Study Guide

Red Mars Part 1, Chapter 1

By Kim Stanley Robinson

Part 1, Chapter 1

Festival Night

  • Before humanity, Mars existed in unconscious geological time.
  • Onto the history. The introduction takes us through the relationship between Mars and ancient civilizations, and then humanity's love affair with the planet by way of the telescope.
  • Science Snack: the Lowell mentioned in this introduction is none other than Percival Lowell, an astronomer famous for two reasons. First, he founded the Lowell Observatory in Arizona. Second, while using said observatory, he discovered what he believed to be hundreds of canals crisscrossing Mars's surface. He postulated these canals were the result of an intelligent race that went extinct as the planet lost its life-sustaining atmosphere. Lowell's theories were eventually disproven by up-close pictures taken by spacecraft, which showed the canals to be nothing more than optical illusions, but that doesn't mean Lowell's theories weren't important all the same. Their romantic nature inspired countless fictional renditions of the great rusty planet, including Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles and Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. If nothing else, Lowell kept Mars in the hearts and minds of our culture even decades after his death—not too shabby an outcome for a flub.
  • Anyway, back to the telescope: after the telescope, we got up-close-and-personal by sending spacecraft to take pictures and teach us more about this planet that captured our imagination.
  • In all that time, Mars remained a world without life despite our many stories suggesting otherwise. Then we came.