Redemption Cairn
by Stanley G. Weinbaum

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson
Astounding Stories, March 1936  (this edition reviewed)

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

Stanley Weinbaum Resurrected

May 2017


"Redemption Cairn", is a science fiction novelet by Stanley G. Weinbaum. It's an adventure beginning on Earth but taking place largely on Jupiter's moon, Europa. For balance among action, science, speculation, characters, and romance, it's one of Weinbaum's best. There are exotic and fascinating alien life-forms (not intelligent) which as usual Weinbaum seems to generate effortlessly, describe in a few deft sentences, and fit nicely into the plot. The author also has a sense of what we might call economic reality well beyond what most of the science fiction authors of the pre-Campbell era could command.

I'll let you discover the plot for yourself, without spoilers, and only one teaser, as follows. "Redemption Cairn" is one of the last stories written by Weinbaum before his untimely death at age 33 from lung cancer on 14 December 1935. Here's a neatly predictive passage, taken from the version as originally printed in the issue of Astounding Stories for March 1936:

"No!" screamed Claire, so frantically that I halted. "My Lord, no! Didn't you see the blaster he left?"

The singing teakettle noise! I had barely time to throw myself beside the girl crouching behind a rock when the atomic bomb let go.

I suppose everybody has seen, either by eye or television, the effect of atomic explosions. All of us, by one means or the other, have watched old buildings demolished, road grades or canals blasted, and those over forty may even remember the havoc-spreading bombs of the Pacific War. But none of you could have seen anything like this, for this explosion had a low air pressure and a gravitation only one-eighth normal as the sole checks to its fury.

A few things to note:

  • an atomic bomb (a pocket-size one here), years before physicists' successful Trinity nuclear test in July 1945 at White Sands, New Mexico;
  • atomic explosions used for demolition and site preparation;
  • atomic bombs used in a Pacific War which didn't begin for America until December 1941; two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan in August 1945 to end the war;
  • television viewed by "everybody", but when Weinbaum was writing in 1935 more experimental than commercial; receiving sets were in very few homes before 1950 or so.

Weinbaum gave more thought to the vacuum of space than most authors, and I find particularly interesting his discussion of atmosphere, vacuum, and geography on his speculative Europa in "Redemption Cairn". A pioneering story in 1936, and still a good one.


© 2017 Robert Wilfred Franson

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