Lost Race of Mars

by Robert Silverberg
Reviewed date: 2018 Jul 22
123 pages
cover art
cover art

Surprise Day was a private custom of the Chambers family. Dr. Roy Chambers, the father of Sally and Jim, had always felt it was a pity Christmas came only once a year, so he had set up a special day, exactly midway between one Christmas and the next, for the giving of gifts.

In the far-future year of 2017, Jim and Sally get the shock of their lives on Surprise Day: their father is going to Mars! Dr. Chambers is studying native Martian life, and the Earth government has granted him a year-long field assignment at the Mars colony. Jim and Sally reel at the news that their father will be away for so long, but quickly see the excitement. Jim remarks that his father can send them letters "with Mars Colony stamps on them." That's when Dr. Chambers reveals the rest of the surprise: the whole family is going!

Well, the whole family except Chipper the cat. There's no place for pets on Mars. Chipper has to stay with the neighbors.

On Mars, Jim and Sally face an unpleasant reality: nobody likes them. The Mars kids resent the Chambers family. Eking out an living on Mars is tough work, and the colonists have little patience for freeloaders who use up oxygen and food without contributing to the colony. Pure research like Dr. Chambers is doing is a luxury many colonists feel they can't afford.

The Earth government is supporting Dr. Chambers's research, though, and the Mars Colony can scarcely refuse.

Things improve a little when Dr. Chambers finds three Martian creatures similar to cats. He allows Jim and Sally to adopt one for a pet. They name it Mitten, short for Mars kitten, and he is a great icebreaker with the other kids. Nobody else on Mars has a pet, and all the kids are fascinated with Mitten.

The Mars kittens are an exciting find, but what Dr. Chambers really wants is to learn more about the Old Martians. This great race died out eons ago when Mars dried up, but their artifacts still abound. Dr. Chambers hopes the Old Martians may still be around, perhaps living in caves or underground chambers. He's unable to get access to the equipment he needs to search for such caves, though--it's needed elsewhere, and pure research is not a high priority for the fledgling colony. Dr. Chambers grows frustrated with the lack of progress in his research.

Jim and Sally decide to help their father. They sneak out of the domed city, steal a rover, and take it for a joyride. They head south of the city, where Mitten was found, hoping to locate the caves of the Old Martians.

A freak sandstorm nearly wrecks their rover, and the kids get lost. But not to worry--they stumble upon an Old Martian cave full of living Old Martians. The Old Martians use telepathy to explain that theirs was once a great race, but now they are old and tired and wish to be left alone. The future belongs to the human race. The Martians show Jim and Sally how they have survived all these eons: special plants that produce oxygen, water, and food from the rocky Martian soil.

The Martians take Jim and Sally back to the colony city. It takes a while to convince everyone at the colony that the Old Martians really exist. But they do, and after Dr. Chambers analyzes some samples of the Martian plants, he's convinced Mars can be terraformed and made habitable sooner rather than later.

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