University Libraries Virginia Tech
Digital Library and Archives
The recent discovery of possible primitive life within meteorites originating from Mars caused a media flurry. "Life on Mars" read the headlines. The allure of "Martians" had captured us again. This exhibit of science fiction cover and interior illustrations shows the long tern interest in "The Red Planet." These classic issues from the 1920s, 30s, 40s, and 50s are a testament to the limitless potential of graphic design. This sample of Martian-themed science fiction illustrations was drawn from the William J. Heron Speculative Fiction Collection, one of the largest of its kind, housed in the Virginia Tech Libraries' Digital Library and Archives.
The first "scientifiction" magazine, Amazing Stories, appeared in April, 1926. It was called pulp fiction because of the poor quality of the paper used in the printing process. This new pulp fiction was published under the direction of Hugo Gernsback (later nicknamed "Mr. Science Fiction"). Launching a new magazine in 1929, Science Wonder Stories, his first editorial coined the phrase "science fiction", which gradually replaced the older term "scientifiction."
Science fiction as a whole has been relatively even-handed between benign and fearsome when portraying aliens. As these periodical illustrations show however that Martians are generally portrayed as some form of evil, threatening beings. This is partly due to the association of Mars with the classical Greco-Roman God of War, as well as the continuing appeal of H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds. My own family was threatened by Martians. In 1938 my aunts and uncles apparently were taken in by Orson Welles' now famous simulated radio news broadcast of H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds. The format was effective and my relatives packed up and were ready to flee Newark, New Jersey, fearing the Martians were just outside the city causing death and destruction!
As you view this exhibit, remember you are taking the same trip to the mysterious Red Planet that your grandparents and parents once took. Your own encounter with life on Mars is only bounded by your imagination. Why read mundane publications about Mars when you can view magazines with such enticing names as Amazing Stories, Astonishing Stories, Astounding Stories, and Thrilling Wonder Stories. With this evidence, there must surely be Life on Mars!
Eric A. Wiedegreen, Exhibit Curator
Associate Professor, Interior Design
Department of Near Environments, Virginia Tech
Eric G. Ackermann, Co-Curator, Special Collections
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Digital Libraries and Archives, Virginia Tech, PO Box 90001, Blacksburg, VA 24062-9001