Between Mars One sounding fishy and Curiosity finding nitrogen, Mars is back in the news (if it ever really left). There's still an interest in colonizing "The Angry Red Planet," but that's still a long way off from happening. I can only presume that's because the folks at NASA and the other space exploration organizations haven't taken the lessons of Man Plus to heart.

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Man Plus is a Nebula Award-winning novel by science fiction legend Frederik Pohl. If that's not enough to sell you on it, it's worth buying for the gorgeous cover by Lee Edwards (accept no substitutions!) that's accurate to the story inside.

Getting back to Pohl's story, Man Plus is set in a world where a powder keg of international relations will ignite if Mars doesn't get colonized pronto. The major stumbling block to this venture is (obviously) that Mars isn't hospitable to human life. That's why they're taking the lateral solution to retrofit astronauts with cybernetic parts so they can survive on Mars.

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After the first cyborg astronaut dies (a "Man Minus" catastrophe), Roger Torraway is conscripted as his replacement much to his chagrin. The transformation process involves scooping out his insufficient sensory and respiratory organs to replacing them with upgrades suited to Martian atmosphere. He also has a computer uplink in his brain to allow him to process his fancy new stimuli receptors. In order to power his superstrong cyberconverted body, two enormous solar panels shaped like wings are grafted onto his back. The end result is that Torraway looks like Man-Bat or a red Parademon.

Also important: Torraway gets completely gelded. This is vital to Martian colonization for several reasons: 1) External genitalia would throw off his balance since his body now has to support humongous wing-shaped batteries; 2) They've given him a cloaca to simplify excretion & reduce the likelihood of internal contamination; and 3) They don't want to risk Torraway (who's being cuckolded) becoming so horny he inadvertently compromises his augmented body or the mission. They do preserve some sperm in case he wants to procreate later. Sadly they don't modify it so all his children will be born cyber-gargoyles.

What's fascinating about Man Plus is how Pohl picks what might be the most ludicrous option but plays it completely straight. The book highlights both the engineering problems of creating a Mars-ready cyborg and the psychodrama of Torraway coping with having been transformed into that cyborg. (It's still endearingly goofy out of context.)

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Tons of stress is placed upon perfecting the cyborg to ensure the future of space colonization, but then Torraway is sent to terraform Mars with non-cyborg astronauts in the finale. There's a twist ending that attempts to justify why a cyborg was needed when normal astronauts were cable of terraforming the planet by themselves but it's a bit daft. (I would've preferred it if everybody who goes to live on mars has to be upgraded with no terraforming.) So the Man Plus Project turns out to not be the wisest investment in tax payer resources. I can't complain too much though because CYBORG MAN-BAT IN SPACE!

Can you think of any zanier interplanetary colonization tales?