Tuesday, 16 August 2016

A Martian Odyssey

Stanley G. Weinbaum A Martian Odyssey (1962)
Many years ago, amongst the back-up strips in Star Wars Weekly was one of particularly surreal composition set on Mars and featuring all manner of imagined biological Martian oddities. The strip was split over a couple of issues and made a real impression on me, although not quite enough of one to facilitate my remembering what it was actually called once I'd flogged all my old black and white Star Wars comics to Skinny Melink's in Lewisham. For many years I imagined it was probably some Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation, or maybe an extensively revised run through of Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis, or maybe even Killraven, Warrior of the Worlds, whatever the hell that was supposed to be.

At last I have the answer, for the story turns out to have been an adaptation of Weinbaum's A Martian Odyssey, one of five shorts collected in a paperback picked up purely because I liked the cover.

Weinbaum was a contemporary of Lovecraft, writing in the thirties and who died young, so his name seems to be fading from our collective science-fiction memory - at least judging by my not knowingly having heard of him despite the impression made on me by the aforementioned comic strip adaptation. This seems a great shame because this really is terrific stuff.

Weinbaum wrote stories rather than the adventures some of us have come to expect, beautifully crafted tales exploring scientific advances in thought pertaining to his era. It's mostly to do with biology and evolution, and he got some of it wrong, but the sheer pleasure he took in grappling with such ideas is obvious and addictive from the point of view of the reader; and unless it's just that I've been reading a lot of shite of late, vintage Weinbaum doesn't really seem to have dated just as the best of H.G. Wells has similarly endured with such elegance.

It's been a while since I enjoyed anything so much as I've enjoyed this collection, which has served as a reminder of what drew me to science-fiction in the first place.

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