Martians are more popular than Venusians

I thought this comment at File 770 was interesting

However, I realised that the Google n-gram site would provide a neat empirical confirmation of Mars bias in popular culture. I did a search on Martians and Venusians, choosing the inhabitants rather than the planets to avoid hits about astronomy or the gods.

I cut off the date at 1970 because by that point images from the Mariner probe and other data had really begun to reshape how we thought about our sister planets.

I think the deeper question is why? Venus is a lot, lot more visible than Mars. Is it precisely because of that? That we think of Venus as a star rather than a planet? Or is it some kind of weird sexism that makes manly war-like Mars more interesting than feminine Venus?

The H.G.Wells spike is very visible, so maybe it is all down to Herbert’s arbitrary choice. If he’d picked tripod’s from Venus then maybe those lines would be reversed?

20 responses to “Martians are more popular than Venusians”

  1. I suspect it has to do with the “discovery” of the Mars channels, that led to envision a civilization there. Even after being debunct the idea was planted there.

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  2. Yes, my first thought was, Mars has distinctive surface features, visible (to some extent, and prone to error) through telescopes… whereas Venus is pretty much featureless, even with modern equipment. Mars is just a more interesting planet to look at. Superficial, I know, we shouldn’t go around judging planets by their appearances, but there we are.

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  3. Hmm, I’ve come across a number of Venus-based stories in my reading of 1920s Amazing Stories issues. Out of curiosity I went back and dug up the synopses I write:

    “The Miracle of the Lily” by Clare Winger Harris
    The people of Earth and Venus are able to see each other for the first time; and to the surprise of the watching humans, it turns out that the intelligent species of Venus is a race of giant ant-like beings, while their “insects” – the vermin that they expect Earth to help them to exterminate – are small humanoids.

    “Rice’s Ray” by Harold A. Lower
    The heroes meet a feline beast which Fred is forced to shoot using one of the shotguns they took on their trip. Inspecting the body, Rice declares that the animal was a sabre-toothed tiger of the sort once found on prehistoric Earth. After a sighting of what appear to be pterodactyls, Rice concludes that Venus mirrors Earth during the Pilocene period; consequently, similar fauna has evolved there. After a run-in with a carnivorous dinosaur – which Harry kills by hurling a grenade down its mouth – the explorers decide to return to their ship. On their way back they encounter what initially appear to be humans, or perhaps apes, but are in fact a race of reptilian humanoids. Back on Earth, the three begin discussing a possible trip to Mars.

    A Columbus of Space by Garrett P. Serviss
    A story of story of four Earthmen flying to Venus in an atomic-powered craft and encountering the humanoid locals. In this instalment our heroes accidentally shoot and injure the benevolent Queen Ala, accidentally kill another Venusian while making their escape, and almost suffocate Juba, their “faithful Indian” from the dark side of Venus. Despite these misadventures Ala and her subjects are quick to forgive the Earthmen, with only sneaky Ingra harbouring mistrust. For the most part the story remains cut from the same cloth as countless non-SF adventure narratives of the day, although the end of the second instalment introduces a stronger fantasy element when wicked Ingra leaves the heroes at the mercies of two monsters: one a tentacle-faced creature, the other a giant spider-like being.

    Station X by G. MacLeod Winsor
    In this novel about aliens contacting Earth through radio, sometime protagonist Macrae comes under the mental control of the hostile Martians – themselves the result of a body-swapping invasion from Earth’s moon. Professor Rudge, acting on behalf of the benevolent Venusians, must apprehend him before coming up with a means of halting any further psychic attacks from Mars.

    “The Star of Dead Love” by Will H. Gray
    While looking out at his lawn one evening, Dr. Joyce sees rays of blue light forming into the semi-transparent figure of a young woman. The girl is intangible and apparently unable to speak, but shows a number of strange abilities. She produces a sheet and draws sketches on it, explaining to Joyce that she is from Venus. She fires a beam that slices a nearby wooden post in two. The Venusians have learned to reproduce through parthenogenesis, and became an all-female species. Their reproduction is overseen by a “Supreme Eugenic Committee”, which terminates wrongdoers using the same method that sliced Joyce’s wooden post in two.


  4. The Twilight Zone had one episode that combined the two citizenships, but the Martian still got top billing even though it was the Venusians who came out on top.


  5. Outside of sci-fi fandom (and perhaps only in the US) I think a large number of people of a certain age believe “Martian” just means alien. I know my Mom’s does.

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  6. *idly wonders if he should mention that inhabitants of Venus were also sometimes known as “Cythereans” *

    *decides, on the whole, it’s kinder not to *


    • I had another thought. “Martian,” “Venerian,” and “Venusian” are adjectives – so they turn up in non-SF contexts like “Martian moons,” “Venusian atmosphere” etc. An N-gram of “Martians” etc., would pinpoint times when people were talking about entities from Mars and Venus.


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