So, sixteen guys are headed to Mars on a rocket ship.
Sounds like the set up for a joke, doesn't it? Well, it's not so funny when you learn that there used to be seventeen guys, but one died.
Anyway, we only learn the name of three of these guys: Captain John Black, Navigator David Lustig, and archaeologist Samuel Hinkston. Unlike the whiners of the Second Expedition in "The Earth Men," these guys are alert and curious. When they see something totally cuh-razy—like the fact that there's a town on Mars that looks just like an Earth town—they head off to investigate. Check out the way that Captain Black thinks through the sitch:
[T]ell me if it is logical that the Martians should have: one, leaded-glass windows; two, cupolas; three, porch swings; four, an instrument that looks like a piano and probably is a piano; and five, if you look closely through this telescopic lens here, is it logical that a Martian composer would have published a piece of music titled, strangely enough, 'Beautiful Ohio'? (19)
That, Shmoopers, is the way you deal with an unfamiliar situation. And the team comes up with hypothesis after hypothesis to tackle these tricky questions: maybe the previous expeditions founded this town, or maybe rocket travel is more common than they thought, or maybe they accidentally landed on Earth in the past.
But here's the thing: these guys may be all logical and scientific, but they still get steamrolled by Martians disguised as their dead relatives. And which would you rather choose? To believe that you're about to get totally pwned by some devious Martians? Or that you get a second chance with loved ones you thought you'd lost?
Yeah. Most people are going to go for the warm and fuzzy one. The Martians fool even Captain John Black, and he describes himself initially as "infinitely more suspicious" than the other guys (37). There's almost something sweet about the way the travelers abandon caution to spend more time with their loved ones. Sweet and stupid.
Everyone on the Third Expedition finds someone who (1) they cared about and (2) died. Lustig finds his grandparents, Hinkston sees his old house (so probably his parents), and John Black finds his older brother Ed, his parents, and some lady Marilyn.
Of all the dead families, we spend the most time with John Black and his. They're like a Norman Rockwell painting of a perfect family: Ed is young, muscular, and tan (187), Mom is "pink, plump, and bright," and Dad smokes a pipe (169). Gee, it's almost too perfect to be true.
Oh, guess what—it isn't true. Eventually, we find out that these are just shapeshifting Martians enticing the crew so they can kill them. But the idea of tricking the Earth Men with memories of their past is pretty interesting. After all, the Martians could do anything—they could make Mars look like it's full of champagne and hot tubs, or knights and dragons, or, hey, even a sports bar. So why dead relatives from the past? Are they preying on something uniquely human?
And now that we've got you asking that question, here's the bizarro-twist that hurts our head: after the Martians kill the humans, they hold an Earth-style funeral for them.