Due to blunders, errors, oversights and stupidity, America's first mission to Mars is a disaster. Only 38 of the 276 astronauts who started the voyage are alive to return, and most of them have various forms of radiation sickness. The American people to want to forget this sad chapter of history and abandon the idea of space colonies. Then a dying astronaut, Harry Steegman, stumbles across the remains of a Martian city and dies in the company of living Martians. These creatures, who may or may not be the feral descendants of the people who created and abandoned the Martian city are quickly bundled into the last remaining Earth ship in order to "save" them. Earth anticipates the arrival of the Martians.
The Day the Martians Came is not exactly a novel, despite the claims on its cover. The publishing industry sometimes uses the phrase "fix up" to describe this type of book, but that isn't correct here either.
Martians is a collection of 10 short stories, ("major episodes" Pohl calls them) originally published separately but all sharing a common theme. Held together by the supplemental material, each episode chronicles how an ordinary person reacts to the news that living Martians have been discovered on the seemingly dead Red Planet and are on their way to Earth.
Some people are excited, some disgusted. Some see the Martian visit as an opportunity, some react with guilt. And for many, the Martians are just another form of entertainment with little direct effect on their lives.
Several of the episodes in Martians are not really Science Fiction. The characters may mention the Mars expedition as they go about their normal business but those mentions could be easily replaced by something mundane for all the bearing they have on the story. (Hey, how much did the Bill/Monica saga effect your life? It gave you something to talk about for a few days but did it buy dinner for you?)
The Day the Martians Came "feels" odd as a book because of its episodic nature. We hear from one or two characters in one section and they are not heard from again, except indirectly. Since each section can stand alone as a story, I suppose this was necessary.
Does the arrival of the Martians change the Earth? We don't know, as the book ends with the Martians arrival. Pohl is semi-optimistic in his thoughts about changing race relations.
I wouldn't place The Day the Martians Came among Pohl's best work (okay, I've not read all of Pohl's work) but it is very interesting in concept and execution.
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