Mars Attacked

Welcome to the World of Tomorrow! Ether zeppelins and rocket planes traverse the solar system! Jetpacks and heli-cars whiz around the gleaming cities of tomorrow! Exo-archaeologists race to find the secrets of the Exploded Planet! Bug-eyed monsters plot their conquest of the Earth! Exclamation points are outrageously over-used! Think Indiana Jones in space. Think the Gernsback Continuum with Nazis. Think Phantom Menace without Jar Jar. Now grab your turbo-pistols, snap on your big bubble space helmet, and rocket to adventure in the Astounding year of 1963!

(Huh? 1963? Well, yes, the year is 1963, but this is 1963 as imagined in the science fiction of, say, 1936. So even though there are rayguns and bug-eyed monsters, the feel is “classic” pulp. The technology is all weird science World of Tomorrow stuff, but socio-culturally, this world is wholly stuck in the 1920s and 1930s.)

A Brief History of The World of Tomorrow

Across the gulf of space, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. Early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.
–H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds

On August 14, 1906, to be exact. On that day, the Martians landed on Earth. The invaders came in huge silver cylinders, fired from the surface of the red planet. With their immense walking war machines and deadly poison smoke, the godless Martians laid waste to our planet’s proudest cities: London, Paris, St. Petersburg, Berlin. Human resistance crumbled, but the guns of August were stilled by the end of the month. The Martians swept aside our military like ants, but their immune systems proved fatally susceptible to common bacteria in our atmosphere.

In the years following the First War of the Worlds, the nations of Earth scrambled to understand this alien technology—and made their own first steps across the gulf of space. France’s mighty Verne Cannon put an earth-man in orbit by 1914, and in 1916, England’s Wells Gun delivered three astronauts safely to the moon. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 grounded the Russian Bear indefinitely, but by the 1920s and 30s, Germany and the United States had also entered the space race. Nazi engineers perfected the ether zeppelins that were soon plying translunar space, while American aviators experimented with dangerous but lightning-fast rocket planes.

The Second War of the Worlds

Then, the Martians came back. On October 30, 1938, a day that will live in infamy, the vanguard landed just east of Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. This time the Martians were prepared—immunized against Earth’s bacteria, and armed with more deadly weapons, like heat rays and flying saucers. Martian war machines waded across the Hudson like a man wading a brook, and took Manhattan in a matter of hours. Attacks followed around the world. Only the Soviet Union was spared—though it earned the wrath of the entire planet when Stalin’s secret non-aggression pact with the High Martian Warlord Uszthay was revealed.

But Earth was better prepared too, with Nazi black science and heroic Tesla-tech. After several months of fear and chaos, humanity began to win back its planet. By late 1942, the American army had redeemed the continental United States, while Hitler’s walking-tanks “liberated” France and struck deep into the heart of treacherous Russia. By 1944, humanity was ready to take the fight back to the red planet. On June 6, 1944—M-Day—the United States, Britain, and the German Reich launched the Allied invasion of Mars. Victory came in the spring of 1946. As German tanks rolled along the Martian canals and American rocket-planes pounded “Marty” from the sky, Uszthay’s warlords scattered. The Second War of the Worlds ended on May 30, 1946, with the unconditional surrender of Vhoolgris, the Martian Queen.

The Astounding World of 1963

Nearly twenty years later, Earth’s two great powers are the United States and Nazi Germany. These two nations could not be more different.

The Third Reich is a grim nightmare—a cruel empire stretching from Paris to Moscow, with puppet states in Spain, Italy, and Scandinavia. From the iron fortress-city of Berlin, the aging Fuhrer, Heinrich Himmler, directs his minions. But all know that Himmler really takes his orders from the living brain of Adolf Hitler, removed and preserved by black science after Hitler’s “death” in 1951.

America, by contrast, is an electric utopia—a gleaming, streamlined, World of Tomorrow! Picture Disney’s Tomorrowland, the 1939 World’s Fair, the world of Gernsback. This is the wireless age, an age of rayguns, rocket-planes, and skyscrapers a mile high. The kids, spiritual children of Tesla and Duke Ellington, jitterbug to bubbly “space jazz” while Mom and Dad rocket to work in jetpacks and helicars. The American people are fresh-scrubbed, infatuated with science and technology, and bursting with pioneer spirit as America reaches for the very stars!

To the Stars!

Well, humanity hasn’t reached the stars yet, but it is spreading across the solar system. Bases have been established on all the inner planets, and exploration of the outer solar system has begun. The Moon is humanity’s most populous outpost. The Selenites gained their independence from British rule in 1947, but the domed cities and tunnels of the moon have since become Habitrail mazes of treachery and intrigue, where American secret agents match wits with Nazi spies, Martian cultists, Chinese tongs, and more.
Mars has the largest human presence of the other planets. It remains a conquered world, with separate sectors occupied by the American, British, and German armed forces. The bug-eyed Martians smart under human rule, but theirs is a dying world, a red desert where the rusting hulks of war machines lie by dry canals. Venus has only a minimal human presence. It is a Lost World of acid-soaked jungles, ravenous beasts, and savage blue-skinned humanoids. Of the other planets, less is known, though all have been visited. Intrepid explorers reached Pluto in the early 1960s and now search the space beyond for remnants of the exploded tenth planet, the so-called “Planet X.”

Astounding Science!

In some areas, Astounding Age science is far more advanced than the real world. There is wireless projection of power (thank you, Mr. Tesla). There are ray guns. There are rocket planes that approach the speed of light (light speed remains the universal speed limit, at least for now…). In other areas, technology is less advanced. There are no transistors, for example. A few computers exist, but they are usually building-sized monstrosities of vacuum tubes. There is no atomic power or atomic weaponry. The Martians provided plenty of doomsday weaponry; mankind has not yet been tempted to split the atom.

Think of the technology of this world as “Electropunk”—the Astounding Age isn’t Steampunk or Space 1889, but it isn’t Atomic Horror either. Characters using super-science should throw around scientific gobbledygook with abandon; don’t worry about making real physical sense. Useful super-science terms include: electro-, magneto-, ether, telluric, and any kind of ray, from A-rays through Z-rays.

The main thing to remember about the “astounding age” is that it is just that: astounding! Most Americans are infused with a sunny, gee-whiz optimism and excitement about science and technology. In our world, the excitement of new inventions wears off pretty quickly. We don’t usually say things like “And now, my incredible microwave oven will reheat this macaroni using the awesome power of molecular vibration!” But people in this world—at least scientists—talk like that all the time.

(This was the pitch for my space pulp Red Madness game. You can read how the game played out here.)

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