What if…and the “Martian Mayflower”

As discussed here, if Mars is to become a second home for humans, it will be a long and risky process, but it presents a historic opportunity as well. Think of it as the 21st century version of the Mayflower expedition (as Buzz Aldrin put it in a Vanity Fair interview), but with scientists and engineers instead of religious separatists.

The Suvudu article covers some of the ways we can go about changing Mars to make it more habitable for humans. The discussion of various means of terraforming Mars are very interesting to me, but I lack the science background to write hard sci-fi very convincingly. Yet I feel there are great opportunities for stories there, particularly if a writer were to pick a handful of unintended consequences (yes, I realize terraforming Mars has been covered before in fiction).

Instead, I’d rather focus on the human colonists. What sort of settlement would we form on Mars? Above ground or below? Or some combination? What would the initial pieces look like? To what extent can the settlement be pre-fab and constructed by robots prior to the colonists’ arrival? How would the colony’s features and appearance change as it grew? What happens once the colony reaches such a size that increases start happening more rapidly–less planned, more ramshackle?

Thinking about the Mayflower example, colonists back then could at least get away from others for a while–go for a walk, say. But not on Mars. You could distract yourself with work, but there would be no respite from your fellow colonists. What would the social dynamics of the colony look like? Would there be a “class” dynamic (like high school, not wealth-based class) across the successive groups of arrivals? What happens when something goes wrong? How does the colonist at fault repair the damage to his reputation? What happens if a crime takes place among maybe a dozen colonists? How do you solve the crime, and how would you punish the wrongdoer?

How long does the colony need to be in place before its residents think of themselves as Martians instead of Earthlings? At what point can non-astronauts volunteer to go to Mars as settlers? How would these non-astronauts (what type of people would self-select to do this? Loners? Risk-takers? People with a criminal bent?) interact with the older “classes” on Mars? Would there be an us vs. them mentality between the “professionals” and the “amateur colonists”? Think of the immigration battles we see today and have seen throughout history. Circling back to the Mayflower analogy again, what if separatists, (religious, political, or otherwise) wanted to go to Mars? What if they wanted a piece of the colony? What if they wanted a separate colony? Can that sub-group remain standoffish when every effort of every colonist is required just to keep the colony going?

I’ve read a ton of stories where interplanetary bases have already been long-established or there is a full-fledged intergalactic empire, but I can’t recall many stories about those first colonists who had to make it work, or they would die. I think the risks, the dangers, the little victories, and the social dynamics could make a fascinating story. What do you think? Are there great colonization stories I should read? Let me know.