Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Welcome To Mars II

James Blish's Welcome To Mars (London, 1978) is a very unusual novel because it contains no conversations until almost exactly its midpoint. The novel ends on p. 154 and the conversation starts on p. 78 which would be nearly the midpoint except that the text of the novel starts on p. 13.

There are fifteen chapters but there is no conversation in the first seven. That is because the central character, Dolph Haertel, works alone and in secret as he discovers anti-gravity and flies a tree hut to Mars, where he is marooned. We are informed about his parents and a girl friend only by a narrative summary, not by any dialogue involving these characters.

When the girl friend, Nanette, deduces where Dolph has gone, follows him and is also marooned, she too has worked alone and in secret, without engaging in any conversations that are recounted to the reader. When the two sets of parents realize that Nanette's farewell note saying that they have gone to Mars is nothing less than the unvarnished truth, and try to arouse official and public interest in rescuing the stranded teenagers, we read a summary account of a news story and a publicity campaign but are not told any of the conversations that would have been involved.

Thus, the very first conversation in the novel is between Dolph and Nanette on Mars. I am reminded of the Prisoner episode, "Many Happy Returns," in which No 6, waking in a deserted Village, builds a raft, leaves the island, reaches an as yet unidentified mainland and first speaks to another character about midway between the two commercial breaks.

This Mars is not lifeless; there is vegetation. I am not sure of the chronology - Nanette seems to leave Earth soon after Dolph but to reach Mars much later - but I will have to reread to check.

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