The Best Fake Martian Story Ever: 'Mars Peopled by One Vast Thinking Vegetable'

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Sure beats little green men.

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When people imagine Martians, they tend to think of variations on human life. Percival Lowell, expounding the theory that the mythical canals of Mars were created by martians, even imagined the kind of bureaucracy they'd have to develop for such a public works project. Martians, that is to say, generally reflect life on Earth the way a western tends to show the values and tensions of the year it was made, not only the year in which it was set. 

But then along comes this theory of Martians published in The Salt Lake Tribune in 1912. Here we see that Martian life is all vegetation, but it's watched over and controlled by one enormous eye shooting what must be 100 miles into space. 

What did this massive Martian brain think about? "The vast intellect of Mars is occupied with the problems of gaining subsistence from the dying planet and then with investigations of the boundless universe that lies within its sight," the Tribune said. 

The paper attributes the theory to William Campbell, who was the director of the Lick Observatory. But that's a bald fabrication, as Campbell explained in a later letter. Really, it's not obvious who proposed the fantastic and fantastical story of Martians. There's no byline on the story and it resided in a part of the paper that contained other barely believable "weird" news. 

It grew out of some ideas that Lowell and others had about the canals being lined with vegetation that varied seasonally. But from there, it's pure creativity, weirdness, and pencil sketches. 

You can read the whole article here, but here is the best (i.e. most fascinatingly wrong) paragraph:
Before considering this theory further, we must bear in mind a few of the proved facts about Mars. It has atmosphere, seasons, land, water, storms, clouds and mountains. It also rains and snows on Mars, as it does with us. Great white patches appear periodically upon its surface. These may be accumulations of snow and they have also been called "eyes."
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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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