What is the Vampire of Science Fiction?

I’m not talking about the salt vampire of Star Trek or anything so literal. I’m talking about vampires in the sense that they fill fantasy and horror in a continuing and ubiquitous fashion despite being done to death (so to speak), and that there is at least one candidate for the equivalent in science fiction. And that is Mars.

Think about it. How many novels focused on Mars have come out since the very first days of science fiction and continuing on to the present? It seems like every writer out there eventually commits a Mars novel, or at least a memorable short story. Here’s the start of a list filled with big names and famous stories.

War of the Worlds (1898) by H. G. Wells.

A Princess of Mars (1912) by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

“A Martian Odyssey” (1934) by Stanley G. Weinbaum

Red Planet (1949) by Robert Heinlein (among other novels set on or about Mars)

The Martian Chronicles (1950) by Ray Bradbury.

The Sands of Mars (1951) by Arthur C. Clarke.

The Martian Way (1952) by Isaac Asimov.

“A Rose for Ecclesiastes” (1963) by Roger Zelazny.

“The Hole Man” (1975) by Larry Niven.

Man Plus (1976) by Frederik Pohl.

Mars (1992) by Ben Bova.

Moving Mars (1993) by Greg Bear.

Red Mars (1993) by Kim Stanley Robinson (and the entire trilogy, of course).

The Martian Race (1999) by Gregory Benford

Crossing Mars (2000) by Geoffrey Landis.

Ilium (2003) by Dan Simmons.

And finally, very recently, another usual suspect for Hugo-winning novelist has taken the plunge: Red Planet Blues (2013) by Robert Sawyer.


Hope I didn’t miss your favorite. This is only a small fraction of the Mars-based science fiction out there. And just as with vampires, Mars also fills the silver screen over the same period with many movies, both memorable and not.

I haven’t quite figured out why vampires continue to be endlessly popular. Mars at least makes sense as the planet listed in its yearbook as “most likely to be colonized” as humans migrate into space.

And while I haven’t published any stories involving Mars, one of my first efforts in college for a Space Colonies class final project was a story featuring the red addiction.

I guess I’m left with a few questions. What heavy-hitting science fiction writers have resisted the call of Mars? What is the minimum set of classic Mars stories that one needs to read to be educated in science fiction literature? Will we ever tire of books about Mars? What titles are still available and good? And which Mars story is best?

(If Mars is the vampire of science fiction, what is the zombie? Black holes?)

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  1. This book is next on my read list and I am waiting for it to become available from our public library, I’m next in the queue. I met Sawyer at a con here in Orlando a few years back and have read a number of his books since then. So obviously I like his writing and am looking forward to his latest. Apparently it is a detective novel with a Martian backdrop which should prove interesting. Now I just have to finish my current read and hope this arrives at that time, only a couple of days.

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