(click on the link to read the story online)
Mars is still a planet shrouded in mystery despite the numerous unmanned probes that have explored its terrain and examined its soil: being the almost-habitable planet closest to Earth, it has fired the imagination of both scientists and writers, the former picturing the possibilities of colonization and of establishing there a new home for humanity; the latter conjuring up a wide variety of scenarios, from lost civilizations sprawling across the planet to merciless invasions, and so on.
This short story takes a different approach, postulating that Mars has been colonized by Earth people and shortly turned into a sort of tourist trap, complete with fake “Martian experience” guided tours, lavish hotels and casinos – think of Las Vegas on the Red Planet… In this scenario, one where Mars is habitable and its surface dotted with water courses – quite unlike well-established reality – the original Martians have decided to remove themselves from interaction with the invading humans, avoiding contact as much as possible, and in those cases only with a few selected individuals. The comparison with America’s Indian tribes comes of course to mind very easily…
Jim Ramsey is Mars born, the son of colonists from the first wave of settlers, and thanks to his extensive knowledge of the territory he works as a guide for tourists: at the start of this story, he welcomes his new client, Dr. al-Baz, a University of Arizona professor who came to Mars to prove an intriguing theory about the genetic link between Martian aborigines and Earth people. As one of the few people who can safely approach the shatan (the name Martians use for themselves), Jim will have to convince them to donate some blood to test al-Baz’s hypothesis.
From this point on, the story moves over quite unexpected territory, and toward an equally unexpected ending: I will say no more, because it must be enjoyed free of preconceptions, and save its surprise until the very end.