[GUEST POST] Lavie Tidhar’s Top 5 Five Weird Trips to Mars


Lavie Tidhar is the World Fantasy Award winning author of Osama, of The Bookman Histories trilogy and many other works. He won the British Fantasy Award for Best Novella, for Gorel & The Pot-Bellied God, and a BSFA Award for his non-fiction. He grew up on a kibbutz in Israel and in South Africa but currently resides in London. His 2013 novels are the just-released Martian Sands and forthcoming The Violent Century.

Five Weird Trips to Mars

by Lavie Tidhar

My new novel, Martian Sands, is out now from PS Publishing in the UK. It builds on my fascination with the novels of Philip K. Dick, which had such an impact on me when I was reading them as a teenager – the only American novels, it felt to me, to describe a future in which I had a place. Dick wrote about kibbutzim on Mars, and I grew up on a kibbutz (a sort of Socialist commune in Israel). He also wrote about time travel and the Holocaust, obsessing in the way I too obsess over that enormous psychic wound. My mother was born in a refugee camp in Germany after the war: the majority of my family died at Auschwitz.

Pulp fiction, it seemed to me when writing my World Fantasy Award winning novel, Osama, and seems to me still, allows us a way to look at truly unbelievable, implausible things, things that look like, that feel as though they should belong in the pages of cheap, disposable literature.

In many of my recent short stories I have been exploring a vast future history, one in which humanity has populated the solar system. Martian Sands takes place roughly in that same universe, or at least adjacent to it. It is a novel about pulp – the Martian pulps of Philip K. Dick as well as Edgar Rice Burroughs – and it is a novel about time travel, which is impossible, and the Holocaust, which should have been impossible.

Think of it as Total Recall meets Schindler’s List

It is a very strange book.

Here, I wanted to explore five other weird journeys to Mars. The usual suspects may be missing, but each of these, in their own way, has contributed to Martian Sands.


Shambleau“, C.L. Moore (1933)

Perhaps Moore’s greatest short story, it was published in 1933 in Weird Tales and introduced Moore’s “hero of the spaceways”, Northwest Smith, a gunslinger discovering an ancient terror on Mars.

I love all of Moore’s stories – her Jirel of Joiry stories inspired my own Gorel of Goliris (of which Gorel & The Pot-Bellied God won a British Fantasy Award last year), and another Northwest Smith story, “The Tree of Life”, inspired a recent story I wrote for the George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois anthology Old Venus.

The figure of the Shambleau recurs in my future history in somewhat changed form, and while it is not present in Martian Sands itself, Moore’s shadow – and the shared Solar System she helped create alongside Leigh Brackett and others – lies heavy over the later parts of the novel.

A Martian Odyssey“, Stanley G. Weinbaum (1934)

Stanley Weinbaum’s story from 1934 is often credited as the first “true” creation of an alien in science fiction. His Mars is truly haunting and alien, and it was a tragedy that the author died aged only 33, with just a handful of stories published.

Like Moore’s, Weinbaum’s solar system is habitable but, where Moore has ancient, decaying civilization of human-like beings, Weinbaum’s is a truly alien place.

I read “A Martian Odyssey” at an early age but keep coming back to it, as all good stories demand that you do.

The Simulacra, Philip K. Dick, (1964)

If The Man in the High Castle shaped Osama for me, it is Dick’s little regarded 60s novel, The Simulacra, that more than any other helped shape Martian Sands.

To put in plainly, I love this book. The American government is ruled by the First Lady, accompanied by a series of presidential simulacra. A time machine is used to bring Hermann Goering back from the past in an attempt to influence the outcome of World War 2. And two regular people dream of escaping to Mars…

All of these things went into Martian Sands, but I am particularly in love with Dick’s characters, average men and women caught in events over which they have little control. He never wrote heroes, he didn’t write science fiction’s odious Men of Action, and for that, more than almost everything else, I owe him a debt of gratitude.

“Life on Mars?” David Bowie (1971)

Sailors fighting in the dancehall, and you could pick any of Bowie’s Mars songs for this but somehow “Life on Mars?”, with its obsession with cinema and the silver screen, seems to encapsulate the themes of reality vs. fiction that I keep going back to.

Total Recall, Paul Verhoeven (1990)

Oh this glorious film! It bears only a superficial relation to the Philip K. Dick short story it’s based on, and who cares. I love Verhoeven’s over-the-top kitsch creations, whether Showgirls or Starship Troopers. But Total Recall has a special place in my heart, with its reality games, its ancient alien artefact, grimy Mars and the famous three-breasted lady. GIVE DIS PEOPLE EA, COHAGEN!


Martian Sands sits somewhere amidst all of these, I hope. A bit of Bowie, a bit of Verhoeven, a bit of Philip K. Dick. I wrote it under somewhat difficult conditions – I began in London and finished it, laboriously, while living in a bamboo hut in Vanuatu, without electricity or clean water, but in a view of the gorgeous volcano of Vanua Lava island.

It’s been a long time coming, and I’m delighted it is finally out. I hope you enjoy it but, if not this one, check out one of the strange trips above instead.

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