Lydia Netzer: The Man in the Moon

Roundup: Talking About History

Lydia Netzer is the author of the novel “Shine Shine Shine.”

...Watching the first images from the rover, Curiosity, which landed on Mars early this month, I was reminded of a short story by Ray Bradbury called “Mars Is Heaven!” In it, Mars is populated by aliens who fool visiting Earthlings into thinking they’re in a familiar environment before murdering them. It’s about how stupid nostalgia is, how it tricks us into wanting things that were never that great in the first place. What strikes me about the story is that, just over 60 years ago, someone could seriously write about aliens on Mars.

Can you imagine what it was like then? Mars was an impossible frontier; we wouldn’t even have decent pictures of the planet until almost 20 years after the story was published. Now it reads like a fairy tale in which the moon is made of cheese, or the sun is a horse-drawn chariot bearing a god, or the stars move in crystal spheres around the sky.

When humanity was in its infancy, we thought the universe revolved around us. Then, with Copernicus, we aged into heliocentrism, became aware we were one of a family of planets inside the walls of our house, the solar system. Nearby stars gather like a town, rotating through the galaxy, our country. Clusters are like continents. We realized in stages that we were very insignificant. And then, almost like grown-ups, we pulled our boots on and began to try to leave a significant mark anyway....

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