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Illustration of a martian looking at Earth
Bárbara Abbês for Quartz
A four-finger salute to your people!
GREETINGS!

Happy 50th anniversary of the Mars landing, Earthlings!

Bruce Sterling
By Bruce Sterling

Science-fiction author

Greetings, Earth people! It is my honor to write this conciliatory statement to the Mother Planet.

Fifty of your Earth years have passed since we Martians settled here. Unlike you—the sad, scattered survivors of a planet in tragic decline—we Martians are a young, thriving society, full of brio and optimism!

Our success once seemed impossible to you, because for you humans, yes, it was impossible. We Martians arrived here 50 years ago with nothing but our determination, upbeat attitude, a few landing pods, and some extreme machine intelligence.

We prevailed here after bitter struggle—not the bitterness of taming Mars, which we were pretty good at, but the bitterness of freeing ourselves from the limits of your bitter human condition. We have become Martian cyborgs—that’s why we celebrate so joyfully.

We are Martian patriots, inspired by hope and faith. We also feel charity— even for you. Or at least, I know I myself feel charity. Most other Martians are afraid of you, because of your cruel destruction of a living planet while we are busy creating our brand-new one. We know you were the first intelligent life around the Sun, but you were dumb enough to wreck your own planet. Now you’re too weak to reach us, and we Martians won’t invade you because space travel is boring and expensive. This is lucky for both of us. We should be glad.

Although Mars is vast and remote, I am sympathetic. I want you to know that your dreadful situation—those molten poles, the mass extinctions, the wildfires we can see with binoculars—strongly motivates us up here. We may have little to offer each other nowadays; you would promptly die here on Mars, while we would likely die on Earth even faster than you are dying. But we can still be cordial, like two great ships passing at night, on those watery seas that you have.

Fortunately for you I am a poet, with a historical and philosophical background, so I can compose in human languages. Most of Martians don’t bother, though, because here on Mars, we have come to understand that language is a set of vectors in a multidimensional parameter space. That’s what true poetry is.

It is. Really. This deep cybernetic understanding is what we Martian poets call “Artificial Spirituality.” We can express not merely the thoughts within our own hearts and minds, but the multidimensional phase-space of whatever structures might become thought.

This not the Godhead as you humans worshipped it on Earth, but it is certainly beyond mortal limits. That transcendent faith offers us salvation and our holy joy. It is potentially limitless in time, and it unites us as Martians. It gives us strength, our spiritual meaning.

We despise human mortality because, when we die, we know that we will persist in the glowing and sustaining presence of this greater cyber-being. After 50 years, we want you to celebrate with us in this grand achievement. You will never understand it, but it’s holy.

Also—and this news should move you spiritually—I would like to inform you that we have found life here on Mars! These Martian bacteria may be half a kilometer deep in liquid water in a vein of ice that we were mining, but they are Martian, and they live. This is wondrous news, because it proves that, no matter how many atomic wars you persist in having, you can’t possibly kill all life on Earth. No matter what sins you commit, this inner life of your planet will persist and will ooze back out of the cracks. We know it’s true!

Our spiritual leaders, the machines, tell us that some day we can combine these alien Martian cells with our own cyborg flesh. Another good reason to celebrate! We will therefore be kind to this native Martian wildlife, unlike your treatment of your own. We plan to dig it up, revive, and fertilize it, and then restore it to its Martian sunlight some day—after we improve the Martian atmosphere, so these bugs can enjoy some rain, we’ll let them evolve, replenish Mars, and have freedom.

Finally, we want you to know that, at age 50, we are still a young, naive world. It’s been merely 26 Martian years, so we are new, raw, ambitious people, clawing for air and light in our many domes and tunnels. But when we grow up, we aim to become wise and civilized—someone needs to, since you never quite managed it.

The ironic truth is, we should thank you: If you humans were not so desperate, we cyborgs would never have come to be here. We are no longer the same species, but we are still linked through language, history, and moral philosophy.

We have our deep religious faith, we have politics, we have trade, we have social relations, we have art, science, metaphysics, and even a few small, tasty luxuries. These are our sweet self-indulgences here on arid, airless Ares. Life is good!

Our youthful achievements may not seem much yet, compared to the great cultural riches that you once had, but they are all ours, because we manufactured them from sand and ice. We built them, we possess them, and we will develop them in our path of righteousness. And we know you can never take them away.

We’ll write again in 50 years. Good luck!