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WesternSFA
Martians, Go Home
by Frederic Brown
1955, E.P. Dutton, 174pp

Funny, slightly awkward (for 2012) story of What If Martians Came to Earth, Not to Conquer, But To Drive Us Insane? Little green men (or women, who could know?) with a penchant for tattling everything to everyone. They can be seen and heard, they see and hear everything, but they can’t be touched nor can they touch. They know all state secrets, where you’re hiding your money or your mistress, and violate the most private moments. And they are indiscriminate – there’s as many of them in the Soviet Union as there are in the USA or the most primitive, unknown tribe on the planet. The number of fatalities at the beginning of their Coming were mostly due to vehicle accidents (it’s hard to purposely drive thru a little green man thumbing his nose at you and not hit the car coming towards you) or to the more bold ones who drew guns and knives only to find their target was incorporeal and they just killed their neighbor, wife or bar mate. Later, as people grew accustomed to their presence, driving became much more sedate – it was a daily challenge to drive to work at 15mph while trying not to be distracted into driving into a building. And when people finally learned that lying was a waste of time, it drove more people to suicide when secrets were no longer secrets. The lack of privacy also took its toll on people’s sanity.

But the unemployment was the most crushing effect. The entertainment industry died almost overnight. Live TV and radio was impossible without the interference of those green pests. Even recording the event was impossible, not to mention the fact that most families were unable to enjoy a quiet moment in front of the TV without their own in-house interference. So actors, producers, caterers, stunt doubles, writer, movie theatres, and everyone else who benefited from the industry – out of work.

The automotive industry suffered second. Nobody felt safe in a car anymore. Car salesmen, repairmen, the designers, fabricators, merchandisers, gas stations, oil refineries – out of work. The steel and rubber industries – out of work.

And with low employment, nobody had money. It was a depression to end all depressions. It even affected tribesmen in deepest, darkest Africa . The little green men thought it great fun to spook game before the hunter could make a kill. Starvation was starting to rear its ugly head.

And none of them would tell a single soul why they were there. So, of course, speculation ran rampant. The Secretary of the United Nations thought they were there to teach us the errors of our ways and tried to bring together all the peoples of Earth to prove our better intentions. There were more religious nuts and new dogmas out there than you could shake a stick at. And there was one science fiction writer who thought it was all his fault.

The story follows Luke Devereaux as he struggles with both his writer’s block and the fact that absolutely no one wants to read another SF story. He meets people with different ideas of how to cope, toys with the idea of new profession – psychology – to help people cope; and finally comes to the idea that all this was his fault.

While Luke works frantically trying to reverse the process, a janitor who thinks he knows more science than most scientists finally realizes that it’s all up to him to build a machine to send all the Martians away, and a witch doctor in an obscure tribe in Africa is ordered by the chief to make a magic spell to stop the demons. Five witch doctors before him failed…and were eaten by the tribe. But before each of them died, they confided their most secret magic to their successor so that this last witch doctor was in possession of the most powerful magic known.

It was fun. It poked fun at our weaknesses, our religion, and our government. These were not things done in the literature of 1955 that often so it was probably a little controversial then. Today it reads as quaint and charming. The plot was clever and progressed logically and happily to an inconclusive conclusion. But that was the author’s intent; and a typical plot device of the times.

I read this looking for a little mental downtime on a light read and found it. But, with this story, and many of its contemporaries, it is clear they will never be considered classic. It just didn’t stand the ‘test of time.’ The plot was amusing but not sophisticated enough for our tastes now, and the references were severely dated. I mused on how unlikely it will be for my granddaughter to enjoy this story. She would spend time puzzling over ‘live’ radio performances, what Flit was (an insecticide), and why a long phone call would cost hundreds of dollars. On the plus side, the weaknesses in our societies are not that different. We still have governments trying to hide secrets, we still have soup kitchens, and we still have people struggling to fit into a society somehow. ~~ Catherine Book

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