamed, and with them electrophones and kinetoscopes are things of a bygone past, preserved with veneration in museums as relics of the clumsy contrivances of the simple childhood of the race. Certainly what we see hints at the existence of beings who are in advance of, not behind us, in the journey of life.

In fact one can see all these ideas come together in Wells' essay, Intelligence on Mars, that was published in 1896. These ideas would of course appear in War of the Worlds in 1897.

Right enough of the pseudo-inellectual stuff - lets look at some monsters!

There have been many interpretations of the Martians over the years. Here's some of my favourites and some that are downright strange!

Being a bit of a purist I the closer the beastie is to Wells' description the happier I am.

Jeff Wayne's Musical version - the updated version has some great looking Martians.

Classic illustrations such as this one are also right on the nail in my opinion.

These images taken from the intriguing (I haven't seen it yet) War of the Worlds The True Story film and also look pretty good.

Now I quite like the 1953 American film version but obviously the design of the Martians and their machines are very different. Quite liked the composite eye idea though!

The recent Tom Cruise version was also pretty good but for me the Aliens looked like they were straight out of Independence Day. Pretty creepy mind...

Harryhausen had a bash too

Then there was the 80's TV series which kind of followed on from the 1953 film

I'm sure there are other famous depictions of the Martians that I've forgotten - do let me know if you can think of any!

Now for some of the stranger offerings -

Martian from the "sequel", Edison's Conquest of Space

and some of the stranger book cover designs found in this excellent collection, courtesy of Dr Zeus

While I'm on the subject - I never knew Tintin and Superman got stuck in as well!

... but I think I'll leave looking at adaptations for another post!

As for the upcoming All Quiet from the Martian Front game from Alien Dungeon - what can we expect from the Invaders from the Red Planet?

Well obviously they've made it back to Earth so Mars isn't quite on its last legs!

There are some interesting looking units, beyond the various Fighting Machines, that have been featured so far which signal the Martians' intentions towards Humanity quite well...

The Harvester - not the English Pub chain but used for a very similar purpose!

This Machine is used to gather human captives to be ground into the nourishing pulp the Martians need for sustenance. Sometimes a worse fate awaits those unlucky enough to fall into Martian hands. Experimentation or selection for conversion into Zombie troopers are sure to prove equally horrifying experiences!

The Scientist - not much is known yet of these inscrutable machines. 

Quote from Alien Dungeon - Very rare to be seen by soldiers, the strange Martian Machine commonly called the “Scientist Tripod” is not a weapon of war specifically.  It's purpose seems to be one of exploration and, in some cases, experimentation.  These machines are lower to the ground and of the same size as the Martian Slaver Tripods.  They are always accompanied by a swarm of Drones both for protection and as assistance in their mysterious missions.  On the occasions when new Martian Machines make their first appearance, it is common for a Scientist Tripod to be close at hand.

The Slaver - able to control the hosts of robotic drones and converted Human Zombie Troopers by means as yet unkown...

Founder Tripod - Huge and bulky and always accompanied by Assault Tripods due to its lack of weaponry.  There is still some debate as to whether these machines carry a single Martian "Mother" or clutches of juveniles in order to set up new colonies.

And my favourite - the Red Martian!


  1. Great post, quite a haul of info there. I like the first image of the human guns taking out a tripod, you don't see many WotW images like that one.

    I must say, Alien Dungeon's take on the Martian machines is probably one of my all-time favourites, which goes a little way to explaining my excitement about the game. I'm quite curious about the overseer too, it looks absolutely massive in comparison to the assault tripods.

    1. Cheers Mr S - thought it captured something of the WW1 vibe of All Quiet.

      Oh yeah - forgot the Overseer. That looks like one serious bit of tripodage.

      AD's tripod design is indeed brilliant - I reckon my next post will be about the various movie versions and the various looks the fighting machines have had will definitely come into it...