If you are curious about a 1950s perspective on the sexual mores of life on a Martian base, you are in for a rare treat.
Although C.S. Lewis’ foray into science fiction is best seen in his Space Trilogy, which begins with Out of the Silent Planet, he also penned a curious short story about courtesans in outer space. Lewis did not raise this rather tawdry subject, but he was responding to a serious argument for the practice, made by an American astronomer.
But First, a Quick Apologia
My posts have been fewer during recent months due to competing demands on my time. Most of these distractions are good, like watching over my wonderful brood of grandchildren. Another special pleasure has been working on a chapter for a book that will probably be published in a year or so. It deals with Theology and Star Trek.
I’ve been a fan of Star Trek ever since I watched the first episode that aired, back on September 8, 1966. Thus, it’s no surprise that my enthusiasm has seeped into Mere Inkling.
Earlier this year I posted a piece related to Star Trek, in which I censured a human version of the Klingon practice of eating animals while they are still alive. And five years ago, I wrote about “Humanity’s Interstellar Exodus” and referred to Star Trek’s utopian view of the universe.
I have always enjoyed science fiction. It was, in fact, via C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy that I was introduced to the great writer. Lewis wrote in so many diverse genres. There are many paths that can motivate readers to explore his writings further, ultimately being invited to consider issues of faith and eternity.
That’s one reason I celebrate the fact that Netflix (admittedly a company without altruistic motivation) is going to be filming new productions set in Narnia.
According to the deal between Netflix and The C.S. Lewis Company, the streaming service will develop stories from the Narnia universe into series and films that the producers hope will cross mediums, similar to what the Star Trek and Marvel franchises have done with their successful properties.
Back to Mars
In the mid-fifties of the last century, Robert S. Richardson broached the question of what life would be like for the first humans to live on Mars. There are several flaws in Richardson’s presuppositions. The first is his gender-bias, which postulates “a station of several hundred young unmarried men.”
In addition, although the challenges of travel move some theorists to view the residents as quasi-permanent colonists, Richardson’s proposal is based on an estimate that “puts the round trip at nearly three years [which] includes a stay on Mars of 449 days.” He does note that due to the cost, “a man who volunteers for Mars must do so with the expectation of remaining a minimum of, say, five years on the planet.”
At the end of the article he raises his concern for the sexual needs of “normal, healthy young men.” His solution is to consider jettisoning the “moral attitudes” of his day. “To put it bluntly, may it not be necessary for the success of the project to send some nice girls to Mars at regular intervals to relieve tensions and promote morale?”
In order to address “the greatest threat to the success of the interplanetary project [which is] the gnawing absence of the opposite sex,” he argues:
Is it not conceivable that in an entirely alien environment survival will produce among other things a sexual culture—shocking on Earth—which would be entirely “moral” judged by extraterrestrial standards?
Ironically, the erosion of moral standards in the Western world appear to make his argument rather moot. Nonetheless, the essential argument elicited a creative response from C.S. Lewis. Richardson’s article had appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and it was to that same pulp journal that Lewis responded.
Lewis’ article was chosen for republication in the 1959 anthology The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction, where it was introduced as “perceptive, human, and warmly comic. It is dated, of course, but well worth a read. And, it specifically addresses the issues raised by Richardson.
The arrival of two women at the Mars base is unexpected. But the powers that be on Earth decided that the men must be in need of Aphrodisio-Therapy, and sent two volunteers. One was rather elderly and morbidly obese. The other was a shrill psychology professor from a “modern” university.
The following scene features a conversation between the Captain (Mars base commander) and the presumably Scottish commander of the ship upon which the women arrived. It begins with the Captain being stunned that the two candidates presented for the novel role were quite ill-suited to it.
The Captain seemed at first wholly occupied with its comic side. ‘Still,’ he said at last, ‘it has its serious side too. The impertinence of it, for one thing! Do they think—
‘Ye maun recall,’ said Ferguson, ‘they’re dealing with an absolutely new situation.’
‘Oh, new be damned! How does it differ from men on whalers, or even on windjammers in the old days? Or on the North West Frontier? It’s about as new as people being hungry when food was short.’
‘Eh mon, but ye’re forgettin’ the new light of modern psychology.’
‘I think those two ghastly women have already learned some newer psychology since they arrived. Do they really suppose every man in the world is so combustible that he’ll jump into the arms of any woman whatever?’
‘Aye, they do. They’ll be sayin’ you and your party are verra abnormal. I wadna put it past them to be sending you out wee packets of hormones next.’
‘Well, if it comes to that, do they suppose men would volunteer for a job like this unless they could, or thought they could, or wanted to try if they could, do without women?’
‘Then there’s the new ethics, forbye.’
‘Oh stow it, you old rascal. What is new there either? Who ever tried to live clean except a minority who had a religion or were in love? They’ll try it still on Mars, as they did on Earth. As for the majority, did they ever hesitate to take their pleasures wherever they could get them? The ladies of the profession know better. Did you ever see a port or a garrison town without plenty of brothels? Who are the idiots on the Advisory Council who started all this nonsense?’
C.S. Lewis’ insights into human nature are far more accurate than those of our previous writer, who assumes morality is so arbitrary that it can be modified according to location. “The minority,” as Lewis rightly points out through the voice of his protagonist, will seek to live according to high moral standards . . . whether they reside in Montreal, Mumbai, on Mars or in the Delta Quadrant of the Milky Way Galaxy.
Read More about Aphrodisio-Therapy
Both of the works discussed above are available online. Read the essay and story in full at the Internet Archives.
Did you know there is a crater on Mars named Malacandra, in honor of C.S. Lewis?