Martian (Uliri)

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A Martian Emerges, 1906 Illustration

Uliri, also known as Sarmaks, Martians, Martian Invaders, Martian Migrants

Origin: first appearance was under the name of "Martians" in H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds; the names "Uliri" and "Sarmak" appeared later in unofficial sequels.


Those who have never seen a living Martian can scarcely imagine the strange horror of its appearance. The peculiar V-shaped mouth with its pointed upper lip, the absence of brow ridges, the absence of a chin beneath the wedgelike lower lip, the incessant quivering of this mouth, the Gorgon groups of tentacles, the tumultuous breathing of the lungs in a strange atmosphere, the evident heaviness and painfulness of movement due to the greater gravitational energy of the earth--above all, the extraordinary intensity of the immense eyes--were at once vital, intense, inhuman, crippled and monstrous. There was something fungoid in the oily brown skin, something in the clumsy deliberation of the tedious movements unspeakably nasty. Even at this first encounter, this first glimpse, I was overcome with disgust and dread.
— H.G. Wells, War of the Worlds

PHILLIPS: Ladies and gentlemen, this is the most terrifying thing I have ever witnessed... Wait a minute! Someone's crawling out of the hollow top. Someone or... something. I can see peering out of that black hole two luminous disks... are they eyes? It might be a face. It might be... Good heavens, something's wriggling out of the shadow like a gray snake. Now it's another one, and another. They look like tentacles to me. There, I can see the thing's body. It's large, large as a bear and it glistens like wet leather. But that face, it... Ladies and gentlemen, it's indescribable. I can hardly force myself to keep looking at it. The eyes are black and gleam like a serpent. The mouth is V-shaped with saliva dripping from its rimless lips that seem to quiver and pulsate. The monster or whatever it is can hardly move. It seems weighed down by... possibly gravity or something. The thing's raising up. The crowd falls back now, they've seen plenty. This is the most extraordinary experience. I can't find words....
— Orson Wells & Mercury Theater, War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast

In one respect we hewed right to the Wells original. That was in his conception of a Martian being. He dreamed up an octopuslike creature. We made ours a huge crablike being with one giant Cyclops eye with three separate lenses, a big head to hold its oversize brain, and long spindly tentacles with suckers on the end for arms. The Martian was the handiwork of our talented young unit art director Albert Nozaki who worked throughout with us from start to finish under Paramount supervising art director Hal Pereira. After Nozaki finished his design I called in a sculptor, make‑up man and artist named Charles Geniora.... I asked him to build the monster. He built it out of papier-mache and sheet rubber, created arms that actually pulsated ‑ through the use of rubber tubing in them ‑ and painted the whole thing lobster red. It was a startler all right, something right out of your worst nightmare....
George Pal, on the 1953 film War of the Worlds

The Martian Invaders call themselves "Uliri", though they are also known among the humanoid "Barsoomian" Martians as "Sarmaks" (or "molluscs"/"leeches").

The "Martians" known as the Uliri are described as octopus-like creatures: the "body" consisting of a disembodied head nearly four feet across, having two eyes; a v-shaped, beak-like mouth; and two branches each of eight 'almost whip-like' tentacles, grouped around the mouth, referred to as the 'hands'. They reproduce asexually, by "budding" off from a parent. Internally, the Martians consist of a brain, lungs, heart, and blood vessels; they have no organs for digestion, and therefore sustain themselves on Earth by mechanically transfusing blood via pipettes from other animals, notably humans. The ear, a single timpanic membrane located on the back of the head, is believed "useless" in Earth's denser atmosphere.

Based on their physical features, the Martians might be the descendants of a species similar to human beings, that evolution has reduced to only a large brain and head and two groupings of eight tentacles (hands). They are described as sluggish under terrestrial gravity, heavier than on Mars. It is reported that several Martians attempt to "stand" on their tentacles, implying that they are capable of locomotion in this manner while in Mars' lighter gravity, but not on Earth.

Communication between the Martian Uliri is never made evident, but the narrator, as he sees Martians working together without audible means, concludes that they use telepathy. He makes mention of a "queer hooting" sound, but attributes it to the exhalation of air prior to fatally transfusing blood from their human victims. Some evidence of audible communication is associated with the Martian Fighting-Machine, which are described emitting siren-like calls, and the repeated "Ulla, Ulla" distress calls that echo throughout the landscape when the Uliri suffer casualties.

The Martian Uliri were evidently evolved over a vast amount of time on a relatively sterile world with much gentler gravity, and rarefied atmosphere, similar to Mars. Given to intellectual pursuits while their home planet and Mars slowly desiccated and died, the Martian Uliri evolved vast brains in weak, fragile bodies barely supported on delicate tentacles, and came to Earth poorly-prepared for Earth's harsh gravity and climates, or for the swarming masses of putrefying bacteria that Earth's inhabitants had long ago evolved immunities to.

According to some theories, the Uliri are alien even to Mars, having migrated to Mars from some other dead world long since stripped bare by the migrant Uliri. According to this theory, the Uliri may have migrated to other habitable planets and moons multiple times, leaving devastation in their wake, and even today may be fighting ferocious wars against obscure races elsewhere in the Solar System, including a terrible war against a race of horrifying giants dwelling deep in the moon Ceres.

Uliri Technology

Despite their advancement, the Martians' technology lacks the wheel, and it is implied they are ignorant of disease and decomposition. It is theorized that their advanced technology eliminated whatever indigenous diseases were present on Mars, and so they no longer remembered their effects. Ultimately, their lack of knowledge or preparation against any bacteria indigenous to Earth, causes their destruction here by what Wells described as “putrefactive bacteria,” which digests organic materials upon death (though the epilogue to Wells' War of the Worlds states the Uliri may have successfully invaded Venus).

The Uliri arrive on Earth aboard large, cylindrical spacecraft launched from some kind of immense cannon on Mars, and their chief weapon of war is the invisible 'Heat-Ray' that produces a white flame that consumes any organism it touches. This ray is mounted on an articulated arm attached to the front of the tall tripod, simply referred to as a 'fighting-machine' in Wells' novel, which travels across the landscape destroying humans and their habitat. A secondary weapon, the "Black Smoke," is a toxic gas released from canisters launched at a distance from Bazooka-like tubes, referred to in the novel as a "gun," which kills humans and animals alike; it is rendered harmless by Martian high-pressure steam jets and water. Mention is also made of a Martian aircraft, but it is hardly seen, except to possibly spread the deadly Black Smoke from above over a wider area.

Uliri Food

Evidence of another race of Martian may be discovered in the Uliri's cylindrical transport vessels, presumably for use as their food supply while in transit; but they are all killed before the Martians reach Earth. These secondary Martians are bipedal, nearly six feet tall, and have "round, erect heads, and large eyes in flinty sockets"; however, their fragile physical structure, made up of weak skeletons and muscles, would have been broken by Earth's heavier gravitational pull. These creatures seem to be conquered natives of Mars (see Martian (Red)), which the Uliri "Martians" have been breeding as a food source. (fan interpretation from Edgard Rice Burroughs, John Carter of Mars)

Red Weed

Red Weed

The Uliri may also brought with them, perhaps accidentally, several Martian plants, though the only one to survive and flourish on Earth is the "Red Weed" or "Red Creeper", a dense red vine that glows purple at night, tastes vaguely metallic, grows and reproduces explosively in water, and shares the Uliri vulnerability to Earth's bacteria. The Red Creeper similarly seems to have flourished on Mars, where it has flooded and choked the Martian canals, choking whole regions of that dying world off from a much-needed water supply; it is likely that the Red Weed, like the Uliri, are an invasive species alien even to Mars, with the Red Creeper either serving as food for the Uliri invaders, or trailing along with them as microscopic spoors and spreading unnoticed or poorly understood due to the Uliri's alien disregard for sanitation, disease, and decomposition.

Heresies and Controversies

  • The Uliri have been to Earth before, and built the Pyramids and other ancient monuments, before retreating back to Mars due from Earthly plagues, taking with them human slaves which were eventually oppressed, altered, and/or wiped out due to Martian fears of their subjects, and are at war with the giant inhabitants of the dwarf planet Ceres. (Edison's Conquest of Mars, an unauthorized 1898 sequel)
  • The native population of Barsoom (Mars) refers to the invading Uliri as "molluscs"/"mollusc invaders" (Edison's Conquest of Mars, an unauthorized 1898 sequel), "leeches" (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), or "Sarmaks" (George Alec Effinger, "Mars: The Home Front"), or "Uliri" (Ian McDonald, "The Queen of Night's Aria").
  • One explanation for the humanoid food source of the Martians depicted in the War of the Worlds novel: it is possible that these creatures are not native Martians, but perhaps a conquered alien race similar to the Selenites described in Wells's other interplanetary work, The First Men in the Moon. (fan interpretation)
  • An alternative theory about the nature of the humanoid food source is that these correspond to Edgar Rice Burroughs' humanoid Martians, conquered by the Uliri invaders and driven to retreat into the Martian Dreamlands.

Keeper Notes

Associated Mythos Elements