Running Away to Mars

by James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, February 8, 2017

While reading The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr, a handbook for processing memories, it triggered several vivid revelations about my childhood. Especially the time when I ran away to Mars in 1963. That flashback revealed why I first dropped science fiction. I wanted an antidepressant. Science fiction has proven quite effective at masking reality, because I can’t even remember being depressed. How PKDickian!

Two Mars

A lifetime of contemplating the future has been an excellent mantra for ignoring the present. I am rather disappointed that running away never got me anywhere. I’ve been to Mars many times, but never to the one that exists in reality.

Today I’m plotting my own alternate history timeline. What if I had not run away to Mars back in 1963 and stayed on Earth instead? Wow, that’s more mind-twisting than The Man in the High Castle.

Maybe it wasn’t the Mary Karr book that jarred these insights. Could it have been the election? Have we all run away to imagined worlds? Reality seems so deserted these days.


6 thoughts on “Running Away to Mars”

  1. Oh, man; I’ve lost track of the worlds I’ve run away to, to see what is going on. Mars and Venus (Heinlein); sub-solar orbitals (everything from Heinlein to Corey, and with Gil the Arm in between). Inter-Galactic worlds include Heinlein and Norton (and oh so many Norton worlds), and James White, Cole & Bunch, Laumer’s universe (Retief!) and ever so many other authors. Oh, and let’s not forget Clifford D. Simak. And James Blish. I almost forgot the Dorsai series, the Ender series, James H. Schmitz,…well you get the idea.

    I’m almost ready to try C&B’s Emperor’s Chili recipe. Unfortunately I don’t have the recipe for Stregg. I guess some really strong and cheap vodka might work.

    If I didn’t have those worlds available all these years, I don’t know what I would have become.

    But they weren’t the only source of mental relief. Freddy the Pig, Joseph Altsheler’s stories of the New World (recommended by my father), Louis L’Amour’s stories, and so many more brightened my youth.

    Not to mention DC Comics, and then Marvel. Geez, if only my Mom hadn’t thrown away all my comics…

    As far as I can tell, none of those stories changed my way of addressing and dealing with the “real” world. I lived in one world, and was “informed” by the many other worlds and the stories in/about them.

    One thing I’ve noted: no matter how bad the bad guys were in those stories in my early life, none of them envisioned the world we now live in. Except George Orwell. And perhaps Ray Bradbury. I truly wish I’d known Ray better in my early life. He was a kind and sweet man in his last few years, and still able (mostly) to play 100% pure and gentle raconteur.

    1. I read Pokayne of Mars in 1964. So we’re probably around the same age. What I’d like to know is if I had never read stories about going to Mars, but read books about Mars, would I have imagined going to Mars.

      By the way George, which ending do you prefer?

    1. Here’s the history of the two endings from Wikipedia:

      Two versions of the ending
      In Heinlein’s original ending, Podkayne is killed. This did not please his publisher, who demanded and got a rewrite over the author’s bitter objections. In a letter to Lurton Blassingame, his literary agent, Heinlein complained that it would be like “revising Romeo and Juliet to let the young lovers live happily ever after.” He also declared that changing the end “isn’t real life, because in real life, not everything ends happily.”

      In the original ending, after they escape from the kidnappers to a safe distance, Podkayne remembers that a semi-intelligent Venerian “fairy” baby has been left behind, and returns to rescue it. When the bomb that Clark leaves for the kidnappers blows up, Podkayne is killed, shielding the young fairy with her body. Clark takes over the narrative for the last chapter. The story ends with a hint of hope for him, as he admits his responsibility for what happened to Podkayne — that he “fubbed it, mighty dry” — then shows some human feeling by regretting his inability to cry and describes his plan to raise the fairy himself.

      In the revised version, Podkayne is badly injured by the bomb, but not fatally. Uncle Tom, in a phone conversation with Podkayne’s father, blames the parents — especially the mother — for neglecting the upbringing of the children. Uncle Tom feels that Clark is dangerous and maladjusted, and attributes this to the mother giving priority to her career. Clark still takes over as the narrator, and, again, regrets that Podkayne was hurt and plans to take care of the fairy, this time because Podkayne will want to see it when she is better. This is the ending that appeared when the book was published 1963.

      The 1993 Baen edition included both endings (which differ only on the last page) and featured a “pick the ending” contest, in which readers were asked to submit essays on which ending they preferred. The 1995 edition included both endings, Jim Baen’s own postlude to the story, and twenty-five of the essays. The ending in which Podkayne dies was declared the winner. Among the reasons readers favored this ending were that they felt Heinlein should have been free to create his own story, and they believed the changed ending turned a tragedy into a mere adventure, and not a very well constructed one at that. This ending has appeared in all subsequent editions

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