Ken Hollings’ “Welcome to Mars” a freewheeling trip through the future of the past

book cover - welcome to marsKen Hollings' Welcome to Mars: Politics, Pop Culture, and Weird Science in 1950s America is not the book you think it is. Maybe I misinterpreted the press write-up for it, but I cracked it open expecting a treatise on how the climate of postwar America influenced the films and televisions of the era. Now, that is an element of Hollings' book. But, otherwise, I was terribly wrong, and I've never been so glad to have made an error in judgment. The actuality is that the author has created a year-by-year documentation of 1947 through 1959, drawing connections from the stories of Lemuria, Project Bluebook, the RAND corporation, and LSD. Lots of LSD, actually. It's astonishing to see LSD treated as a miracle drug, along with psychotropic mushrooms and the like, by so many prominent scientists and businessmen. It seems there was a point where the ability to open the mind and squeegee that third eye clean opened possibilities that boggled the mind. Reading Welcome to Mars, and picking up on the frequent appearances of LSD and assorted other substances, it's as if Hollings is using the drug's ability to have the brain make free associations as a template for how each chapter is arranged. A typical chapter may go from Charles Starkweather's killing spree to Wernher Von Braun's media image to The Blob to hot rods to the Brussels World's Fair (FYI, the best point made in the whole book is that Von Braun was the only man to have the ear of Hitler, Disney, and JFK). The strange thing is: it all makes sense. Much in the same way that Joe Carducci's Rock and the Pop Narcotic did stream-of-consciousness riffing on rock 'n' roll and offered up short, snappy bits of insight into recordings, Hollings does the same, but with film and television. Psychoanalyzing the protagonists of Roger Corman films, rather than debating the relative merits of the Rolling Stones' discography, basically. The language used is calm and collected, and while open to questioning and postulating probabilities, Hollings never descends into outright conspiracy theorizing nor wild accusations. He merely offers up alternate possibilities, based on the likelihood of any given situation, and allows the reader to come to their own conclusions. Welcome to Mars is written so well, and flows with such ease, that the reader can't help but read along voraciously, giddy at what the next page, section, or chapter might bring. This edition won't see release until March 18, via North Atlantic Books, but I suggest marking it on your calendar now. In the meantime, check out the radio series Ken Hollings did back in 2006, upon which this book is based. It's evidently completely unscripted, and will blow your mind.