The Story of a Comet Hunter's Life
My 50 years with Comets
Part 12: Around the time "The Martian Army" arrived
Juza Unno's "The Martian Army" was published as
a serial of 460 episodes in "Sho-Kokumin Newspaper (The Young Citizens
Newspaper) from September 24, 1939 to December 31, 1940, the following
year. Unno specialized in science fiction for children and published many
stories. I have no doubt that, of all his works, none other than "The
Martian Army" excited the young Japanese of his time so much and stirred
their fascination about space. In those days we were living in unusual
circumstances of the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) and understandably many
novels were written intending to whip up war sentiment. However, I don't
think people were desperate enough to be wrapped up in militarism in every
aspect of their lives.
Around the same time an adventure story of extraordinary
scale was serialized in the Sho-Kokumin Newspaper and fascinated so many
young readers. The plot eventually leads to the discovery of a subterranean
kingdom, but right before the climax of the story the serial was unexpectedly
cancelled. The author of this story, a young SF writer, was called up for
conscription. Readers were terribly disappointed as the serial was interrupted
with so many mysteries unsolved. The editor promised that the serial would
be resumed when the writer returned safely, but this young writer did not
come back from war shattering the editor's wish. I believe it was about
the same time that the famous novel "Robo-no-ishi" (A Wayside
Stone) by Yuzo Yamamoto was suspended by the pressure from the military,
which had been serialized in a women's magazine. In the midst of this uneasy
wartime atmosphere "The Martian Army" emerged. In those days
the hypothetical enemies of Japan should naturally be the U.S. and U.K.,
but Unno had the people's eyes to Mars instead.
The plot develops this way: Late at night in a certain year
of the Showa period (1926-1989), a number of rockets landed somewhere deep
in the mountains of Gunma prefecture. A few days later, creatures resembling
octopuses emerged in the city of Tokyo. Wearing dark cloaks and dark hats,
these creatures guarded with iron pipes went on a rampage at will throughout
It was during these times when the studies by Schiaparelli
of Italy and Lowell of the U.S. claimed that advanced life might exist
on Mars. Unno seems to have come up with an image of strange-looking Martians
similar to that conceived by some scientists. It is an interesting idea
by Unno that these creatures are not animals, but cruel emotionless plants
. Inevitably, a furious fighting developed between scientists on the earth
and the invading Martians. At that time, a strange thing was happening
in space. It became clear that Comet Moro discovered by an observatory
in the U.K. was approaching the earth minute by minute and eventually would
collide with the earth. The fear of the colliding comet perhaps reflects
his own experience of witnessing approaching Halley's Comet in 1910, when
he was 13 years old.
The Martians abandoned the idea of occupying the earth and
left quickly to escape the collision. The earth-based scientists pursued
the Martians into their world on a rocket which had been belatedly completed.
I thought it was very intriguing and mysterious that the scientists had
found empty cans on the supposedly still untouched moon's surface when
they had landed there on their way to Mars. A huge comet, far bigger than
Comet Hale-Bopp, threatened to hit the earth, the beautiful blue planet
that had always been seen from the spaceship on their long (though very
quick in the novel) journey to Mars. I heard that the author had received
a flood of letters from enthusiastic readers across Japan begging to protect
the earth or not to have the comet collide with this beautiful planet.
As long as Comet Moro's orbit follows precisely the law of
universal gravity, the collision with the earth will be inevitable. Scientists
worked out the time of this gcollisional dramahdown to the minute of the
day. If the world ends with the comet's collision with the earth, the novel
would end right there too. To keep the story going Juza Unno had to prevent
the collision by a scientifically-sound method. He, as a scientist, came
up with an incredible idea that other SF writers would never imagine. Today
we would make a human intervention to avoid collision by launching a rocket
to blow up the comet or change its course before the collision with nuclear
explosion. But in Unno's days such a method was apparently unimaginable.
The time of collision on this fateful day passed, but the
beautiful silvery crescent earth continued to shine filling the porthole
of the spaceship.
In the next episode I will tell you about Unno's amazing
ideas to prevent the comet-earth collision.
A little clicking sound brought me back to the reality. I
was still in Juza Unno's study. A mouse might have made that noise in the
ceiling. I realized that I had been completely lost in reminiscence about
"The Martian Army" standing next to his ancient desk. The landscape
painting on the surrounding old sliding doors covered with the Chinese-style
paper looked like a desolate Martian world to me. Unno, the first person
who traveled to Mars, though only in his SF novel, saw a bleak, desolate
world and peculiar-looking Martians around the rocket. I heard the creaking
sound of footsteps. When I opened the old sliding door, I had a tense moment
imagining a Martian called "maruki" (or a log) created by Unno
would be standing right in front of me.
Unno's novel was full of thrills and suspense like this.
Perhaps, the amazing creations seen in his "Martian Army" were
born in this small tatami-mat room and succeeded in exciting young readers
all over Japan. More than half a century later, one of his enthusiastic
readers at that time is standing here. I thanked Mr. Unno putting my hands
together in the already darkened room. In the sky above the town wrapped
in the early spring evening twilight, I saw Jupiter just about to glow
Copyright (C) 2018 Tsutomu Seki.