Generation Ship Short Story Review: Leigh Brackett’s “The Ark of Mars” (1953)

This is the 9th post in my newly resurrected series of vintage generation ship short fiction reviews. Not every short story I read for this series fits my definition of a generation ship. If you choose to read the story before my review, know that I disagree with its inclusion in SF Encyclopedia’s entry and understand why it was excluded from Simone Caroti’s original list. And that’s okay! I enjoy mapping the territory with all its swampy bayous, hidden coves, and dead ends.

As a reminder for anyone stopping by, all of the stories I’ll review in the series are available online via the link below in the review.

You are welcome to read and discuss along with me as I explore humanity’s visions of generational voyage. And thanks go out to all who have joined already. I also have compiled an extensive index of generation ship SF if you wish to track down my earlier reviews on the topic and any that you might want to read on your own.

Previously: Otto Binder’s “Son of the Stars” in the February 1940 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries, ed. Mary Gnaedinger. You can read the story online here.

Next Up: Frank M. Robinson’s “The Oceans Are Wide” first appeared in Science Stories (April 1954), ed. Bea Mahaffey and Ray Palmer. You can read it online here


Leigh Brackett’s “The Ark of Mars” first appeared in Planet Stories (September 1953), ed. Jack O’Sullivan. 2.5/5 (Bad). You can read it online here. “Ark” was combined with an expanded “Teleportress of Alpha C” (1954) and released as the fix-up Alpha Centauri or Die! (1963).

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. As I mentioned above, this is not a generation ship story despite its inclusion in the SF Encyclopedia’s entry on the theme. While mothers and children are brought on board a massive vessel secretly constructed on Mars for a journey to an Earth-like planet orbiting Alpha Centauri, the voyage lasts a mere five years. Children might be born on the ship but will only spend a short portion of their lives on board. All of the action of the plot revolves around launching the vessel and Mars’ last attempt to stop the trip immediately as it sets off. Few of the distinctive hallmarks of generation ship stories are present — there’s no generational strife between those born on the ship and their elders, no conceptual breakthrough as the “true” nature of the world is revealed, etc. Instead, the ship is a glorified covered wagon, symbolic of Brackett’s identification of a primitivist masculine drive (with adjacent spouses) to trek West rather than a new social system to explore.

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Updates: My 2020 in Review (Best SF Novels, Best SF Short Fiction, and Bonus Categories)

I’m not sure what I can add about the general sentiment of 2020. It was awful in every way. Here’s to a better 2021.

Reading and writing for the site—and participating in all the SF discussions it’s generated over the year—was a necessary and greatly appreciated salve. Thank you everyone!

I also have one (hopefully more) review coming out in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (the Curiosities column) in the spring. I’ve not included my reviews of those esoteric SF novels in this particular post.

Without further ado, here are my favorite novels and short stories I read in 2020 (with bonus categories). Tempted to track any of them down?

And feel free to list your favorite vintage (or non-vintage) SF reads of the year. As always, I look forward to reading your comments.


My Top 10 Science Fiction Novels (click titles for my review)

Tim White’s cover for the 1983 edition

1. Electric Forest, Tanith Lee (1979), 5/5 (Masterpiece): Tanith Lee spins a gauzy, sinister, and terrifying tale of manipulative resurrection. A brilliant inventor projects the mind of a grotesque social outcast into a new transcendent Continue reading

Book Review: The Long Tomorrow, Leigh Brackett (1955)

(Darrell K. Sweet’s cover for the 1974 edition)

4.5/5 (Very Good)

“No city, no town, no community of more than one thousand people or two hundred buildings to the square mile shall be built or permitted to exist anywhere in the United States of America” (Thirtieth Amendment of the United States Constitution) (1)

Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow (1955) not only clocks in as the best of her work I’ve read so far but also joins my pantheon of favorite 50s SF visions (*).  At first glance Brackett’s novel appears to traverse standard SF juvenile territory where a teenage boy, in a religiously and socially oppressive society, encounters an object  and memories of the past that opens up a path to self-discovery. But memories are memories. And dreams are Continue reading

Adventures in Science Fiction Art: Haunting Landscapes and Cityscapes: The 1970s Italian SF Art of Allison A.K.A. Mariella Anderlini

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(Cover for the 1973 edition of The City in the Sea (1951), Wilson Tucker)

Mariella Anderlini, under the pseudonym Allison, produced a vast number of surreal and masterful SF covers (between 1969-1988) primarily for the Italian SF publisher Libra Editrice.  Apparently, she went under the pseudonym to avoid damaging her professional painting career.  She was the wife of Ugo Malaguti, editor and author, who founded Libra Editrice and edited Galassia.

As I celebrate the birthdays of a range of SF authors/illustrators/editors from multiple language traditions on twitter (@SFRuminations), I came across Allison’s work while researching her husband’s untranslated SF output.  However, only through the diligent research of a twitter follower, whose Italian is far better than mine, were we able to come across her real name.

A reader on twitter sent me two Italian articles for more details (they are scanty) about her life and SF art: “Libra Editrice: ascess e caduta di un impero”  and  “Nova SF.”

And her art is absolutely gorgeous…. Her work enters the pantheon of my favorite SF cover Continue reading

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. XLVV (Herbert + Anderson + Brackett + Kornbluth)

More Christmas gifts + Winter break used bookstore finds….

Two more Richard Powers covers from the 50s…

A non-Dune Frank Herbert find with a wonderful Vincent Di Fate cover…  I’ve been somewhat ambivalent with Herbert’s non-Dune corpus in the last few years.  A 50s Poul Anderson adventure, a later Leigh Brackett novel, and another scathing satire from the delightful pen of C. M. Kornbluth…

1. The God Makers, Frank Herbert (1972) (MY REVIEW)

(Vincent Di Fate’s cover for the 1973 edition) Continue reading

Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. XXXIV (Brunner + Tucker + Brackett + et al.)

A mixture of a few clearance section novels from Austin bookstores (Chandler and Siodmak) and three recent purchases from a nice used bookstore (for science fiction) in my current town…  I can’t wait to read another Leigh Brackett novel (one of the most renowned pulp sci-fi writers of the 50s) — I’ve only read her novels, The Big Jump (1955) and was pleasantly surprised.

One can never have too many Brunner novels (I have 21 at the moment and I’ve read a majority of them) — even average works from the early 80s….

And Wilson Tucker’s The Year of the Quiet Sun (1970) — yes, I generally dislike time travel, but I’ve yet to read one of his works so I might as well start with what is generally considered his best novel.

(*note: I include images of what I consider the best cover for the novel if it has multiple editions because I enjoy good examples of sci-fi art.  I own perhaps half of the exact editions shown.  A few readers have expressed confusion.)

1. The Long Tomorrow, Leigh Brackett (1955)

(Ed Emshwiller’s cover for Continue reading