Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Martian Inca by Ian Watson (1977)

The Martian Inca, by Ian Watson (1977, UK)

At left: 1978 United States paperback edition
(New York: Ace Books, 1978), 299 p., $1.95. Cover art by Steve Hickman. Prefatory poetry contains a stanza from William Butler Yeats’ Byzantium. Here's the blurb from the back cover of the book:

The Mars probe has crashed. A triumph of Soviet technology, the first two-way interplanetary probe performed brilliantly until the final stage of its return. Then something went wrong: rather than following its programmed course to a soft landing in its country of origin, the probe crashed in the Peruvian Andes. Now a weird infection beyond the understanding of medical science has wiped out an entire village – except for one man, who, alone and undiscovered by the medics, survives. He has awakened to find himself become his own ancestor, and a god. Suddenly the flames of an Indian revolution are spreading in South America; he is the Martian Inca.”

A wonderful story about the writing of The Martian Inca is recalled by Oliver Morton in his Mapping Mars: Science, Imagination, and the Birth of a World (2002):
Watson still remembers the day in 1976 when the bound proofs of The Martian Inca arrived through the letter box of his home for urgent correction; in the same post came the latest issue of New Scientist magazine with a picture of Mars on the cover and a headline screaming “Water Ice on Mars” ... To his dismay it seemed that various details of The Martian Inca were out of date before it was even published. Within an hour, though, fate had intervened in the form of Greg Benford, an American scientist and science fiction writer visiting the Institute for Astronomy in Cambridge. Benford arrived at Watson’s house unannounced, full of news about Viking (he had visited JPL only days before), and had his brains thoroughly picked. The next day Watson rewrote phrases, sentences, and even paragraphs of the book to reflect the Mars uncovered by Viking, all without making any given page longer or shorter – a constraint imposed by the fact that the page numbers were already set. This act of fealty to the real was, he says, “a feat of which I remain mildly proud.”
According to the University of Liverpool's online library catalogue, the institution's copy of the 1978 Ace paperback edition was bequeathed by author John Brunner, whom Watson admired and once referred to as "the Rachel Carson of science fiction."

A brief review on the website Bookwarp: Science Fiction Book Reviews classified The Martian Inca as a “one-stage rocket” and gave it a grade of “B.” A less generous grade was issued by Lem Stanislaw in his 1980 review for Science Fiction Studies. Despite the negative press, Ian Watson's website is worth reviewing.

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