This story tells of the “Second Expedition” to Mars. The astronauts arrive to find the Martians to be strangely unresponsive to their presence. The one exception to this is a group of Martians in a building who greet them with a parade. Several of the Martians in the building claim to be from Earth or from other planets of the solar system, and the captain slowly realizes that the Martian gift for telepathy allows others to view the hallucinations of the insane, and that they have been placed in an insane asylum.
The Martians they have met all believed that their unusual appearance was a projected hallucination. Because the “hallucinations” are so detailed and the captain refuses to admit he is not from Earth, Mr. Xxx, a psychiatrist, declares him incurable and kills him. When the “imaginary” crew does not disappear as well, Mr. Xxx shoots and kills them. Finally, as the “imaginary” rocket remains in existence, Mr. Xxx concludes that he too must be crazy and shoots himself. The ship of the Second Expedition is sold as scrap at a junkyard.
Jonathan Williams – Captain of the second expedition from Earth to Mars.
Three unnamed Earthians – Williams’ crew.
Mrs. Ttt – Martian annoyed by arrival of Williams and his crew.
Mr. Ttt – Sends the Earthmen to Mr. Aaa.
Mr. Aaa – Sends the Earthmen to Mr. Iii.
Martian girl – Listens to the Earthmen describe their journey.
Mr. Iii – Locks the Earthmen in an insane asylum.
Mr. Xxx – “Cures” the Earthmen and himself of insanity by killing them and himself.
Mr. Uuu – Martian who claims to be from Earth.
Miss Rrr – Martian who claims to be from Earth.
Mr. Www – Martian who claims to be from Earth.
Mr. Qqq – Martian who claims to be from Earth.
Mr. Vvv – Martian who claims to be from Earth.
The protagonist is Jonathan Williams. He tries to make the Martians believe he and his crew are from Earth. The antagonist is The Martians. They all believe Williams is insane and his crewmen are external delusions borne of this insanity. The climax is when Jonathan Williams and his men are placed in an asylum. The outcome is when trying to cure Williams, Mr. Xxx kills Williams and his men, then kills himself when the delusion persists.
There are two themes that create tension when they interact in this story: the ego of achievement and the limits of credibility.
The ego of achievement is embodied by the astronauts from Earth, who are not content to have completed their feat, but to be universally recognized for what they did.
The limits of credibility are embodied by the Martians, who find it preposterous and unbelievable that someone would travel from another planet to Mars. Of course, this is the same attitude Earthians have about people they encounter who make similar claims.
Captain Jonathan Williams and his crew of three men have arrived from Earth to Mars. They arrive at the home of Mrs. Ttt and wait to meet her husband for several hours, only to then be sent to Mr. Aaa and then Mr. Iii. Along the way to Mr. Iii, they speak to a little girl who seems unimpressed by the story she hears of their travels. Finally, Mr. Iii takes them to a room where they are feted by a group of Martians – only to discover they also claim to be Earth and are actually insane asylum inmates. Williams realizes he has been declared insane: seeing the insane Martians manifest their thoughts while sleeping, he understands that his strange Earthian appearance is being dismissed as yet another insane Martian using his everyday mental abilities to do the same.
The next morning, Mr. Xxx meets with Williams to cure him of this illness: Williams takes the doctor to the Earthian spaceship but Mr. Xxx deems him incurable thanks to the extent of the delusion – three seemingly solid crewmen and a seemingly solid spacecraft. Thus, Mr. Xxx decides to kill Williams, but the delusions persist; he then shoots the other three crewmen “delusions” but the craft is still there. Deciding he himself is incurably insane, Mr. Xxx does the merciful thing and kills himself. Later, Martians find the spacecraft and, not knowing what to do with it, pass it along to a junk dealer.
Obliquely, this story shows the hazards – and advantages – of thinking too logically, of not trusting imagination. A hazard, since the truth of the situation is never quite figured out by the Martians; but also an advantage along the lines of “ignorance is bliss” since they unwittingly fended off yet another invader from Earth. This story paves the way for both “The Third Expedition” and “The Martian”, stories that build on the abilities of Martians.