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Room 101


We Are the Martians Now!

Back in 1959, British scriptwriter Nigel Kneale turned H.G. Wells' classic 'Martian Invasion' novel The War of the Worlds on its head with the concluding instalment of his landmark Quatermass trilogy: the hugely influential Quatermass and the Pit.

Back then, all science fiction about Martians or similar alien invaders could be broken down into essentially two basic storylines: either we go to them or else they come to us. And in his previous two outings for Professor Quatermass (The Quatermass Experiment and Quatermass II), Kneale had already exhausted both these avenues. However in Quatermass and the Pit, Kneale smashed both these molds and crafted a new third alien invasion scenario: they were here all along!

A full decade before Erich von Däniken's Chariots of the Gods, it was really Kneale who was the first to introduce a mass audience to the concept of "ancient astronauts" that visited Earth in the remote past and might have played a significant hand in mankind's genetic and cultural evolution. Readers not familiar with either Kneale or Quatermass can read my earlier column here. But to summarise the plot in Quatermass and the Pit, basically revolved around a five million year old plan to transform the Earth into a "colony by proxy" for a dying Mars.

In the tale, the Martians were facing a situation not at all that dissimilar to what many fear the Earth may be facing today: the imminent destruction of the Martian biosphere and the total extinction of all life on the planet. In Kneale's screenplay, the ancient inhabitants of Mars attempt to cheat this fate by using their advanced knowledge of genetics.

Realising their fragile insectoid bodies could never survive very long in Earth's dense atmosphere and gravity, the Martians instead choose to infuse their genes into the most advanced life forms on their neighboring world: a race of primitive Pliocene apes. The result was a new hybrid subspecies armed with all the advantages of Martian intelligence but perfectly adapted to the conditions on Earth. In other words "that we owe our human condition here (on Earth) to the intervention of insects."

Kneale's Quatermass stories were just that, stories. But few students of the unexplained could fail to see the parallels not only with von Däniken's "ancient astronauts" but the alien abduction literature too. Referring, of course, to the concept of small insect-eyed creatures experimenting with human DNA and cross human-alien hybridisation.

One of the most important factors that seems to separate good science fiction writers from the truly great, seems to be their almost prophetic knack to somehow accurately predict future events or developments. Perhaps the best example of this being Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon that accurately predicted an American expedition to the Moon more than a century before the Apollo 11 landing. Another good example would be H.G. Wells’ 1936 film Things to Come that much more disturbingly foresaw the blitz of London in World War II . And, of course, Arthur C. Clarke is often credited as being the inventor of the communications satellite.

Although less well known many would put Nigel Kneale in the same league as these sci-fi visionaries. So given this might there be more to the hypothesis posited by Professor Quatermass in The Pit than most people would dare consider?

In his first non-fiction book, After the Martian Apocalypse, the late Mac Tonnies theorised about the possibility that an ancient Martian civilisation might have been responsible for anomalies on the red planet, most notably the so-called "pyramids" and "face on Mars." Given certain similarities between these alleged "monuments" on Mars and those of Ancient Egypt and the Americas: could it be possible that a prehistoric Martian colonisation might have indeed taken place? Also, given the reported three million Americans who believe themselves to be victims of alien abduction, might this colonisation effort still be underway in someway?

Such a scenario - or any involving Martians for that matter - might sound crazy but it would at least go some way to explaining mankind's preoccupation with the pyramids and Mars. The ancient Pharaohs could have chosen any shape for their tombs but they choose a pyramid design, why? Might this fascination with the pyramid shape have been programmed into our DNA, a racial memory of Mars?

Further, the famous Martian rocks that got huge press back in 1996 because they might contain fossilised evidence of extraterrestrial life, has led to the increasing popularity among mainstream scientists that life might have originated elsewhere in the universe (perhaps Mars) and caught a ride via meteorite (or other means?) to Earth. So perhaps the Quatermass hypothesis isn’t so outlandish after all.

Before he sadly passed away last year, Tonnies completed his second book, The Cryptoterrestrials, a book detailing his theories about the possibility that mankind might be sharing the planet with another indigenous race of humanoids. If he had lived, I had planned to ask Tonnies if he thought his Mars ideas and his cryptoterrestrial hypotheses might be compatible in some way, in other words, if Tonnies' cryptoterrestrials might indeed be a Martian proxy colony. Sadly I'll never get the chance now.

Ultimately, as with any paranormal thought experiment, we're left with more questions than answers. And it goes without saying that there is nowhere near the kind of proof that Professor Quatermass is confronted with, i.e. crashed Martian spaceships and dead alien bodies. Well not admitted to anyway. However, if the so-called "face on Mars" really is a face - instead of just a pile of rocks - then it appears to be a human face. Which would mean there would have to be a connection between ancient Mars and humankind. Maybe this is it.

In his recent appearance on BoA: Audio, Christopher Knowles speculated about the link between creativity and shamanism. Maybe in Quatermass and the Pit, Nigel Kneale managed to somehow cross this divide. Then again, maybe Kneale was just what he seemed to be: a damn good storyteller way ahead of his time with science fiction and speculation running through his vanes.

Either way, though, until mankind finally leaves the cradle of Earth orbit and takes their first tentative steps on the Martian surface (circa 2030), the Red Planet will continue to hold onto its secrets ... whatever they may be.

Richard Thomas, BoA UK Correspondent and Columnist.