by Frederik Pohl



Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Frederik Pohl's "novel" The Day the Martians Came is a fix-up of several related short stories interspersed with connecting material.  The earliest story published, "The Day After the Martians Came," originally appeared in Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions (1967) and is the final chapter of the book.   The opening story, "A Martian Christmas" (1987 as "Adeste Fideles") relates the discovery of Martians by the Seerseller expedition.   Subsequent stories relate a wide variety of reactions to the knowledge that there are Martians and that several are being brought back to Earth.

While each of Pohl's stories are interesting, most of them have an unfinished quality about them.  Not unfinished in a craftsman manner, but they don't seem to have a conclusion.  The reader wonders what is going to happen to the vast majority of Pohl's characters.  Pohl manages to rectify this problem in the chapter "Across the River," whose sole purpose seems to be to unite the disparate storylines which have been running through the book.  Unfortunately, this chapter seems tacked together and the characters' fates don't ring true.

That written, The Day the Martians Came is an interesting book.  Pohl does a good job exploring how the expected arrival of aliens would effect the Earth.   These reactions range from the mystical to the commercial to the scientific.   Throughout his novels, Pohl has demonstrated a generally pessimistic view of human nature and this is continued in The Day the Martians Came.  Well meaning characters are frequently taken advantage of by their more cynical colleagues.   Pohl's final chapters, however, do provide them with a sign of hope that eventually the meek will inherit despite what the more aggressive are willing to do.

Pohl's Martians are nothing special, a fact which is relatively important to the novel.   While their sentience is generally accepted, they are apparently barely more intelligent than animals and not particularly cute or cuddly.  Even as they approach Earth in the human spaceship, the general population barely notes their arrival except when its presence is forced upon them.  Hack screenwriter Sam Harcourt is not even able to interest anyone in a film about Martians.

The chapters are separated by short blurbs from the popular media and scientific papers about the Martians.  These pieces allow Pohl to provide background information in an amusing manner without the tedium of information dumps.

While The Day the Martians Came is not a classic of science fiction, it does provide an interesting view of the arrival of an alien species with a very realistic depiction of how people will react at some future date when humans know, once and for all, they are not alone.  Pohl has also left plenty of room open for other stories which are set in the period between Henry Steegman's discovery of the Martians and their eventual arrival on Earth.

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