As Perseverance inspires the entire world about the thrill of visiting our nearest solar neighbor, Mars, it’s easy to start fantasizing about what it will be like when human beings regularly live on the red planet in the future.
Between SpaceX and NASA, it feels reasonable that human beings will be living on Mars before the end of the century. The question is when they do, what will the first Martian cities look like?
Science fiction should never be used as an actual forecast for human culture, but it is a lot of fun to think about how sci-fi stories have imagined our future lives on Mars. Here are six of the best very best Martian cities, ranked not in order of livability, but instead, but pure sci-fi coolness.
6. Bradbury City – Mars trilogy
There are several fictional cities in Kim Stanely Robinson’s seminal SF books about the settlement of Mars — Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars — so it’s hard to pick just one. But, if you have to choose only one Martian metropolis from his books, Bradbury City is the way to go.
Named for Ray Bradbury, who wrote The Martian Chronicles, Robinson’s Bradbury City is designed to recreate a city in Illinois. Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Illinois. The Martian Chronicles features several unlikely Martian cities, some made by humans, some made by Martians. But, in almost all cases, like in “Night Meeting,” these towns and cities often have gas stations and pickup trucks.
5. Bowie Base One – Doctor Who
Not exactly a city per se, but certainly a great Martian settlement in the pantheon of science fiction — if only for its name.
In the 2009 David Tennant-era Doctor Who one-off, “The Water of Mars,” the Doctor battles a type of sentient alien water called “the Flood,” that turns people into water zombies. Bowie Base One, in the Who-canon, is the first human colony on Mars, which leads to many, many others. Obviously, it’s named for David Bowie and the song “Life on Mars.”
4. Utopia Planitia – Star Trek
In the 24th Century-era of Trek, most of the best ships in Starfleet are built at the Utopia Planitia Shipyards in orbit of Mars. The Trek franchise rarely visited Mars, although the final episodes of Enterprise Season 4 — “Terra Prime” and “Demons” — had a lot of action on the Martian surface.
Both Star Trek: Picard and its prequel, “Children of Mars,” revealed that the shipyards weren’t just in orbit of Mars, but also on the ground, which meant that a huge civilization population lived and worked on Mars prior to the Sythn revolt in 2285.
3. Londres Nova – The Expanse
More than any other contemporary science fiction series, The Expanse — both the books and the TV series — have made a convincing projection of what a future Martian colony might be like.
The capital city, Londres Nova, is sometimes called “New London.” In the reality of The Expanse, what makes the settlement of Mars so interesting is the way in which it eventually just becomes totally independent from the Earth to the point at which its government is basically in direct competition with Earth for the entire solar system’s resources. By the future time period of The Expanse, Mars is basically an alien planet, populated by humans.
2. Mars Dome One – Babylon 5
Somewhat unique among science fiction, Babylon 5 started off with a lead character who was born on Mars, Commander Jeffery Sinclair. In B5, being from Mars isn’t that weird, but the politics of Mars are integral to the overall story of the series.
Mars Dome One is the biggest city there, and yes, it’s a giant dome. But, Mars Dome One and other cities in Babylon 5 are fascinating because unlike Earth, there’s more of an underworld on Mars, including an underground railroad for rogue telepaths.
1. Chyrse – Total Recall
The Martian city visited by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Quaid is by far the most memorable Martian city in science fiction, even if it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
In the Philip K. Dick short story upon which Total Recall was based, “We Can Remember It For Your Wholesale,” the lead character never actually goes to Mars, at least not in the realtime of the story. The triumph of Chryse in Total Recall is the edgy naturalism of this future city. It’s sleazy, dirty, and dangerous.
In Blade Runner, you’re told that humans have emigrated to a variety of other planets. Chryse in Total Recall is like the Martian city equivalent of Los Angeles in Blade Runner. You can basically imagine them existing in the same shared universe. Would author Philip K. Dick approve? Maybe!