Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Day the Martians Came, Frederik Pohl (1988)

The book “The Day the Martians Came” is a fix-up of several of Pohl’s short stories, written during the seventies and eighties, with the short stories are put together and edited to make a single novel. The plot of this novel concerns itself with the discovery of semi-intelligent Martians (they look like seals with spider’s legs) which are brought back to earth for protection and scientific study.

It sounds like a pedestrian enough concept – Martians have been found in many other stories – and I am sure that Martians have been brought back to earth previously. Pohl does a different take on this by not simply sticking with the type of people that we would normally associate with this science fiction staple. Pohl does use astronauts and rocket scientists when they are required, but we also get people who would seem to be far-divorced from such an undertaking. We meet characters like a hotel owner, a con artist, a script writer, an ageing labourer, a member of a religious cult, and so forth. It’s an interesting concept, seeing how the everyman is affected by such an event, and Pohl does do characterisation quite well. I also appreciated the occasional reference in one story to previous characters, although this is not done in any way that could be called subtle.

The story is not without its problems, though. The rapid changing of characters means that we can’t really get involved with the characters of the story, being with them only for a chapter or two, and not all of the characters are interesting to read about, which I suppose is inevitable when you are changing through so many viewpoints. The ageing labourer, for example, is a character that I was glad to see the back of, and the effect that the Martians being brought to Earth had on the hotelier was extremely predictable – he gets more visitors for a week or two. I don’t need to read a book to be told something that obvious. On the other hand, the effects that the existence of Martians have on a religious cult, or on a pair of con-artists, makes for extremely interesting reading – I suppose the two opposites do even each-other out.

Apart from the changing characters and perspective, the origins of this novel mean the reader is presented with a variety of good, small ideas, ideally suited for the short story form, but does not leave the same impact as the presentation of several good, large ideas.

All up, “The Day the Martians Came” is an interesting concept for it’s attempt to view a science-fiction staple from an angle it is not normally seen from, but the story does lag at times. 3.5/5.

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