Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Brainwashing in Frederik Pohl’s 1958 story "Mars by Moonlight"

According to Brainwashing: The Fictions of Mind Control: A Study of Novels and Films since World War II, by David Seed (Kent State University Press, 2004):

Frederik Pohl's 1960 story "Mars by Moonlight" uses the same convention of a planetary penal colony, this time on Mars, where Earth’s government practices a method of “mind-washing.” As one character explains, “instead of putting someone in jail and keeping them there . . . they wipe out the parts of the mind that has the criminal pattern in it. They go back erasing memory, until they come to a past that is clean and unaffected." Pohl applies the by now traditional aspect of brainwashing as purification but gives it an ironic twist in that memories of crimes are erased and with them any specific explanation of why characters are on Mars. The second twist turns the story into a dramatization of reality management when the protagonist discovers that “Mars” is an illusion maintained by posthypnotic suggestion. The dystopian fiction actually screens an alien invasion by the “skulls,” an intelligent life form who have set up a test farm on Earth to simulate Martian living conditions.

The novella “Mars by Moonlight” was written by Frederik Pohl under the pseudonym Paul Flehr and first published in the June 1958 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction magazine.

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