Mars, then California on Earth.
Ettil Vrye - A Martian wary of an invasion of Earth.
Town Witches - Martian witches, apparently used to enforce government will.
Tylla - Ettil's wife.
Father-in-law - Ettil's father.
Assignor - Places Ettil on trial.
Unnamed son - Ettil and Tylla's son.
William Sommers - President of the Association of the United American Produces, who greets Ettil's rocket when it lands.
Mayor - Greets Ettil's rocket.
Miss California 1965 - Greets Ettil's rocket.
Miss America 1940 - Greets Ettil's rocket.
Mr. Biggest Grapefruit in San Fernando Valley 1956 - Greets Ettil's rocket.
Unnamed woman - Tries to seduce Ettil in the park.
Older woman - Tries to convert Ettil religiously.
R.R. Van Plank - Film producer who hires Ettil as an adviser.
Ettil Vrye, a Martian who fears the consequence of invading Earth.
R.R. Van Park, a movie producer on Earth who epitomizes the cultural imperialism Ettil Vrye quickly comes to fear.
Ettil Vrye agrees to be an adviser to Van Park's movie about the Martian invasion of Earth, but wonders if he shouldn't just return to Mars.
He gets run over by a car full of teenagers.
The main theme is the evil of imperialism, and the particularly insidious nature of cultural imperialism in modern society. The United States has become notorious for forcing its values and perspective on other cultures with their popular culture and popular commercial products. This is more powerful than the Martian invasion of Earth; indeed, it turns the Martians into the conquered instead of the conquerors. A sub-theme is the dangerous power of the imagination. Using pulp magazines as the basis for his argument, Ettil Vrye argues that Earthians will be able to fend off a Martian invasion precisely because they imagined it repeatedly in their junk culture and have always won. This prescient view is turned upside its head when the Earthians do make their claim on their new rulers: rather than fending off the invaders, they welcome the Martians as new customers to be won over. Further, Van Plank's twisting of the Martian invasion into an acceptable movie for popular consumption is another way imagination runs rampant.
Ettil Vrye is reviled by all Martians - including his family - for refusing to join the invasion of Earth. He is arrested and confronted with his illegal collection of Earthian science fiction magazines. He explains that those magazines are why a Martian invasion will fail: while Earth has stories about invaders from Mars that are always repelled, Martian literature has nothing along that line; thus, Earthian morale is stronger than Martian morale and will decide the fate of an invasion. The assignor makes Ettil choose between joining the Legion of War or death by burning; Ettil chooses burning but at the last minute changes his mind.
On the rocket ship to Earth, Ettil muses on how a single Earth rocket to Mars provided scientists the ability to replicate the technology and prepare for war. When his rocket approaches Earth, the Martians are shocked to find out Earthians are welcoming them to the planet - and are actually handing the planet over to their new Martian brothers. The rocket lands in Green Town, California, and is greeted by a delegation of beauty queens and local dignitaries. The Martians are suspicious of the Earthians. Ettil wants them to return to Mars, but the others refuse; soon, they encounter Earth women interested in Martian love. In a park alone, Ettil is approached by an Earth woman who flirts with him; as he writes a letter to his wife, an older Earth woman tries to convert him religiously. Ettil continues his letter, even as he witnesses a crash between a car full of Earthmen and a car full of Martians. Ettil laments the way Earth culture will infiltrate and take over Mars.
Later, Ettil is approached by a man in a limousine: this man is R.R. Van Plank and he's seeking a Martian as an adviser for his planned movie, Invasion of Earth by Mars. Plank's vision of this movie is different from the reality of Mars but when Ettil protests this, Plank rebukes him for not respecting the changes necessary to make huge profits. Ettil discovers the
R.R. in Plank's name stands for Richard Robert - as in Rick, a name often used in science fiction magazines for the hero who saves Earth from the Martians. Ettil shakes the hand of this real life conqueror of Mars and the adviser job is agreed upon. Again on his own, Ettil wonders what he should do: work for Mars' conquerors or return home and appreciate Mars before it gives way to Earthian influence? He then finds himself chased by a car full of teenagers and tries to run away; as the car comes down upon him he notes it sounds like a concrete mixer.
The line about "little Saroyans" is a reference to William Saroyan, an author who advocated optimism during the Great Depression. It speaks to a kind of humility and sense of common humanity that has been twisted into the omnivorous reach of cultural imperialism in the story.