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Mars terraforming step (Elements of this image furnished by NASA). 3D rendering
Mars terraforming step (Elements of this image furnished by NASA). 3D rendering

Sci-fi Saturday: When Terraforming Mars Means Mars-forming People

In this award-winner, the underground humans must, according to the terraforming colony's rules, deny emotion, which pretty much guarantees a story

“New Mars” at DUST by Susie Jones (March 30, 2021, 19:14 min)

Earth is no more. A new generation lives underground on Mars preparing to begin a new life as the colonists of a planet which is being terraformed into a new habitable world. ‘New Mars’ is a society driven by science and logic to ensure humans will not make the same destructive decisions this time round. But two young hopefuls struggle with the intensity of their feelings – which inadvertently propels them towards an unexpected truth about their existence. (IMDB)

“New Mars” premiered in 2019 and has won a number of awards. It conveys the claustrophobia of an underground world where death rules the planet’s surface. Life on a submarine with an unpleasant CO might be somewhat like that.

Of course, in that new world, ruled by science and logic, “pairing choice is made for the common good” and acting otherwise is a “personal violation.” Of course, two young people try to find each other while parroting the textbook slogans about not being selfish or foolish.

Don’t miss the ghastly scene where couples are “paired” to each other (by some algorithm?). No spoilers but you can probably guess what happens next … You might not guess the ending though.

Key quote: “Ever wonder what real rain must feel like?” one asks the other.

Worth the watch, especially for the way it conveys an alien world clearly in a few scenes.

Here’s a fundamental contradiction to reflect on: If the better world the Mars pioneers are attempting to create cannot accommodate free choice in non-destructive human relationships, what’s “scientific” or “logical” about it?

And, while we are here anyway, if humans wrecked Earth, why should we assume that nature is always or usually wrong about things, compared to us?

Terraforming Mars (making Mars habitable) is an idea that has been around for a while both in science and in science fiction (see, for example, “The Martian Way” by Isaac Asimov, 1952). One serious science consideration is that humans may well change a lot if we live on Mars:

The people who would terraform Mars would be Martians. These Martians would also adapt generation after generation in the foreign environment. Given that the gravity on Mars is much lower, Martians are likely to become taller than us. They may develop new blood chemistry, given that the air pressure would be different. All in all, they are likely to diverge from us and become a new species as the process of evolution kicks in. The fact that pioneers and explorers would begin evolving into Martians would also be another point of discussion.

Hussain Kanchwala, “Can We Terraform Mars?” at ScienceABC (January 25, 2021)

But, more than that, terraforming has always foundered on the problem that, if we can’t fix Earth — which is highly habitable now — using our advanced technology, why would we expect to have much luck fixing Mars, which is mostly or entirely barren now? Hadn’t we better fix Earth first?

But this is a great theme for science fiction, especially when handled as well as this.


Other reviews from the “We are but DUST” files:

Sci-fi Saturday: “The Big Nothing” melds sci-fi and whodunit in a taut drama. The combination of the sci-fi and detective genres takes some skill to pull off but this Australian crew succeeds. Arriving at a mining station near Saturn, Detective Lennox must interview three suspects in the captain’s murder. All have motives. Who is lying?

Sci-fi Saturday: Can we live in more than the present moment? When a tech entrepreneur succeeds with time travel, he gets trapped in his own past errors. In “Container,” the time traveler is locked inside his lab and can only get out by repeated, dangerous efforts to go back in time to when the door is unlocked.

Sci-fi Saturday: What if a new start in life were two pills away? Would you feel the same about suicide? In “Cam Girl,” a woman whose life is going nowhere, largely by her own choice, learns what it means to be genuinely desperate.

Sci-fi Saturday: In a world run by robots, a bot becomes a joker The dull, dystopian atmosphere of an Australia dominated by robots, portrayed in “System Error,” is well done and worth the watch. The story prompted this viewer to consider what thoughts a robot simply couldn’t have without some kind of input from consciousness – always the Hard Problem.

Sci-fi Saturday: Can an alternative universe save a lonely girl?A girl finds fighting space aliens easier than fighting a brain haemorrhage and a sense of guilt. CARONTE ends as it must — not happily but inevitably, and with at least some sense of redemption.

Sci-fi Saturday: “This planet is not in our co-ordinates.” A space courier crew gets a surprise when delivering a mysterious machine to a strange planet. One could almost see something like “McPherson’s Toys” happening, , as an office gag, but 500 years from now.

Sci-fi Saturday: A future where dreams have been privatized Unfortunately, the dream Carlos wants in “I Dream” is to see his missing family again and that’s illegal … More dystopia than science fiction but the post-5G surveillance environment amid mass poverty and oppression is well imagined.

Sci-fi Saturday: What if sweet sleep were a distant memory? In a world going mad in “Don’t Forget To Remember” and dying from insomnia, a young woman may have a cure. The big challenge in writing about insomnia is not to be a cure for it. From the harrowing opening scene on, this film certainly clears that bar.

Sci-Fi Saturday: When virtual friends are a real addiction Animated short “Best Friends” begins with the thirtieth birthday party of a rather glum young man. As is the way with addicts, our hero cannot use his futurist fix for loneliness responsibly and ends up doing desperate things.

Sci-Fi Saturday: Watch what you wish for. There IS a tomorrow! Carl, a lonely guy, is determined to proceed through the warning and try the Luvsik procedure, to make him fall in love at first sight. The short film features strong performances by Momo Dione and Samantha Lester, and the surprise ending avoids cliché.

Sci-Fi Saturday: We have met the aliens and they are… comb jellies. The alien life form, when it appears in “Seedling,” is very well imagined. Definitely watch it for the sense of isolation when our technology bubble evaporates and for the “comb jelly” space alien.

Sci-fi Saturday: The disabled robot vet in “A Robot Is a Robot” gets a job grooming cats. Definitely worth your five minutes, in part in order to see what cartoonists can do in sci-fi with animated stills. In a research paper, Max Planck scientists concluded that it is not possible to hobble the danger from intelligent AI. This film offers a good illustration.

Sci-fi Saturday: A girl with kinetic powers faces a choice. Should she help relatives with activities she knows to be wrong? “Kinetic” is well executed but it breaks a fundamental rule of science fiction: There must be a clear science basis for the story premise.

Sci-fi Saturday: An asteroid lingers near Earth and devours time Or, at any rate, it devours our perception of time, as one man discovers in “Flyby.” As the asteroid Chrono-7 hazes Earth, a man wakes up in the morning to find that he is living in his future, one he had never imagined.

Sci-fi Saturday: In “This Time Away,” a robot helps an old fellow rediscover life The robot is very well done and how he gets a name is charming. Lots of people abandon their elderly relatives, of course, so finding a helpful robot in the back yard is a pleasant fantasy.

Sci-fi Saturday: What if an old man could see his mother again? “Bygone” is a hard film to watch if you lost a loved one, but worthwhile. The old man is paying to use his own memories, retrieved via neuroscience imaging.

Sci Fi Saturday: A fight for the winning ticket In “Here comes Frieda,” in a 2040 superstorm, engulfing the planet, a young woman gets hold of a ticket out. But does the way out really exist? Or is she just hanging on and clinging to a fragile hope?

Sci Fi Saturday: Terrified by a Scrap Monster Well, if you have never been terrified by a Scrap Monster, as in “Pinki.” you are clearly missing out. It’s fun watching a middle class South Korean business executive try to cope with the Scrap Monster. Perhaps an allegory of our big environment issues.

Sci Fi Saturday: What if there were serious wars over clouds? In a world that still has technology but is desperately short of water, such wars could happen. The short sci-fi film “Oceanmaker” features pirates who steal precious water from the clouds and a pilot who challenges them

Sci Fi Saturday: Can video games save a lone survivor? “High Score” features fine animations of apocalyptic scenes of post-civilization. The “game” that turns out to be an existential struggle usually benefits from a longer treatment but the animation is well imagined.

Sci Fi Saturday: Can a Robot Find a Better Planet Than Earth? The trouble is, the robot in “Avarya” is governed by Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics. After 55 habitable planets, the—by then very old—fellow is beginning to suspect something about the robot’s judgment…

Sci Fi Saturday: “Kiko”: A great short but key questions unanswered A lonely retail service robot longs for a world beyond her store. An agreeable short but it never addresses the question of how Charlie acquired a robot that would “want” something different from its programming.

Sci-fi Saturday: What if next-stage evolution children appear? “Vikaari,” a sci-fi short from Sri Lanka looks at the possibilities. The story is very well done as a parable of the social risks of continuous internal warfare.

Sci-Fi Saturday: Can parents get back a dead child as an android? In “Article 19-42,” they aren’t even united in their grief; they just think they must “do something” to get back a facsimile of what they remember. They have no philosophical or spiritual resources to fall back on in order to avoid this dead end.

Sci-Fi Saturday film: The robot tries to learn about grief In “Rewind,” an elderly woman buys a robot to help her when she finds herself all alone, due to tragedy. Investigating the woman’s unhappiness, the robot discovers more than it was, perhaps, intended to know.

Sci-Fi Saturday film: “Speed of Time” at DUST: A computer nerd writing a pizza delivery program discovers that his work is way more important than he, or anyone, thought. Imagine what happens when an accomplished ground warrior busts in from another time on a quiet family at the breakfast table…

Sci-Fi Saturday film: “Alone” at DUST. Space engineer Kaya Torres, the only survivor of a black hole, contacts an “interstellar penpal” to keep her company until she dies. She manages a desperate escape but then experiences one of the astonishing implications of time travel.

Sci-Fi Saturday film: “The Beacon” at DUST. Refreshingly realistic, especially the harrowing Arctic encounter where the grieving husband finds out what really happened. Not to be missed is Mark’s encounter with the bureaucrat from hell.

Sci-fi Saturday film: Rescuing lost people. Animated, in French, with English subtitles, but don’t let that deter you. The professional relationships in “Protocole Sandwich” sound pretty real and make it worth the watch. The animation is very good.


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Sci-fi Saturday: When Terraforming Mars Means Mars-forming People