The Announcement of a Martian Flower — A Glimpse Into the Politics of Science Fiction
Posted on January 8, 2013
Over the last couple days, articles have been funneling from the media about the discovery of a flower on the surface of Mars. Fox News and the New York Daily News have articles describing the situation. Basically, Curiosity rover has taken an image of an object that looks like petals of a flower. See below.
According to reports, Curiosity has taken photos of bits of clear plastic that came from the debris of the Curiosity itself previously, but according to the Fox News article, NASA doesn’t believe this idea to be an accurate description of the above picture. Of course, no one is really sure what the object is, and a newspaper from India has said that NASA has not officially endorsed the idea that this object is a flower. So, there’s clearly some confusion, but it’s a discovery that has sparked a lot of excitement.
When I heard about the Martian Flowers, really almost three hours ago, I was driving my dog, Hendrix, to the vet. He needs more flea medicine. I was listening to ESPN radio, and I was suddenly struck by how blue the sky was; it’s really a blue that I have only seen in Southern California — a blue so striking it’s startling. Then I heard the announcer, I forget who it was, say, “Well, it looks like NASA is reporting they have found a flower on Mars.”
A flower, on Mars? This could potentially be a world-changing announcement. A sentence of similar universe expanding as when someone announced to Europe that Columbus had discovered a “New World.” To me, this was incredible news, but I had to remind myself not to take this at face value. Reports could be wrong. The announcer went on to say that officials think this might point to a Martian city. I hope he was joking, because I highly doubt that any NASA official would hypothesize something on those terms, especially without any empirical evidence. It was ESPN radio, after all, and not BBC or NPR.
Later, at the vet, I told the two techs, a man and a woman, that the rover had just found a flower on Mars. They looked at a me a little strange. I haven’t shaved in a couple of days, and they probably thought I was a bit wacky. I wanted to see how they would react to the news. They were a bit startled, but they just went back to work.
That’s when my mind started to kick into writer mode. One thing that has always intrigued me is the idea people have about “aliens.” People find it to be such a shock to imagine there is life in the universe. Well, have you seen how big the universe is? It’s ever-expanding. Now, I’m not talking about green aliens here or the ones you see in a movie with Will Smith; I’m talking about life in its various forms: plants and microorganisms. Maybe it’s hard for people to jump to “aliens,” but it seems absurd, to me, that life doesn’t exist in the world where Los Angeles can be so complex and surprising. And that’s just one speck.
But the idea that the radio had just announced there was a flower on Mars, well, it was mind-blowing. They had finally discovered something “alive” in the world outside of Earth. How will this change our world? I can’t help but jump the gun a bit — and just imagine. Well, people are scared of the idea of life outside of Earth, and the writer-mind started working. Talk about an inconspicuous way to introduce the idea of life on Mars to the planet: a flower. What is more harmless than a flower? Nobody is going to go running in the streets, proclaiming the end of the world, over a flower.
The flower somehow sets off a complex debate over the nature of God and religion; the flower somehow starts a fear in the citizens of the United States that their lives are insignificant and meaningless, because there is a world beyond them, mysterious and unexplained; the flower somehow becomes rumored to be the next cataclysmic event that will really start the Mayan apocalypse.
Well, the flower could illuminate our fears, but it could also shed light on our politics and cultural values. Let’s look at science fiction, for a moment, and it’s relation to the vision of the flower — of the future.
What I always liked about Ray Bradbury was his brilliant imagination. There is still a stigma over science fiction (which I was, unfortunately, once a hater), but in a lot of a ways, Ray Bradbury, in his book the Martian Chronicles, was doing what Shakespeare was in “The Tempest.” He was imagining how we would react to the discovery of a new world. Bradbury wants us to imagine that when we discover life on Mars, we will do exactly to the “Martians” as what we as Americans did to the Indians. We will colonize the land and push our values onto a people and commit acts of mass murder. It’s a terrible thought — that we are doomed to enact the same misfortune onto every civilization we come in contact with. For some, the flower can instill images of conquest and condominiums. We have already seen this ideas with vacations and hotels on the moon.
I’m trying to get at something. And it’s about science fiction. I feel like we’re entering a new era, or at least a moment, where many of the ideas from great science fiction, those that have seemed far-away and improbable, are starting to come to fruition. And how does that affect the way we read these fictional texts? How do they influence our politics and visions moving forward? How are we to view this “flower” on Mars? How should we react?
Well, I’m not trying to say there is a conspiracy — a way for the government to introduce the idea of extraterrestrial life in the cultural conscious slowly and innocently — I’m just saying that if there was ever a harmless way to make us feel comfortable with life outside of ourselves, then the flower is the way to go. It’s harmless and beautiful. I wonder if Bradbury would have ever imagined the first image of life we saw from Mars, potentially, could be a flower.