Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Yes, Virginia, you can smoke a cigarette on Mars

Remember the good old days, when Rod Sterling inspired kids to ignite their backyard rockets with a Chesterfield, science fiction paperbacks contained cigarette ads, and the most refined ladies at the local Sci-Fi conference smoked Virginia Slims? Yeah, the good old days, when life was simpler and more enjoyable in many ways.

Author Frederik Pohl remembers the good old days. Platinum Pohl (2005), a collection of thirty essential short stories that span his entire writing career, is packed with references to cigarettes and smoking. Here’s a neat passage from Pohl’s short story “The Middle of Nowhere" (1955), which confirms that it is possible to smoke a cigarette on Mars:
It grew very slightly darker, bit by bit; and then it was black. Even in our cave we could hear the screaming of the twilight wind. We were in a little slit in the raw rock, halfway down one of the crevasses that gave the Split Cliffs area its name. Craggy, tumbled, bare rocks a hundred feet below us, and the other wall of the crevasse barely jumping distance away. We had come to it along an irregular sloping ledge, and to reach us at all the wind had to pass through a series of natural baffles. And even so, we saw the scant shrubbery at the cave mouth whipped and scoured by the dusk-wind.

Demaree shivered and attempted to light a cigarette. On the fourth try he got it burning, but it went out almost at once -- it is possible to smoke in Mars’ air, but not easy, because of the pressure. The tobacco burns poorly, and tastes worse. He grunted, “Damn the stuff. You think we’ll be all right here?”
Author Robert A. Heinlein would have remembered the good old days, too, for both he and his wife, Virginia, smoked. I can almost hear a grumble from Heinlein's grave in an attempt to settle an affectionate disagreement: “Yes, Virginia, you can smoke a cigarette on Mars.”

Pictured: Robert A. Heinlein smoking a cigarette.

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