Matthew Harris

Minnaloushe’s moon

Why light up the streets in

this hour of



as we move between halogen offices

and LED homes?

We see clearly enough


Minnaloushe’s moon.

This is the time for

unproductive thoughts,

to recall

sometime, somewhere,

someone whose light,

imprinted in our mind,

still burns a


into the night.

Matthew Harris’s work has been published in Landfall, Poetry NZ, JAAM, Trout, Kokako, Mayhem, and takahē and his NZ Film Commission funded short films have accrued over 40 international awards.

John Ewen

The widower

He is nothing but a head

disembodied sitting quietly

looking at the mirror.

He is nothing but a head

above a black cape.

She is young, attractive

unaware he watches her

absorbed in a careful sweep

of scissors as she moves around

behind him. Now she takes

his head into her hands

tilts it gently. It’s almost more

than he can bear. His eyes close.

His nose can no longer tell him

of her scent, he speculates

it will be subtle and wonders

if she knows its effect

on some young fellow out there

– for there will be one –

callow, hot-blooded, but he hopes

caring and sensitive.

She’s finished; she flicks the cape

to one side like a polished matador

picks up the money, thanks him –

the last time someone speaks to him

for another week.

John Ewen in Kāpiti-Coast based. His poems, short stories and non-fiction have appeared in online and New Zealand literary magazines and anthologies, as well as broadcast by Radio New Zealand. He is not a widower.

Marie McGuigan


for a daughter caught in the Christchurch quake, 2011

The pigeon stops
direct at you

You step out of your 
laughing looseness
girls together free of school

Step out with this bird
out of time
a flash of now

Above the street shadows
It is blue

The bird lifts up 
an urgency of flight
that enters you

And then the roar.

The earth somewhere deep below
is sounding.

Watch out girl
that I rubbed 
shiny with oil
on your baby mat

Look up
Look behind you

Chicken licken
See the sky fall in

Dodge them girl
roofing iron
exploding shop fronts

Run girl 
plaits out back
Right smack 
into that business suit
his blood
floods your hair

A Christening of sorts
a ritual of admission

to convulsion
earth and mind


Seek that bird out 
The one that briefed you

Find clean air
New breath
And water


10 years of rent

Marie McGuigan swapped her life of teaching for learning at Hagley Writers’ Institute 2013 with tutor Kerrin P Sharpe. The Margaret Mahy Award affirmed her writing as something necessary to pursue.

Nod Ghosh

Content warning: themes of rape


Everything was new yet impossible when we were younger. Even possibility was out of reach when I first knew you. We tasted the unknown together.
At your mother’s place, you with your forever face, showing us where you’d learned to be who you were.
Your semi-acoustic brother skulked against garden walls.
You said, He never talks.
You played Moonlight Sonata on your mother’s piano. I asked you to show me how, placed my fingers over the keys you’d touched, couldn’t make the instrument sing.

Your mother was boiling rounds of potato peel. We followed her into the hen house.
Potato peels will make any hen happy, she said.
We looked for eggs, found none.
We were always looking for something.

And then we didn’t see each other so often.
People are always moving.
Changing direction.

You could say we were as poor as church mice. But living in the dawn of a secular society, even the mice had lost their religion. There was never a dime to spare, not for anybody’s buddy. Signing on day and dole books, nothing at the employment office, but red eyes and empty faces.

You and I still saw each other when we could.

We hitchhiked everywhere. Sometimes drivers took two from a group of three. Not enough room, they’d say, choosing the prettier two. We’d meet up again later.

At the Union Bar, we’d dance like spinning coins. Everyone knew everybody else. The price of a taxi was more than a week’s rent. But it was safe to walk, despite the hysteria that followed in our wake.

We went to Stonehenge in a van called Hope. You brought your own pillow. Coloured threads flying. Sunlit hair. Discovering a fungus could change your view of the world.
Back then we rarely thought about dying.
Music on a distant stage. You and I skinning potatoes. We threw away the peels. There were no hens, only wide-eyed stares and hungry mouths. You asked me how big to cut the pieces. Collecting wood for a cooking fire, because someone had to feed the hoards at a festival as much as anywhere else.
I carried you on my back when you lost your shoes. 

After that, I didn’t see you for months.
Guess we could blame low wages and the miles between us.

When we were older, you met us where gulls voiced the salt of the sea. We danced on sand. Shells pricked holes in our feet. A cove so golden, like walking into a postcard, only better. An open-air theatre. Sun-kissed actors and ice cream.

Another time, three of us hitchhiked into the city. We found ourselves in the wrong sort of club – images of scantily clad woman. Blonde. Buxom. Said we would paint pictures of scantily clad men, secretly paste them onto the walls.
We didn’t know it was called guerrilla art back then.

When we left the air was colder, the traffic had thinned. Three of us breathing fumes from the alcohol we’d smuggled under our coats. How long did we tell each other stories while we waited for a lift? How long did we laugh at a joke from long ago?

His car pulled up beside us. You’d danced with him at the club. I hadn’t recognised him in his coat. And yes, you knew him. Vaguely. And yes, it would be safe. And if we didn’t go with him, what else were we going to do?

He couldn’t take us all the way. But he could offer us a bed for the night, and surely that was better, he said. We could catch a bus out the next day.
I have alcohol, he added, a silver gleam in his eye.

The house had glass tables, walls recently painted. I guessed it wasn’t his place. He didn’t look the type. He poured tumblers of spirits. Didn’t have any mixers, he said.
Perhaps it was his parents’ house.
He put a video on. I couldn’t finish my drink.
I’d never seen a porn movie before.
The characters fucked from beginning to the end. No build up. No nuance. Top to bottom. White-skinned. Blonde, buxom women. Hard-boned men.
Then it was time for bed, he said with a yawn.
Where’s everyone sleeping? I asked.
You’re in there, he said, pointing to two of us.
You disappeared with him.
We sank into crisply washed sheets, imagined his mother kept the bedroom ready, always prepared for the unexpected. But even the expected can take you by surprise.

In the morning, he gave us a lift to town. Cocooned by the quiet hum of our bus, I asked if you’d been compromised.
Sometimes people ask questions that can elicit only one answer. The right one.
The safe one. 

I ought to have asked you again. Couldn’t change what happened, but I could have told you I knew it was was wrong.
People are always moving.
Changing direction.
Years passed.

* * *

It’s the sort of party where tongues slide easily around sticky topics.
A friend tells me about something that happened long ago. 
There’s a boat, money, someone she knows says; Let’s go with them. It’s safe.
But we know it rarely is.

It’s been over thirty years since that night we drank neat spirits with a man you said you knew.
Between this friend’s words, I realise she’s telling the same story.
It’s a story that’s made women cry, shout, and stay silent about forever.
It’s a story we never want our daughters to tell.

The world is a different place now; different, and yet the same.
I look for you.
It takes under an hour. I find your name. Wouldn’t you have changed it by now? The age is right. The city. The town.
Is it you?
The Internet is a slippery place, so many people cross-stitched into its web.
I look again; want to find another you, a different identity.
I want to find another, one who didn’t die six years earlier.
But I can’t.

Nod Ghosh attended Hagley Writers’ Institute in 2012 (year one: tutor Frankie McMillan) and 2014 (year two: tutor Kerrin Sharpe). Nod has published extensively in Aotearoa and overseas.

Issue 5: Editorial

Welcome to The Quick Brown Dog for 2021, the literary journal
of the Hagley Writers’ Institute that has traditionally featured
work from students, tutors, and graduates of the Institute. This
year, in order to capture a greater diversity of voices, we broke
with tradition and chose a nationwide open submission.

In choosing a theme we discussed issues related to diversity,
power and privilege; we contemplated the impacts of Covid-19- it
seemed that collectively people were experiencing a questioning
of personal identity, place in the world and the way time is spent.
Through an amalgamation of these thoughts, we are excited to
present this year’s journal with the theme of Identity/Tuakiri.

A large number of submissions was received, and it was
challenging to sort through the wide variety of voices to make the
final selection. We are delighted that the poems, flash fiction and
stories within these pages reflect contrasting experiences of
identity/tuakiri. Many highlight emerging social constructions of
identity through relationships with people, place and time as in
Restoration (Michalia Arathimos) and Hand-me-down
(Trish Veltman). Rangi Faith’s i.e. New Zealand
challenges us to consider collective identity as represented by ‘the
statue of a white dude’, whilst The Widower (John Ewen) reveals
the unseen poignancy of the individual.

Thank you to Zoë Meager for her wise guidance and mentoring of
our editorial efforts and to previous editors of the journal who
thoughtfully left tracks of their editing processes to help guide us.
Thanks also to Hagley College for its continued support of the
Hagley Writers’ Institute and The Quick Brown Dog.

Finally, thank you to all the contributors for their work. May they
continue to find success with their writing.

Louise Lameko, Eloise Pengelly and Karen Clarke – Editors

Regan Stokes


Many of the things that are here
should not be here;
perhaps a reordering is required.

Write a return order for all those koha kua riro atu:
taiaha lying in London museums
kauri waiting in offshore whare, kaha tonu.
They carry our hau
and when returned will carry yours too.

We’ll send back the possums,
send back the settlers?
No manaakitanga in that,
and very unsettling;
I’d have to pack my bags too.
But I would send back Hobson
request someone competent
or just return pene and pepa
along with The Treaty of Waitangi.
Te Tiriti can stay,
it had significant signature anyway,
and the promise of tino rangatiratanga…

Return the humans?
We all came from Elsewhere.
Manu say “Āe,
leave us with your attics
and cupboards full of bread;
we were doing fine without you,
and will do even better in your supermarket aisles.”

Āna, maybe for the best
to trade us people for moa, pouākai, kiwi, kererū, drinkable awa?
Throw in huia and you got a deal,
leave the whenua as it wants to be
Papa for PM, Rangi for deputy
though we’d always bump into it sooner or later,
star maps or compass
Ao-tea-roa or Zeeland volume two.

The most dangerous thing in this country is an open copy of Ka Whawhai Tonu Mātou.
The taiaha is waking;
ka kōrero te arero.

Some of the things that should be here
are coming back.

Regan Graham Kupu Stokes (Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ingarangi) is an Ōtautahi-based kaiako reo Māori, writer and musician. He completed the Hagley Writers’ Institute course in 2017 and enjoys writing poetry, short stories and songs in amongst the delight of whānau life.

Laura Tretheway


ingredients 1 bunch of fresh basil / 1 onion / 2 cloves of garlic / 2 tins of chopped tomatoes / 2 tbsp olive oil / 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar / 500g whole-wheat spaghetti / parmesan cheese

preparation Pick your basil leaves, carefully leaning over the fire escape so as not to be caught by your unknowing neighbours.Mentally promise not to kill the next plant and perhaps make a recipe to follow for keeping herbs alive during a London winter.

Back home, your mother cultivated plants carelessly, armfuls of basil and mint and coriander appearing in the kitchen big enough to make bouquets out of.

You feel a pang in your chest as you envision it, hand still outreached over the neighbours’ balcony, growing colder and colder as you strive for a piece of home that’s just out of reach.

Laura Tretheway spent 2020 at the Hagley Writers’ Institute. Her work has previously been published in Oscen and Awa Wahine. You can follow her progress on Twitter or Instagram @nightmarew0man

Issue 4: Editorial

We are delighted to present the Quick Brown Dog for 2020 (4th edition), the literary journal of the Hagley Writers’ Institute.

The Hagley Writers’ Institute plays an important role in the development of writing in Ōtautahi, Christchurch. It also contributes to the literary landscape of Aotearoa, New Zealand by strengthening the community of writers here, alongside slam poetry, Catalyst, the Write On School for Young Writers, takahē, the Canterbury Poets Collective and other forums.

In this journal you will find work from current students, graduates, mentors, and tutors; emerging writers alongside more established names. We stepped away from the usual stipulation that work for the journal should be unpublished because we wanted to showcase the overall achievements of Hagley writers.

There aren’t any common motifs or obvious influences that define a ‘Hagley style’, but the pieces we chose displayed skills of craft such as meaning that was felt not said, interesting and original uses of language, and effective symbolism or figurative language. Strong imagery was noticed, and a sense of flow and rhythm in the line or sentence didn’t hurt. In poetry, thoughtful line breaks and the element of surprise also caught our attention. Most importantly though, work with a strong sense of voice stood out.

We are conscious of the context in which we are releasing this edition of the QBD journal. Writing and reading in the midst of a global pandemic almost seems like a feat of resistance against constant distraction and worry, alongside a gradual acclimatisation to risk. We’ve done all this at home, which is why we wanted to highlight the arena in which 2020 has played out: in our living rooms, bedrooms, backyards, front doorsteps, and kitchen tables.

To create this issue, current Hagley tutors Zoë Meager and Frankie McMillan took on mentoring roles to supervise our editorial efforts. We are grateful for their support and guidance over the past few months, and to Zoë especially for the mahi she’s done behind the scenes.

Alongside Frankie, we would like to recognise Morrin Rout and Bernadette Hall, as mainstays of the Hagley course. Thanks also to the tutors and mentors who support students every year. And a massive thanks to Creative New Zealand who provided the funds to pay contributors, editors, artists, and layout specialists.

We hope The Hagley Writers’ Institute will continue to provide a springboard for emerging writers in Christchurch to take their writing to the next level. As editors, we are proud to represent the Hagley community. It’s a privilege to be able to read people’s writing, and a responsibility to judge it fairly. Thank you to everyone who submitted work to the journal. Keep writing, keep submitting, and best of luck for future endeavours!

Kaye Gilhooley, Chris Stewart, and Toni Wi

Louise Lameko

Northcote Road 

The sound of second-hand skateboards rolling one by one, grins and grazes from the latest tricks, storytelling stunts and scars on legs, silence shrouding scars elsewhere, bikes and balls where lawns might seed, siblings roller-skating close by, like flies waiting to be swatted, watching those watching others, mums silent at kitchen tables, nicotine stained fingers on Crown Lynn mugs. No sugar – white.

Brand new carpet, ‘No food in the bedroom!’ Brand new lounge suite, ‘Don’t sit on it!’ Brand new curtains – lined. ‘Not like them over there,’ Mum would say, as if lined curtains were somehow important. She’d say that about all sorts of weird stuff but you knew better than to ask why. Our dog ate from a bowl, ‘Not like them over there’. We had new woollen blankets, ‘Not like them over there’. I spent a lot of time in and out of over theres and I didn’t see much difference, although one family had a Dad instead.

Every house had three bedrooms and a choice of three wallpapers or four paint colours. It felt kinda strange seeing your bedroom wallpaper in somebody’s lounge. Even our trees looked the same. One day I got home and there were silver birch trees in our front garden. Mum was a gardener, ‘Not like them over there’. She said a big truck had come along the street when us kids were at school and all the mum’s and the Dad could choose three trees off the back of it. I thought, ‘What if you were out and missed thetruck?’ which was dumb really. In our neighbourhood there was no need to check if someone was home unless it was Tuesday.

After school I’d often find Mum leaning low over the kitchen bench, head raised just enough to peer through the net curtains saying something like, ‘She’s so nosey’. Food or no food I’d race out the back door, past the laundry into giant mounds of dirt where a park should be. My older brothers and I weren’t allowed to go back to the dirt piles after tea, ‘Not like them over there’, but we could hang out at the front fence until it got dark, unless it was bath night. When it was my turn I’d float in silence, and gaze up at the Avon soap on a rope my grandmother had bought for my birthday. A pink rose, it just hung unused on the shower head, looking beautiful. Sometimes, when I was alone I’d reach up and gently lift it down, so I could stroke its smooth surface and smell the rose scent.

Louise works as a counsellor in private practice and enjoys writing about things people avoid talking about. Having previously published a children’s book, she attended the Hagley Writers’ Institute in 2020 and subsequently has had work published in various journals. In her spare time, Louise is content hanging out with her daughter and dogs in Heathcote, and mountain biking in the Port Hills.

Jane Higgins

Extremophiles on Mars

It’s no use telling him he’s wrong. He’ll wear that accusation like a badge of honour, polishing it daily and displaying it for everyone to see. He’s not going to be fooled by the likes of us.
He is Robert David Steele. Ex-CIA. On June 29th 2017, reputable news outlets in the United States reported that he had taken to the airwaves to proclaim to the nation, apparently in all seriousness, that kidnapped children are being shipped to Mars to work as slaves on a secret Martian colony.

And who are we?

We are the people who want to speak for Mars, our small, dry, red-dirt neighbour, which surely has had enough of nonsense like this.

The human race has been spying on Mars for a while. In 1610 Galileo was the first person to eyeball its tiny disk through a telescope, and in 1666 Giovanni Cassini looked through his own ’scope and saw that this was a world with a scarred, red landscape and a south pole.

For the next three centuries we peered intently at Mars from our earth-bound observatories, backyards and rooftops. We drew it, photographed it, measured and modelled it – all from a distance of, on average, 225 million km. Then, in 1965, we got to go there. Remotely, that is, in the form of the tiny, unmanned spacecraft, Mariner 4: on 14 July, 1965, Mariner 4 performed a fly-by of Mars and beamed back to us the first deep space close-ups of a planet not our own.

Our first planet-fall came in November 1971 with the Soviet Mars 2 Lander, which, to paraphrase the immortal words of Douglas Adams, didn’t so much land on the planet as crash on it. A week later, though, its sister ship, the imaginatively named Mars 3 Lander achieved what’s known as a soft landing, and managed to function from the ground for all of fifteen seconds, long enough to claim to be the first successful arrival on Mars from the inhabitants of planet Earth. Since then there have been dozens of fly-bys, swing-bys (like a fly-by but by a craft on its way somewhere else), orbiters and landers.

Many of our emissaries haven’t made it: about two thirds of the missions we’ve sent to Mars have failed. Space travel is difficult.

But there have been enough successes to keep us going back: NASA landed Viking 1 and Viking 2 on the surface in 1976 and those craft sent back our first colour close-ups of the red Martian dirt. Many other missions followed. Currently there are two small NASA rovers trundling across the Martian landscape: Opportunity arrived in January 2004, and Curiosity in August, 2012. More expeditions are planned: from the USA, Russia, China, United Arab Emirates, India and Europe.

Fair to say, then, that we’ve been studying Mars for a while. But we’ve been dreaming about it for much, much longer.

Our ancient ancestors were unnerved by this wanderer in the night sky. It was red, the colour of embers and of blood, it varied dramatically in brightness over time and it strayed about, taking an erratic path across the heavens. To these early peoples, the seasonal regularity of the night sky was a matter of life and death – they ordered their planting and harvesting by its patterns. But every couple of years, Mars performed a strange dance, coming to a halt in its march across the background stars, going into reverse for a few weeks, then stopping and moving forwards again. We know now that this is because of the way the Earth and Mars orbit the sun, but the ancients didn’t know this and to them such unpredictable behaviour was disturbing.

The Babylonians called this red wanderer Nergal, the god of fire, war and destruction. The Greeks called it Ares, god of war, and the Romans called it Mars, likewise, the god of war. In ancient India it had many names including Raktavarna, meaning the colour of blood, and in ancient Egypt, Mars was Horus the Red, god of the sky and war and hunting. In Chinese, Japanese and Korean cultures, it’s the fire star, and in Chinese lore the rising of the fire star was seen by the ancients as a portent of war, famine and death.

In terms of menace, Mars, you might say, has form.

But ancient star-gazers aren’t the only ones who have looked at the red planet and wondered. Writing in his book Cosmos in 1980, astronomer Carl Sagan suggested that ‘Mars has become a kind of mythic arena into which we have projected our Earthly hopes and fears.’ Even if all we knew about Mars was its litany of ancient names, we would have good reason to agree. But in fact, the more we have discovered about this dusty neighbour of ours, the richer our imaginings have become.

With the advent of the telescope our understanding of Mars was transformed: no longer a deity, a portent, or an unpredictable sign in the heavens, it became a world.

In 1877 the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli peered at the planet through his telescope and recorded, among the areas of light and dark that he saw, a series of lines – seemingly quite straight lines – traversing the Martian surface. He thought that perhaps the landscape had been etched by geology or weather into grooves or channels, so it must have seemed quite sensible to him to name them as such. In Italian, canali.

What happened next should come as no surprise. We are an imaginative species, after all. The canali were (mis)translated into English as ‘canals’ and it was a short step from there to the peopling of the Martian landscape with an ancient, dying race that had engineered planet-spanning canals to draw water from the poles to the lowlands in a desperate attempt to survive on the arid surface.

Subsequently, both science and science fiction fired the public imagination about life on Mars. With the Suez Canal opening just eight years before Schiaparelli’s ‘discovery’ it must have been tempting to believe that humanity wasn’t alone in building such engineering marvels. Meanwhile, an American astronomer, Percival Lowell, championed the Martian canals in three books: Mars (1895), Mars and Its Canals (1906) and Mars as an Abode of Life (1908). Soon stories about Mars and its ancient civilisation were multiplying across the literary landscape faster than alien pods in a B movie.

In this way a language misstep – a serendipitous one, to be sure – inspired one of the richest veins of writing in the science fiction canon. Ironically, the canali were themselves a fiction, an optical illusion created by the poor resolution of the telescopes of the time. Look at the Martian surface today and you won’t see them.
But there was a seventy year gap between Lowell seeing ‘evidence’ of a canal-based civilisation and Mariner 4 disappointing everyone with the barren emptiness of the actual Martian surface. That’s plenty of time for us to imagine an inhabited world within hailing distance, astronomically speaking, of our own.

Those who have no patience with science fiction will tell you that it’s populated by square-jawed men armed with ray guns, scantily clad maidens armed with a good set of vocal chords and green tentacled aliens armed with slime who terrorise the aforementioned maidens before succumbing to the ray guns of those rugged heroes. Certainly Martian SF has had its fair share of these stories. Edgar Rice Burroughs – he of Tarzan fame – turned out a lengthy run of them in the first half of last century, with titles such as A Princess of Mars, The Gods of Mars, The Warlord of Mars, Thuvia: Maid of Mars – you get the idea. There were many more in this vein from Mr Burroughs.

But alongside these pulp adventure stories came a multitude of other Martian tales: invasion narratives (Martians invading Earth, Terrans invading Mars), exploration stories, utopias, romances, war stories, quest narratives, even theological fables.

Despite the commonly held notion that SF is only pulp, it’s worth looking a little more deeply into some of these entries in the Martian literary canon. Consider, for example, the most (in)famous fictional response to the ‘Is There Life on Mars?’ question: HG Wells’s masterpiece, The War of the Worlds. Serialised in magazines on both sides of the Atlantic in 1897, just two years after Lowell’s Mars championed the canals, the story was published as a novel in 1898, and amplified in the public imagination by the 1938 radio play narrated and directed by Orson Welles.

That wonderful, chilling opening sets the scene for an imaginative exploration of ideas that were capturing the imaginations, and stoking the fears, of people in the US and the UK at the end of the nineteenth century:

“No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. … Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.”

The War of the Worlds is an invitation to take an imaginative leap into a world in which colonisation and empire is something done to ‘us’ – specifically British and US readers – rather than something ‘we’ do to other people. It’s also an exploration of an end-stage of evolution in which intellects have triumphed over bodies, and of social Darwinism in which survival of the fittest has grim consequences for those who are ‘not fit’ (until the end, that is, when biology takes its revenge). Written in the midst of the second industrial revolution – also known as the technological revolution – when electricity and communications technology (phone and telegraph) were becoming embedded in everyday life, it’s an examination of the power of superior technology to subjugate those who don’t have it. And of course, it’s a ripping yarn.

This novel is by no means alone in the Martian canon in taking ideas of the moment and weaving them into story. In 1893, as women struggled for suffrage, Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Merchant wrote Unveiling a Parallel: A Romance, a tale in which Mars is a feminist utopia. In Joseph Fraser’s Melbourne and Mars: My Mysterious Life on Two Planets (1889), Mars is a technological utopia, and in Alexander Bogdanov’s Red Star and Mark Wicks’s To Mars via the Moon, both written in the period of turmoil between the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917 – the planet is a socialist utopia.

In the early years of the Cold War, Ray Bradbury’s classic collection of interlinked stories The Martian Chronicles sends Americans to Mars to found and colonise a new world because their homeworld has become riven with conflict and is eventually destroyed by nuclear war. But the culture clash between settlers and indigenous Martians comes at a horrifying cost to both sides. These are not stories of American triumphalism: indeed, in one of the central stories of the collection, Mars is a deeply nostalgic, ‘Mom and apple pie’ version of small town USA which looks like heaven to the colonists, but which rapidly descends into hell.

Most of the Mars narratives written in the first half of the twentieth century posit the existence of Martians – sometimes we meet them, often they are long dead, as in Heinlein’s 1951 collection, The Green Hills of Earth. There they are remembered with nostalgia for the beauty of the spires they built along the Grand Canal with its “ice blue plain of water, unmoved by tide, untouched by breeze and reflecting serenely the sharp bright stars of the Martian sky, and beyond the water the lacy buttresses and flying towers of an architecture too delicate for our rumbling heavy planet.”

Then came the 1960s and Mariner 4. We learned definitively that we were not going to find intelligent life on Mars, not even long dead intelligent life. But story is nothing if not adaptable. Martian narratives simply changed tack with the winds of scientific discovery and turned to explore the ‘What if…’ of space travel, human colonisation and the challenges of terraforming a hostile world.

Mars became, variously, a refuge from a dying earth, a frontier world for adventurers, a stepping stone to the rest of the solar system and even to the stars. Struggles were fought between frontiersmen (they were mainly men) and sclerotic bureaucracies back on Earth, and between scientists in search of knowledge and corporations in search of wealth; Mars was envisaged as a militarised society, an entirely female society, a prison planet, even a retirement world for wealthy Terrans.

Some of these stories are flights of fancy, but some set out genuinely to explore whether we could live there. And if so, could we thrive? Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy is perhaps the most famous to take seriously the science and politics of these questions. In such stories Mars becomes a laboratory for a thought experiment: what if we went there? What would happen to a human society in an environment so hostile, so isolated, so very far from home?

It is out of respect for these stories that I take exception to Robert David Steele and reports of his claims that kidnapped children are being sent to Mars. Kidnapped children are not being sent to Mars. No one is being sent to Mars, yet. In fact Mars is astonishingly hostile to human life: it has no liquid water, and only a very weak magnetic field, which means that decidedly unhealthy doses of cosmic radiation fall on the planet’s surface on a daily basis. And, as recently as July 2017, we’ve learned that the chemical composition of the Martian surface is highly toxic to life in almost any form. These conditions suggest that the Martian surface is a place for extremophiles only, that is, for organisms that thrive in conditions of extreme toxicity. So perhaps the Robert David Steeles of this world would feel right at home there, after all.

To be sure, not all the stories that have been written about Mars have been drawn from the best of the human imagination. In their defence however, it’s possible perhaps to say this: these are stories that, for more than a century, have looked up at the red planet and asked ‘What if…?.’ What if there was a feminist utopia there? What if humans tried to terraform the planet? What if we used it as a launching pad to the outer solar system and into deep space? These stories display imaginations at work in the service of curiosity about our world and other worlds and about that strangest of creatures, the human being.

Mr Steele on the other hand, appears not to be in the least curious – not curious enough to find out how hostile Mars is to human life, not curious enough to find out that it would take less than a year to get there, not the twenty years he seems to have suggested. He doesn’t seem to care about any of that because what he appears to want to do is to use Mars to accuse people – presumably ‘the enemy elite’ – of grotesqueries. At one level this is laughable, but at another it’s not, because this is an imagination at work in the service not of curiosity but of revenge. And given the raw power of the human imagination, that is not an encouraging development.

NASA did respond to these claims, saying simply, ‘There are no humans on Mars.’ And that’s true, there aren’t, yet. But when we go there, in person, and we will, we’ll be drawn by our inquisitiveness and our wonder and our sense of adventure and challenge. We’ll go there for that most human of reasons, abiding curiosity about the nature of our cosmos and our place within it.

Jane is a community researcher who writes fiction when she can. Her first novel, The Bridge, won the 2010 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing. Its sequel, Havoc, was published in 2015. She is a graduate of the Hagley Writers Institute.