The British Library’s new science fiction classics are a series of themed anthologies, exploring the history of the genre through collected short stories. The first two books look at Mars and the Moon, and I chose to jump into Lost Mars first.

The book has both a general introduction about Mars’ place in science fiction writing and individual introductions for each story, adding a little context to them. The collection contains ten stories and they are ordered in a chronological manner from earliest to latest. This structure highlights the change from optimism over life on Mars in the early days versus the realisation that Mars is inhospitable in the latter days.

As with all anthologies there are some stories that are less enjoyable than others, but overall, I liked this slice of science fiction history. I do think the later stories are generally the better, it’s harder to believe the fantastical or romantic images of Mars with a modern knowledge and there is a side-helping of European colonialism that’s sometimes hard to stomach. I did enjoy H.G. Wells’ The Crystal Egg which is the first story. You can kind of understand why people might have thought War of the Worlds was real, because his writing comes across as very journalistic.

A Martian Odyssey by Stanley G. Weinbaum attempts to imagine a whole range of Martian fauna, including speculating what non-carbon lifeforms might be like. It touches on the idea of alien language not being straightforward to translate or interpret (although watch Arrival for a really good take on this subject). Though it is mind-boggling how they couldn’t quite grasp this concept with African languages, thinking them primitive, yet are more open minded with alien language.

As time progresses and the world started to learn more about Mars, the tone gets darker and the stories look at the dangers of Mars and the exploitation of people. E.C. Tubb’s Without Bugles deals with occupational disease and hints at how America was starting to question the cost of space exploration without much to show in return. Walter M. Millers’s Crucifixus Etiam speculates at the kind of people who would be sent to work in a thin atmosphere, taking those from high altitude communities and putting them to work with great risk to their health. A lot of the stories assume Mars would be mined for its natural resources.

There is also a story from Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles which is probably the best known and the book ends with something from J.G. Ballard. As you might expect, there really aren’t many women featured, however there is one story by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

Lost Mars is published by the British Library and is available now in paperback. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

Read Harder: A classic of genre fiction

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.