Drabblecast martians cover by Justin EisenbeissThis week The Drabblecast presents “The Day After the Day the Martians Came” by Frederik Pohl.

Jokes can teach you a lot about the underlying anxieties of a culture. The old line “take me to your leader” was actually a jab at President Eisenhower’s leadership during the Cold War. This story is about jokes and anxiety. Part of what makes it so brilliant is discerning between the two.

Though Frederik Pohl passed away in 2013, his impact on the world of science fiction (and particularly on this podcast) will carry well into the future. His 1977 novel “Gateway” won the Hugo, Locus, Nebula, and John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Novel. Among many other accolades Pohl became only the 12th recipient of the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award in 1993 and was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. Pohl may not be a household name, but he deserves to be.

Story Excerpt:

On the television screen a hastily edited tape was now showing the return of the Algonquin Nine space probe to Mars, but no one was watching it. It was the third time that particular tape had been repeated since midnight and everybody had seen it at least once; but when it changed to another shot of one of the Martians, looking like a sad dachshund with elongated seal flippers for limbs, one of the poker players stirred and cried: “I got a Martian joke! What’s worse than a martian tryin to fly a spaceship?

“It’s your bet,” said the dealer.

“A martian tryin’ to park one” said the reporter, folding his cards. No one laughed, not even Mr. Mandala, although some of the jokes had been pretty good. Everybody was beginning to get tired of them though, or perhaps just tired.


Our Drabble this week is “Estrangement Counseling” by Suomy Nona:

I sat on the couch, trying not to touch it.

The abomination was speaking in my wife’s voice, “It’s like he doesn’t even recognize me anymore. Every time I try to hug him, he pulls away. Look at him now, he’s practically falling off the couch to avoid sitting next to me.”

A sob broke through the tentacles surrounding its fanged mouth, each tentacle rising into the air, then settling back down over its black lips.

The monstrosity with feathers looked towards me and spoke through its many mouths, “Do you have anything you want to say to your wife?”


Our 100 character Twabble winner this week is Eric Marsh:

Words have meanings and meanings are important. It’s not good enough to just tell robot slaves “Create a better world.”

Think you can write a 100-word or 100-character story? Give it a shot! Hit us up on the forums, or tweet us at @drabblecast!

Without much further ado, on with the story.

We at The Drabblecast weren’t the only band of weirdos that really dug this story. Here’s a comic version from Worlds Unknown from the 70’s:

The Day After the Day the Martians Came by Worlds Unknown

The full story is printed below the player. Enjoy!

Drabblecast #398 – The Day After the Day the Martians Came


The Day After The Day The Martians Came

by Frederik Pohl

There were two cots in every room of the motel, besides the usual number of beds, and Mr. Mandala, the manager, had converted the rear section of the lobby into a men’s dormitory. Nevertheless he was not satisfied and was trying to persuade his colored bellmen to clean out the trunk room and put cots in that too. “Now, please, Mr. Mandala,” the bell captain said, speaking loudly over the noise in the lounge, “you know we’d do it for you if we could. But it cannot be, because, first, we don’t have any other place to put those old TV sets you want to save and because, second, we don’t have any more cots.”

“You’re arguing with me, Ernest. I told you to quit arguing with me,” said Mr. Mandala. He drummed his fingers on the registration desk and looked angrily around the lobby. There were at least forty people in it, talking, playing cards and dozing. The television set was mumbling away in a recap of the NASA releases, and on the screen Mr. Mandala could see a picture of one of the Martians, gazing into the camera and weeping large, gelatinous tears.

“Quit that,” ordered Mr. Mandala, turning in time to catch his bell-men looking at the screen. “I don’t pay you to watch TV. Go see if you can help out in the kitchen.”

“We been in the kitchen, Mr. Mandala. They don’t need us.”

“Go when I tell you to go, Ernest! You too, Berzie.” He watched them go through the service hall and wished he could get rid of some of the crowd in the lounge as easily. They filled every seat and the overflow sat on the arms of the chairs, leaned against the walls and filled the booths in the bar, which had been closed for the past two hours because of the law. According to the registration slips, they were nearly all from newspapers, wire services, radio and television networks and so on, waiting to go to the morning briefing at Cape Kennedy. Mr. Mandala wished morning would come. He didn’t like so many of them cluttering up his lounge, especially since he was pretty sure a lot of them were not even registered guests.

On the television screen a hastily edited tape was now showing the return of the Algonquin Nine space probe to Mars, but no one was watching it. It was the third time that particular tape had been repeated since midnight and everybody had seen it at least once; but when it changed to another shot of one of the Martians, looking like a sad dachshund with elongated seal flippers for limbs, one of the poker players stirred and cried: “I got a Martian joke! What’s worse than a martian tryin to fly a spaceship?

“It’s your bet,” said the dealer.

“A martian tryin’ to park one” said the reporter, folding his cards. No one laughed, not even Mr. Mandala, although some of the jokes had been pretty good. Everybody was beginning to get tired of them though, or perhaps just tired.

Mr. Mandala had missed the first excitement about the Martians, because he had been asleep. When the day manager phoned him about it, waking him up, Mr. Mandala had thought first, that it was a joke and, second, that the day manager was out of his mind.  After all, who would care if the Mars probe had come back with some kind of animals? Or even if they weren’t animals, exactly. When he found out how many reservations were coming in over the teletype he realized that some people did in fact care. However, Mr. Mandala didn’t take much interest in things like that. It was nice the Martians had come, since they had filled his motel, and every other motel within a hundred miles of Cape Kennedy, but that was nearly everything about the Martians that mattered to Mr. Mandala.

On the television screen the picture went to black and was replaced by the legend Bulletin from NBC News. The poker game paused momentarily.

The lounge was almost quiet, as an invisible announcer read a new release from NASA. “Dr. Hugo Bache, the Fort Worth, Texas veterinarian who arrived late this evening to examine the Martians at the Patrick Air Force Base reception center, has issued a preliminary report which has just been released by Colonel Eric T. ‘Happy’ Wingerter, speaking for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.”

A wire-service man yelled, “Turn it up!” There was a convulsive movement around the set. The sound vanished entirely for a moment, then blasted out:

“—Martians are vertebrate, warm-blooded and apparently mammalian. A superficial examination indicates a generally low level of metabolism, although Dr. Bache states that it is possible that this is in some measure the result of their difficult and confined voyage through 137,000,000 miles of space in the specimen chamber of the Algonquin Nine spacecraft. There is no, repeat no, evidence of communicable disease, although standing sterilization precautions are—”

“Hell, he says,” cried somebody, probably a stringer from CBS. “Walter Cronkite had an interview with the Mayo Clinic that—”

“Shut up!” bellowed a dozen voices, and the TV became audible again:

“—completes the full text of the report from Dr. Hugo Bache as released at this hour by Colonel Wingerter.” There was a pause; then the announcer’s voice, weary but willing, found its place and went on with a recap of the previous half dozen stories. The poker game began again as the announcer was describing the news conference with Dr. Sam Sullivan of the Linguistic Institute of the University of Indiana, and his conclusions that the sounds made by the Martians were indeed some sort of a language.

What nonsense, thought Mr. Mandala, drugged and drowsy. He pulled a stool over and sat down, half asleep.

Then the noise of laughter woke him and he straightened up belligerently. He tapped his call bell for attention. “Gentlemen! Ladies! Please!” he cried. “It’s four o’clock in the morning. Our other guests are trying to sleep.”

“Yeah, sure,” said the CBS man, holding up one hand impatiently, “but wait a minute. I got one. What’s a Martian high-rise? You give up?”

“Go ahead, what?” said a red-haired girl, a staffer.

“Twenty-seven floors of basement apartments!”

The girl said, “All right, I got one too. What is a Martian female’s religious injunction requiring her to keep her eyes closed during intercourse?” She waited a beat. “God forbid she should see her husband having a good time!”

“Are we playing poker or not?” groaned one of the players, but they were too many for him. “Who won the Martian beauty contest? … Nobody won!” “How do you get a Martian woman to give up sex? … Marry her!” Mr. Mandala laughed out aloud at that one, and when one of the reporters came to him and asked for a book of matches he gave it to him. “Ta,” said the man, puffing his pipe alight. “Long night, eh?”

“You bet,” said Mr. Mandala genially. On the television screen the tape was running again, for the fourth time. Mr. Mandala yawned, staring vacantly at it; it was not much to see but, really, it was all that anyone had seen or was likely to see of the Martians. All these reporters and cameramen and columnists and sound men, thought Mr. Mandala with pleasure, all of them waiting here for the 10:00 A.M. briefing at the Cape would have a forty-mile drive through the palmetto swamps for nothing. Because what they would see when they got there would be just about what they were seeing now.

One of the poker players was telling a long, involved joke about Martians wearing fur coats at Miami Beach. Mr. Mandala looked at them with dislike. If only some of them would go to their rooms and go to sleep he might try asking the others if they were registered in the motel. Although actually he couldn’t squeeze anyone else in anyway, with all the rooms doubly occupied already. He gave up the thought and stared vacantly at the Martians on the screen, trying to imagine people all over the world looking at that picture on their television sets, reading about them in their newspapers, caring about them. They did not look worth caring about as they sluggishly crawled about on their long, weak limbs, like a stretched seal’s flippers, gasping heavily in the drag of Earth’s gravity, their great long eyes dull.

“Stupid-looking little bastards,” one of the reporters said to the pipe smoker. “You know what I heard? I heard the reason the astronauts kept them locked in the back was the stink.”

“They probably don’t notice it on Mars,” said the pipe smoker judiciously. “Thin air.”

“Notice it? They love it.” He dropped a dollar bill on the desk in front of Mr. Mandala. “Can I have change for the Coke machine?” Mr. Mandala counted out dimes silently. It had not occurred to him that the Martians would smell, but that was only because he hadn’t given it much of a thought. If he had thought about it at all, that was surely something he would have considered.

Mr. Mandala fished out a dime for himself and followed the two men over to the Coke machine. The picture on the TV changed to some rather poorly photographed shots brought back by the astronauts, of low, irregular sand-colored buildings on a bright sand floor. These were what NASA was calling “the largest Martian city,” altogether about a hundred of the flat, windowless structures.

“I dunno,” said the second reporter at last, tilting his Coke bottle. “You think they’re what you’d call intelligent?”

“Difficult to say, exactly,” said the pipe smoker. He was from Reuter’s and looked it, with a red, broad English squire’s face. “They do build houses,” he pointed out.

“So do hermit crabs.”

“No doubt. No doubt.” The Reuter’s man brightened. “Oh, just a moment. That makes me think of one. There once was—let me see, at home we tell it about the Irish… yes, I think I have it.  So, the next spaceship goes to Mars, you see, and they find that some dread terrestrial disease has wiped out the whole race, all but one female. These fellows too, all gone. All gone except this one Martian woman. Well, they’re terribly upset, and they debate it at the UN and start an anti-genocide pact, and America votes two hundred million dollars for reparations and, well, the long and short of it is, in order to keep the race from dying out entirely they decide to breed a human man to this one surviving Martian female.”


“Yes, exactly. Well, then they find ol’ Paddy O’Shaughnessy, down on his luck, and they say to him, ‘See here, you just go in that cage there, Paddy, and you’ll find this Martian lass, you follow?  And all you’ve got to do is render her pregnant, see?’ And O’Shaughnessy says, ‘What’s in it for me?’ and they offer him, oh, thousands of pounds. And of course he agrees. But then he opens the door of the cage and he sees what the female looks like and he backs right on out of there.”

The Reuter’s man replaced his empty Coke bottle in the rack and grimaced, portraying Paddy’s expression of revulsion. “‘Holy saints,’ he says, ‘I never counted on anything like this.’ ‘Thousands of pounds, Paddy!’ they say to him, urging him on. ‘Oh, very well then,’ he says, ‘but on one condition.’ ‘And what may that be?’ they ask him. ‘You’ve got to promise me,’ he says, ‘that the children… will be raised Catholic!”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that one,” said the other reporter. And he moved to put his bottle back, and as he did his foot caught in the rack and four cases of empty Coke bottles bounced and clattered across the floor.

Well, that was just about more than Mr. Mandala could stand and he gasped, stuttered, dinged his bell and shouted, “Ernest! Berzie! On the double!” And when Ernest showed up, poking his dark plum-colored head out of the service door with an expression that revealed an anticipation of disaster, Mr. Mandala shouted: “Oh, curse your thick heads, I told you a hundred times, keep those racks cleaned out.” And he stood over the two bellmen, fuming, as they bent to the litter of bottles and broken glass, their faces glancing up at him sidewise. He knew that all the reporters were looking at him and that they disapproved.

He went out into the late night to cool off, because he was sorry and knew he might make himself sorrier still.

The grass was wet. Condensing dew was dripping from the fittings of the diving board into the pool. The motel was not as quiet as it should be so close to dawn, but it was quiet enough. There was only an occasional distant laugh, and the noise from the lounge. To Mr. Mandala it was reassuring. He replenished his soul by walking all the galleries around the hotel, checking the ice makers and the cigarette machines, and finding that all was well.

A military jet from McCoy was screaming overhead. Beyond it the stars were still bright, in spite of the beginnings of dawn in the east. Mr. Mandala yawned, glanced mildly up and wondered which of them was Mars, and returned to his desk; and shortly he was too busy with the long, exhausting round of room calls and checkouts to think about Martians. Then, when most of the guests were getting noisily into their cars and limo-buses and the day men were coming on, Mr. Mandala uncapped two cold Cokes and carried one back through the service door to Ernest.

“Rough night,” he said, and Ernest, accepting both the Coke and the intention, nodded and drank it down. They leaned against the wall that screened the pool from the access road and watched the newsmen and newsgirls taking off down the road toward the highway and the ten o’clock briefing. Most of them had had no sleep. Mr. Mandala shook his head, disapproving so much commotion for so little cause.

And then Ernest snapped his fingers and grinned. “Hey. I got a Martian joke, Mr. Mandala. What do you call a seven-foot Martian when he’s comin’ at you with a spear?”

“Oh, hell, Ernest,” said Mr. Mandala, “you call him sir. Everybody knows that one.” He yawned and stretched and said reflectively, “You’d think there’d be some new jokes. All I heard were the old ones, only instead of picking on the Jews and the Catholics and—and well, everybody, they were telling them about the Martians!”

“Yeah, I noticed that, Mr. Mandala,” said Ernest.

Mr. Mandala stood up. “Better get some sleep,” he advised, “because they might all be back again tonight. I don’t know what for…. Know what I think, Ernest? Outside of the jokes, I don’t think that six months from now anybody’s going to even remember there were such things as Martians.  Never at all. I don’t believe their having come here will wind up making a nickel’s worth of difference to anybody, when all is said and done.”


It is and remains my conviction that a story has to speak for itself, and that any words a writer adds to it after he has finished telling it are a cop-out, a lie or a mistake. But there is one thing that I would like to say about the reason this story was written. Not to persuade you that it is a good reason, or that the story accomplishes its purpose—you have already made your mind up on those things, as indeed you should have. But to tell you how faithfully nature holds the mirror up to art.

Between the time I wrote “The Day After the Day the Martians Came” and now, I met a minister from a small town in Alabama. Like many churches, not only in Alabama, his is torn on the question of integration. He has found a way, he thinks, to solve it—or at least to ameliorate it—among the white teen-agers in his congregation: he is encouraging them to read science fiction, in the hope that they may learn, first, to worry about green-skinned Martians instead of black-skinned Americans and, second, that all men are brothers … at least in the face of a very large universe which is very likely to contain creatures who are not men at all.

I like the way this man serves his God. It’s a good scheme. It ought to work. It better work, or God help all of us.