Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3054
It is August 1994 in a United Nations colony on Mars where families get rations of water for their home use from a canal, including neighboring families the Bohlens and the Steiners. Jack Bohlen, a repairman, receives a call from his father in New York City saying that he wants to come to Mars to research a real estate deal. Jack copters out to a job and sees along the way Lewistown, the second most successful colony on Mars—the one for the Water Workers’ union people who control the canals. The most successful colony is New Israel.
Arnie Kott, head of the Water Workers’ union, enjoys the luxury of a steam bath while discussing with his minions some land in the F.D.R. Mountains. He also complains about the UN demands that he improve the wages of the Bleekmen, the indigenous Martian tribe, who are used as laborers in the mines. Beside a New York Times newspaper ad for prospective colonists for Mars, touting the opportunities for those who have only a bachelor’s degree and thus cannot get a job on Earth, Arnie sees an article about the Colonial Safety Committee on Mars that irritates him, especially since his ex-wife is on the committee. On his way to see her, his helicopter pilot gets a message asking for aid for some stranded Bleekmen. Jack hears the same emergency call and is the first to arrive and give food and water to the Bleekmen who reward him with a water witch. Arnie’s pilot also provides water even though Arnie protests because he does not consider Bleekmen to be people.
Norbert Steiner, who runs a black-market food operation, goes to Camp Ben-Gurion, a home for “anomalous children,” where his son Manfred is a resident. Having an autistic son is considered shameful, but he can talk to Anne Esterhazy, who also has a child at Camp B-G. She tells him about a bill under consideration at the UN that would kill the anomalous children in an effort “to keep the race pure.” Although at first horrified by the news, Norbert wonders if such action might be best for children like his son who cannot communicate. The institute’s psychiatrist, Dr. Milton Glaub, tells Norbert about a new theory that looks at how autism speeds up time and the possibility of being able to communicate with autistic children if they were able to slow down sights and sounds. Norbert dismisses Milton’s ideas as idealistic nonsense. He then goes to a bar where the owner rants about how the freaks like those at Camp B-G should be destroyed. Norbert reveals that his son lives at the camp, and the bar owner becomes angry that Norbert never told him before. In despair from all this conflict, Norbert suddenly decides to kill himself and steps in front of a bus.
UN policemen come to the Steiner home to tell the family that Norbert has died. Silvia babysits the four Steiner girls and learns of the existence of Manfred. Arnie learns about Norbert’s death when he and Anne have lunch together. She then tells him of the possible closure of Camp B-G, and even though he and Anne have a son there, he thinks it is better for Mars not to have a place like Camp B-G. Milton hears about Norbert’s suicide, and the implication that he might have said something to drive Norbert to it makes Milton worry about his position. Silvia calls Jack to tell him about Norbert and to ask him to come home early because she is caring for the girls. However, Mr. Yee will not let Jack go and sends him to a job at the Public School.
Jack is unnerved by the Public School. As he repairs one of the mechanical teachers, he speculates about the function of the Public School within the society on Mars and how people with autism and schizophrenia are feared and rejected. Jack then recalls his own bout with schizophrenia back on Earth. Right before he left for Mars,...
(The entire section contains 3054 words.)
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