A Martian Odyssey
by Stanley G. Weinbaum
  

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson
Wonder Stories, July 1934

collected in —
A Martian Odyssey and Others
A Martian Odyssey and Other Science Fiction Tales
The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum

Stanley Weinbaum Resurrected

April 2006

  

When an author uses a big-time title or famous word in his own story title, he'd better be able to deliver something special. Of course, such titles don't get much bigger than The Odyssey from the Homeric dawn of literature in the West: an epic told and read ever since antiquity, and a word still in common use for a journey of wonders.

"A Martian Odyssey", Stanley G. Weinbaum's very first science fiction story, hit readers with delight in 1934. This novelet is a light, humorous adventure of the first human expedition to Mars, with a memorably unique intelligent alien called Tweel, and a variety of truly exotic wildlife. My favorite always has been the brickmaker entity; that fellow kind of haunts me. And the hurried creatures with the pushcarts are funny and fascinating too — I won't try to summarize any of them; read the story.

Weinbaum's happy touch with characterization has been imitated widely and successfully since his short career began (he lived 1900-1935), but his stunning imaginative power for alien forms of life may never have been surpassed. Whole novels could be built out of each novelet. Weinbaum's writing, along with John W. Campbell's second style (after super-science came his mood-thoughtful stories bylined Don A. Stuart), showed science fiction a deeper dimension from the mid-1930s. Eric Frank Russell is a great exemplar of good-natured humor and weird aliens in Weinbaum's vein.

There is a sequel, the novelet "Valley of Dreams", wherein we see some more of Mars and are rewarded with a deep glimpse into the background of Tweel's race. Sadly, Weinbaum died before he could write a promised third story.
  

In a field of literature so fast-evolving as science fiction, it is a thing of wonder that many of Weinbaum's stories are still imagination-stretching, and still fun, so many years later. "A Martian Odyssey" was the first of them. Sam Moskowitz, the pioneer historian of science fiction, titled his chapter on Weinbaum in Explorers of the Infinite, "Dawn of Fame". Exactly right.

  

© 2006 Robert Wilfred Franson


 

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