A Martian Odyssey • 1934 • SF novelette by Stanley G. Weinbaum

★★★+

Cover

The four-man crew of the Ares has landed on Mars in the Mare Cimmerium. Dick Jarvis travels south to explore the landscape, but crashes after 800 miles. He has to walk in the thin, but breathable atmosphere the whole way back. He rescues Tweel, a birdlike intelligent alien who takes the rest of the adventurous journey with him and saves him from several encounters.

The SFWA voted 1970 on the best SF stories of all time; this novelette came in second to Asimov’s Nightfall. In our times, it doesn’t come quite as close, when Locus readers voted it on place 15 of 20th century novelettes. But given its age, it transfers very well for a SF story. Likeable characters, an exotic zoo of aliens like Star Wars’s Mos Eisley Cantina including silicon-based pyramid builder, and an adventurous and dangerous ride on the surface of Mars which would perfectly fit into GRRM’s Old Mars anthology, well, if it weren’t an original old Mars story. Only the plot feels thin. Most of all, it invented aliens different from driveling tentaculous fiends and different from yet-another-humanoid-from-outer-space. ‚Write me a creature who thinks as well as a man, or better than a man, but not like a man‚ was Campbell’s challenge which was clearly fulfilled by Weinbaum. His aliens think completely differently, as seen in the Tweel’s foreign language, or have a completely different metabolism, as seen in the hundred thousand years old pyramid builders.

If you want to see that a single story can change a whole genre, then this is it: After 1934, every pulp author wanted to write like Weinbaum. That is why Asimov characterized him – besides E.E. Smith and Robert A. Heinlein – as one of three novae quickening the imaginations of his readers.

Don’t miss the wikipedia article with a map of Jarvis‘ travel.

 

Meta: isfdb. Read in The Road to Science Fiction #2: From Wells to Heinlein and The Big Book of SF. Available online.

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