When I was 15, a Martian disguised as an American boy went to see the film Things to Come, by H. G. Wells, about a dark, war-torn future Earth. In the final scene the protagonist, Cabal, and his friend Passworthy watch the first moon rocket disappear into the heavens carrying their two grown children toward a brighter destiny. Cabal looks toward the dust at his feet then up at the stars, saying to Passworthy and to the audience, "Is it this or that? All the universe or nothing? Which shall it be? Which shall it be?"
This Martian staggered out of the theater inspired to write more stories, because I knew we were going to the stars.
Some years later I made my way to New York City on a Greyhound bus, hoping to find a publisher. I carried a bundle of manuscripts with me, and people would ask, "Is that a novel?" To which I replied, "No, I write short stories." On my last night in New York I got a break. I had dinner with an editor from Doubleday who said to me, "I think that without realizing it, you have, in fact, written a novel."
I asked him what he meant.
He replied, "If you tied all your Martian landscapes together and made a tapestry of them, wouldn't they make a book that you could call The Martian Chronicles?"
I was stunned. The small Martian in me hadn't realized that he'd been putting his hands inside my hands and moving the typewriter keys to write a book. I finished it over the next six months. I was 29—and well on my way to the stars.
In 1976 I was invited to stay overnight at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, waiting for news to come back from the Viking 1 lander, which was going to touch down on Mars and take photographs.
It was incredibly exciting to be there, surrounded by engineers, waiting for the first pictures. There was a tall gentleman standing next to me, who I thought looked familiar. At last I realized it was none other than Wernher von Braun, the man who had fled Germany for America to become the co-inventor of the rocket that took us to the moon and that was now taking us to the planets.