The story revolves around a U.S. diplomat. At this future date, the world has two superpowers, the USA and Communist China. There is a dispute about how best to colonize Mars. The United States wants to terraform Mars. The Chinese want to genetically alter humans (explicitly referred to as “pantropy” in the story) so they can live on Mars as it is. The Europeans are floating a compromise of building pressure-dome settlements on Mars. Our protagonist has to come up with a solution.

One dated aspect of the story is that world population pressure is the motive behind colonizing Mars. But one prescient aspect of the story, in the background, is that the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s. In the timeline of the story, the USA and the USSR made joint Moon landings and other space projects in the 1990s but then the USSR collapsed.

The story was written no later than 1982, and probably in the 1970s.

Other than Walter Miller’s 1955 novella “The Darfsteller,” this is the only short story I remember reading postulating the collapse of the Soviet Union.

I searched under “China Mars pantropy,” “China pantropy,” and “China Mars.”

  • Silverberg again! He obviously made an impression on me in the 1970s. This sounds like the right story. Very interesting that he and Barbara wrote it as early as 1959, not only predicting the end of the Soviet Union but also the emergence of Communist China as a world power. Thanks @DavidW.
    – K-man
    Commented Jan 28 at 17:42
  • I just noticed despite the superpowers accuracy...being set in 2050s the 200 billion dollar price tag to terraform Mars is very gold standard 1950s money. For example James Webb telescope is 10 billion. I suppose you can only throw so much futurism at a reader. Commented Jan 28 at 21:01
  • @lucasbachmann Good point, way too low when you consider the Apollo project cost about $36 billion at the time, and the inflation adjusted cost is around $240 billion -- for "just" a Moon landing program! As Everett Dirksen said, a billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money...
    – K-man
    Commented Jan 29 at 22:12

1 Answer 1


I think you're looking for "Deadlock" by Robert and Barbara Silverberg, Astounding, January 1959. It was reprinted in the Silverberg collection The Shores of Tomorrow (1976).

Quoting the intro to the story:

Mr. Saldanha: Would you say, sir, that transformation of Mars into a planet habitable for human beings could be achieved within a generation?

Mr. Reed: Definitely. Our estimate is that it would take fifteen to twenty years to handle the job properly, at the most.

Mr. Saldanha: Does this apply to Venus as well?

Mr. Reed: Oh, no. We haven't been thinking about terraforming Venus. It would be a lot more complicated than Mars. But we have the procedure all worked out for Mars already, you see.

Mr. Saldanha: What would be the cost of transforming Mars into a livable world, then?

Mr. Reed: The figures are all down in the specifications I submitted to this committee, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Saldanha: Yes, of course. But would you be good enough to repeat them for the benefit of the listening audience?

Mr. Reed: It would be in the neighborhood of a hundred-eighty billion dollars, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Saldanha: This cost figure is substantially higher than that proposed by the backers of the genetic alteration proposal, is it not? I believe Dr. Hwang estimated the cost of successful adaptation of human beings for life on Mars as something like one hundred ten billion dollars.

Mr. Reed: Yes, pantropy's cheaper. But when you've done that, what do you have? So far as Earth's immediate benefit is concerned, you have nothing. Absolutely nothing. I don't believe in false economy. I don't see how the Western countries could ever bring themselves to support the proposal of the Chinese bloc, Mr. Chairman. It's too fantastic to consider seriously.

— Extract from transcript of hearing before the United Nations Commission on Planetary Colonization, 14 March 2052.


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