Book Review: A Martian Odyssey and Other Classics of Science Fiction, Stanley G. Weinbaum (1962)

(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…

Plot Summary/Analysis

‘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

35 thoughts on “Book Review: A Martian Odyssey and Other Classics of Science Fiction, Stanley G. Weinbaum (1962)

  1. Both of the stories you liked are ones that I have heard of but don’t believe I’ve read. Definitely sound like ones I need to check out though. A pity the whole collection wasn’t great but two great ones out of 5 for older work like this…heck, even for modern collections…really isn’t that bad.

    • Well, many of the same ones in that collection are in the one I just reviewed — The Lotus Eaters and A Martian Odyssey are definitely worth reading…. Not sure about the others which weren’t in this collection… This is my first exposure to his work.

  2. I`ve read the whole book [ages ago] and `Lotus Eater` and `Martian Odyssey` are all one needs, IMHO. I am glad he was capable of being more than a one-hit wonder, and had he lived longer who knows? I would have loved more along those lines. BTW, I didn`t think the wife`s expressing her fear was anything sexistg or dated; nothing wrong with being scared, and a regulated political correctness of emotions is no improvement on bad cliches, it just makes new cliches. The macho female of the last 20-30 years is an utter joke–when it can be done so well [Alien, The Terminator]. My karate teacher used to get nuts discussing how unrealistic the perfect female warrior type was. [my teacher was a woman, btw.]

  3. Thank you for these – I’m seeking out copies. I’ve noticed a trend in my reading, I seem to be heading backwards, eschewing glossy modern offerings in favour of the delicious hard work of wrapping my own imagination around works from the early part of last century. Does that make me weird?

  4. Well some of these stories seem really good. I’ll note this on my goodreads list and try to find a copy. Though I will admit I’ll be needing to trek back through your blog here, as you are going to provide me with a lot of books to help with the used book section of my store, when I get it going. Thanks!

      • Of course, but since I want to make my bookstore focus more on Sci-Fi and Fantasy books instead of being a general bookstore, then I just can’t sell only the books that won awards. These books will help fill the gap.

      • I know Joachim, but my store is geared toward promoting not only the bigger names, but the ones people don’t recognize, and this book falls into the later (I never heard of it until now, and I’m a big reader). If I have a decent sized store, I can’t keep on stocking the same books, I want to try to get a big range as possible. 🙂

      • I know. For the most part, in my opinion, bookstores don’t promote their product enough. I want to try and promote the author’s I sell as best as I can. I don’t want to be Chapters where they’re over flooded with the more well known authors and that’s all. There are so many good stories out there that people do not know about, I just want to try and get them to be noticed really. 😦

      • I guess, I’m sadly pessimistic about bookstores in this current environment… I purchased a large chunk of my books over the last few years from a retired professor who was a sci-fi collector in Lubbock, Texas but he passed away a few months back… So, I do buy from individuals when able… But, have so little luck finding worthwhile stuff at stores besides from The Dawn Treader in Ann Arbor, Michigan — the best sci-fi collection I’ve ever seen but I’m so rarely there…. and the original Half Price bookstore in Dallas is amazing but it’s not a small business anymore — rather a huge chain…. Obviously there are tons of great stores out there but the one store used book business as a whole is suffering.

    • Yeah the business is suffering, I give you that, but it’s still going strong and doing the best it can. I just wrote in my recent post bout a 40 year old bookstore that is going under due to retirement of the owner, rent, and “times are changing” aka e-readers. To me the last part is bull, yes bookstores have suffered but they can still survive if they go out and promote and get themselves out there. The bookstore that is closing around here didn’t even try to do events or promote themselves from what I’ve seen these past six months. I want to give my love for books to everyone, and to do that I need to keep on telling people that I exist (well that’s one of the ways).

      Do you try online shopping for your books?

  5. There’s a free copy of A Martian Odyssey on kindle, it’s a story I remember with huge fondness. Marvellous characters and a much more sophisticated evocation of the alien than many much harder SF tales.

    Must look out The Lotus Eaters.

  6. The Kindle is a non-starter with me, for all the obvious reasons, and when confronted with somewhat hostile fans of it I remain steadfast in my belief that when the dust settles we will see sales return to where they were before the arrival of this very silly object. [Of course I think it is great for the old and those with eye issues.] I have refused free Kindles at least twice…..The book store is going away from a combination of many factors but the two biggies are Amazon and used stores. While living in Providence in the 90s I saw one book store I worked for close and another have problems while several used stores blew them away in foot traffic, stock and sheer size [two of the used stores could have fit both retail new book stores inside them at the same time]. ………The Martian Odyssey is an example of a `black and white movie of a story`–kids today just do not watch old b&w movies, and they don`t go digging for old sf short stories; those I work with who read have current books almost exclusively

  7. I totally agree about the kindle delusion – I need fabulous images on the cover, yellowing, musty paper and the feel of flexible pages in my hands. Digital can be great in many ways, but it certainly isn’t the be-all and end-all of culture, which many would have you think.

    I predict that – as with what is currently happening with vinyl – old school books will make a limited, but stable, niche resurgence, in the next 10 years, once the popularity of e-readers has peaked over the next 2-3 years.

    Then all the arrogant naysayers who threw away their ‘real’ book collections to be replaced with e-readers, will end up having to buy those self-same books back, as ‘rarities’, for 10 times the price, once they invariably fall back into (what will then be) the trendy fashion of collecting again. In that sense I – and many of us – will be ahead of the game, along with our lifelong collections….

  8. Given your love of covers and of vintage SF Joachim I didn’t expect you to go the ebook route, but I thought others might be interested.

    John/James, I read books in both hardcopy and ecopy, more in hardcopy if anything. Obviously physical books will continue, though not necessarily mass market physical books.

    I would note that I’ve never once mentioned the qualities of a physical book I was reading (good binding, cheap paper, great cover, whatever) and had an ebook advocate pop up telling me that print books are obsolete, but I have many times mentioned reading an ebook and had people suddenly pop by to tell me how much better physical books are and how ebooks are a fad (which they blatantly aren’t).

    Some books plainly are better suited to hardcopy, at least for the moment. A title like The Demolished Man for example uses non-standard overlapping layout to capture telepathic speech, and a reflow of that would be disastrous. Anything with multiple fonts also may not be ideal. That will all change of course as the technology improves, but there will always be a place for the beautiful hardcopy (but perhaps not for the cheap mass market hardcopy).

    Then again, print on demand is getting better all the time, so the future may be greater choice for everyone with PoD perhaps delivering physical standards comparable, perhaps better, than much current traditional print publishing and ebooks for those who prefer them. PoD could be great in particular for retro SF, making available books that otherwise will become increasingly rare.

    John, nice to see the role of used stores being recognised. Too often people focus on Amazon and miss the impact the used stores have, and in the UK at least the supermarkets too.

    Regarding kids, how many kids ever read retro short stories of any genre? Kids today, whenever today might be, are always a bit short sighted and indifferent to the past, and I rather hope always will be.

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