By Colleen McMahon: Serendipity strikes again…I started this edition thinking that I didn’t have any feature topic that I wanted to write about, so I would instead just do a roundup of a bunch of authors whose birthdays I missed in April.
First up was Stanley G. Weinbaum (1902-1935), who, it turns out, is an author who made an enormous impact on the science fiction field in a tragically short life. Reading about Weinbaum was so interesting that he immediately took over and became the feature topic!
Stanley Weinbaum was born in 1902 and died of lung cancer just 33 years later, publishing only a handful of short stories (and one pseudonymous romance novel) in his lifetime. But his few stories formed an important basis for the full development of the science fiction genre.
His very first science fiction tale, “A Martian Odyssey”, appeared in Wonder Stories in 1934, and set a new standard for stories that to this point had existed on the far (and often nonsensical) fringe of adventure fiction. The story tells of the encounter between astronauts exploring Mars and an intelligent alien. They gradually learn to communicate with “Tweel” who then accompanies the explorers and helps explain several other Martian life forms they discover.
While “A Martian Odyssey” includes some typical-for-the-time encounters with dangerous aliens, complete with chases and hairsbreadth escapes, the real excitement of the plot revolves around the trial-and-error process of the humans and Martian figuring out how to communicate and understand the information Tweel is providing about the other species on Mars.
Isaac Asimov saw “A Martian Odyssey” as a turning point for science fiction, one that changed the parameters of the field for the writers who came after. He called it
a perfect Campbellian science fiction story, before John W. Campbell. Indeed, Tweel may be the first creature in science fiction to fulfil Campbell’s dictum, ‘write me a creature who thinks as well as a man, or better than a man, but not like a man’. (from Asimov on Science Fiction, via Wikipedia).
In 2017, Alan Brown wrote about Stanley Weinbaum:
Weinbaum’s stories immediately stood out as different. His characters felt real and acted realistically. There was romance, but the women did not exist only as objects to be captured and/or rescued. The science was rooted in the latest developments, and thoughtfully applied. And most of all, the aliens were not simply bug-eyed monsters existing to invade the planet or threaten humanity. They felt real in the same way the human characters did—and yet seemed anything but human in the way they thought and acted.
In Weinbaum’s hands, a genre that was known for immaturity had grown up, but in a way that didn’t sacrifice any of the humor, fun, and adventure. You could read the stories for the sense of thrilling adventure alone, but those who wanted more found that as well.
Weinbaum published thirteen stories in Wonder Stories and Astounding between July 1934 and December 1935, and several more appeared posthumously over the next few years. His impact on the genre was recognized by writers and fans alike, as “A Martian Odyssey” was overwhelmingly voted into the first Science Fiction Hall of Fame collection. He was recognized with the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award in 2008.
Project Gutenberg has seven works by Weinbaum, six short stories and a posthumously-published novel:
- The Dark Other
- A Martian Odyssey (Wonder Stories, July 1934)
- The Ideal (Wonder Stories, September 1935)
- The Point of View (Wonder Stories, January 1936)
- Pygmalion’s Spectacles (Wonder Stories, June 1935)
- The Worlds of If (Wonder Stories, August 1935)
- Valley of Dreams (Wonder Stories, November 1934)
All of these works are available on Librivox:
- The Dark Other
- Collected Public Domain Works of Stanley G. Weinbaum
- “Pygmalion’s Spectacles” in Short Science Fiction Collection 001
- “The Worlds of If” in Short Science Fiction Collection 052
A few more authors who had birthdays back in April:
Henry Kuttner (1915-1958) is represented by three stories at Project Gutenberg:
- The Ego Machine (Space Science Fiction, May 1952)
- The Secret of Kralitz (Weird Tales, October 1936)
- Where the World is Quiet (Fantastic Universe, May 1954)
Howard Browne (1908-1999) has six stories on Project Gutenberg (though at least two are really novel-length, but were serialized in pulp magazines):
- Hard Guy (Amazing Stories, November 1942) (three versions at Librivox)
- Call Him Savage (Amazing Stories, March 1954)
- The Return of Tharn (Amazing Stories, October, November and December 1948)
- Twelve Times Zero (If: Worlds of Science Fiction, March 1952)
- Mars Confidential (Amazing Stories, April and May 1953)
- Warrior of the Dawn (Amazing Stories, December 1942 and January 1943)
Recent Librivox releases:
- Short Science Fiction Collection 065 by Various
Includes stories by Gordon R. Dickson, Frederic Brown, E.E. “Doc” Smith, Lester Del Rey, Ben Bova and more!
- Tarzan and the Golden Lion by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950)
Tarzan’s amazing ability to establish kinship with some of the most dangerous animals in the jungle serves him well in this exciting story of his adventures with the Golden Lion, Jad-bal-ja, when the great and lordly animal becomes his ally and protector. Tarzan learns from the High Priestess, La, of a country north of Opar which is held in dread by the Oparians. It is peopled by a strange race of gorilla-men with the intelligence of humans and the strength of gorillas. From time to time they attack Opar, carrying off prisoners for use as slaves in the jewel-studded Temple where they worship a great black-maned lion. Accompanied by the faithful Jad-bal-ja, Tarzan invades the dread country in an attempt to win freedom for the hundreds of people held in slavery there…
- The Year When Stardust Fell by Raymond Fisher Jones (1915-1994)
The story of The Year When Stardust Fell is not a story of the distant future or of the remote past. It is not a story of a never-never land where fantastic happenings take place daily. It is a story of my town and yours, of people like you and me and the mayor in townhall, his sheriff on the corner, and the professor in the university—a story that happens no later than tomorrow. It is the portrayal of the unending conflict between ignorance and superstition on one hand, and knowledge and cultural enlightenment on the other as they come into conflict with each other during an unprecedented disaster brought on by the forces of nature.
- The Cartels Jungle by Irving E. Cox Jr. (1915-2001)
In most ideally conceived Utopias the world as it exists is depicted as a mushrooming horror of maladjustment, cruelty and crime. In this startlingly original short novel that basic premise is granted, but only to pave the way for an approach to Utopia over a highway of the mind so daringly unusual we predict you’ll forget completely that you’re embarking on a fictional excursion into the future by one of the most gifted writers in the field. And that forgetfulness will be accompanied by the startling realization that Irving E. Cox has a great deal more than a storyteller’s magic to impart.