Martians, Go Home

August 31, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

martiansMartians, Go Home by Fredric Brown

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Fredric Brown is one of those authors I would have skipped over all together if not for an online article that mentioned how good (and how funny) his novels were. This same article noted that some of his best ebooks were on sale, and ebooks being what they are, I felt pretty good about spending a dollar or two to check out the book. I’m glad I did.

Martians, Go Home is a clever book. It walks the fine line of serious fiction and absurdity, since it has something serious to say about humanity by tormenting us relentlessly with obnoxious Martians who want nothing more than to annoy us. On the one hand, we have Luke Devereaux, who is struggling with his writing, his wife, and his life in general, and that’s the main character story; on the other hand, we have the Martians who force Luke and everyone else on the planet to reconsider how they treat one another, and that’s the main theme. It reminds me a little of Terry Pratchett’s work, as he was also able to balance the serious and the absurd.

The Martians take center stage in the story, as billions of them arrive on Earth at the same time. They’re incorporeal, but that doesn’t mean they’re helpless; they have X-ray vision and the aptitude to learn languages in a matter of hours, so they’re able to learn all of everyone’s secrets. They also have the ability to teleport from place to place, so whenever someone tries to speak, the Martians interfere, telling hidden truths and exposing people in their own half-truths. There seems to be no point to their antics, save to annoy everyone on Earth, since they can’t touch or otherwise interact with humans. And they just. Won’t. Leave.

This novel incorporates the adage “He who is enemy to my enemy is my friend”, as even those countries embroiled in the Cold War are forced to work together to try to rid the world of the Martians. The story jumps between what’s going on with Luke and what’s going on with the world in general, and it’s a good way of pacing the story. Luke as a character serves as our connection to the story, but the world in general is where the science fiction aspect of the story comes into play. Considering that this novel was written in the 1950s makes it even more impressive.

Unfortunately, because the novel was written in the 1950s, there are a couple of unfortunate cultural stereotypes. I have to give Brown credit for not making Margie, Luke’s wife, some simpering housewife (she is, in fact, a smart, strong, no-nonsense, hard-working character), but near the end of the story, he travels to Africa, which is populated with cannibalistic, medicine-man-populated savages. It was one of those moments where, if you were having a conversation with someone and they said something like that, you would have pulled that face (you know the one I mean), leaned back, and said, “Really?

Otherwise, though, the novel is well-written, well-paced, intriguing and engaging, and has an ease of reading I wouldn’t have expected for a novel its age. And it’s funny! My favorite gag is when the unnamed, omniscient narrator asks someone with a thick Cockney accent to explain something in his own words, and then after a paragraph of that, he breaks in and says, “Maybe you’d better let me tell what happened, in my words.”

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2 Comments

  1. Joachim Boaz said,

    Would you call any of the SF writer “solving” the problem “metafictional”? I have heard this novel and others by Brown bandied around as such… Perhaps surprisingly, I have yet to read any of his non-short fiction work.

  2. Isaac said,

    I don’t really know. It didn’t strike me as such at the time, and there’s some ambiguity involving how the problem is solved. There’s an afterword by the author where he removes the ambiguity, but I preferred the story without it; I think the uncertainty lent something important to the novel.

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