Chapters 1-4 Summary
Four married couples, tested for compatibility by computers, journey to Mars on the rocket ship Envoy as the first human colonists. As they park in orbit around the Martian moon Phobos, a message is sent to Earth that the crew will land the next day. This is the last message that is ever received.
It is twenty-five years before humans land once again on Mars. An unmanned probe earlier reveals that the Martian “canals” are engineering works, along with the ruins of cities. World War III breaks out before a manned mission can be sent. At last, a crew of all male spacemen arrives. They send back a message that the remains of the Envoy have been found, but there are no survivors. A second message reports that Mars is inhabited. A third message corrects the first one: One survivor of Envoy has been located.
Valentine Michael Smith is carefully carried back to Earth. Having lived all his life on Mars, his body cannot handle the gravity of Earth. Isolated in a medical facility, he is guarded by soldiers and kept from any contact with women, whom he has never seen. Smith is kept on a water bed where he is able to submit his body into a coma-like condition to process and understand, or “grok,” his experiences. A reporter disguised as an orderly tries to get him to sell exclusive rights to his story.
Gilliam Boardman, or Jill, is a nurse who hears of a male patient who is kept in seclusion without any contact from females. She manages to sneak in and speak to Smith. She is awed by the angelic appearance of his face. He struggles with the language, misunderstanding much of what she says. He does not understand what makes her a woman and wants her to take her clothes off. She is shocked and Smith realizes he has made an error. Jill offers him some water. Smith accepts it, seeing this as an intimate act known in his Martian culture as a water ritual; this will make Jill his water brother.
Jill manages to sneak out and is called by Ben Caxton, a reporter friend of hers. He takes her to his apartment and gets information out of her. He tells her that Smith is the son of his mother, Dr. Mary Jane Lyle Smith, but not of her husband, Dr. Ward Smith. He is the son of Captain Brant, the commander of the mission. Dr. Ward Smith delivered Valentine Michael by Cesarean section, but his wife died on the table. Dr. Smith then killed Captain Brant and then himself. Dr. Mary Jane Lyle Smith was the inventor of the Lyle Drive, the propulsion system used on interplanetary rockets. Not only is Smith the heir to her fortune; he is the heir to all eight crew members. What is more, under interplanetary law, Valentine Michael Smith is the sole owner of the planet Mars.