(Robert E. Schulz’s cover for the 1966 edition)
3/5 (collated rating: Average)
After reading Joanna Russ’ nihilistic downer (but brilliant nevertheless) We Who Are About To… (1976) I needed to decompress with some 30s pulp. I’m generally not a fan of pulp unless it attempts to integrate social science fiction elements or creates a vibrant/otherworldly sense of wonder. Thankfully, this collection of Stanley G. Wienbaum’s stories contains one of the most influential pulp science fiction shorts due to its descriptions of aliens — ‘A Martian Odyssey’ (1934).
For anyone interested in the history of the genre and 30s pulp, Weinbaum’s work is a must read…
‘A Martian Odyssey’ (1934) (31 pages) 4.75/5 (Very Good): First appeared in the July 1934 issue of Wonder Stories. A science fiction classic! ‘A Martian Odyssey’ was a profoundly influential story notable for its touching alien human friendship and fascinating descriptions of unusual aliens. In the 21st century mankind has landed on Mars via atomic powered spaceships. Jarvis sets out across the Martian landscape in a rocket to take photographs of the famed canals. Unfortunately, his rocket crashes and he is forced to set out on foot back to Ares’s landing area where the rest of the multi-national crew (French, German, etc) is waiting. He makes friends with an alien named Tweel whom he rescues from a disturbing creature that lures its prey by taking on the appearance of loved ones. Despite the fact that Tweel can jump hundreds of feet at a time and is only able to communicate with Jarvis beyond simplistic phrases, he stays by his side braving the unusual wilderness together. They encounter headless telepathic aliens and strange silicon creatures that create pyramids with their waste. Highly recommended.
‘The Adaptive Ultimate’ (1935) (28 pages) 2/5 (Bad): First appeared in the November 1935 issue of Astounding Stories. A silly tale about a mysterious healing serum derived from pulverized fruit flies. It causes the body to quickly adapt against diseases, and, the uncanny ability to get out of difficult situations. However, it causes the patient to care only for itself. A scientist injects a tuberculosis ridden woman with the serum. She heals quickly but soon wants to become the ruler of the world! Unfortunately, he’s fallen in love with her…
‘The Lotus Eaters’ (1935) (34 pages) 3.5/5 (Good): First appeared in the April 1935 issue of Astounding Stories. The second best in the collection… On Venus, a husband and wife team of explorers explore the dark side of the planet. They encounter a series of strange beings — including a vegetable intelligence. As with ‘A Martian Odyssey’ the creature is highly original for the 30s. Although highly sentient, it thinks in a distinctly different way than humans. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the story is Patricia, the female character — she is as courageous as Hammond, her husband (although she does say she’s scared multiple times) and possesses all the scientific knowledge.
‘Proteus Island’ (1936) (41 pages) 2.5/5 (Bad): First appeared in the August 1936 issue of Astounding Stories. Our intrepid biologist hero arrives at a mysterious — taboo according to the natives — island in Polynesia. His native guides desert him on the island and he’s forced to confront its mysteries himself. First, all the animals on the island seem to be different/unusual. Also, he encounters a white girl, who seems remarkably feline. Although the mystery is quite interesting, Weinbaum fails to conjure the wonder present in ‘The Lotus Eaters’ and ‘A Martian Odyssey.’
‘The Brink of Infinity’ (1936) (14 pages) 2/5 (Bad): First appeared in the December 1936 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories. An unremarkable story of a mathematician who is captured by a cripple who wants revenge. The cripple conjures a mathematical riddle and places the mathematician in a cell — he has to answer the riddle by asking of a limited number of questions or else he dies. I have the feeling that a mathematician would have guessed the answer much more quickly — and, Weinbaum fills up pages with lectures on basic mathematical concepts, concepts as simple as breathing for a mathematician….
(Frank R. Paul’s cover for the July 1934 issue of Wonder Stories)
(Howard V. Brown’s cover for the December 1936 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories)
For more book reviews consult the INDEX