A Martian Odyssey – by Stanley G. Weinbaum (1934)

Wonder Stories magazine

In the midst of the Great Depression, many people found science fiction to be a welcome escape from the feeling of hopelessness that spread across the country. Magazines, such as “Wonder Stories” carried short stories about space travel and life on other planets. The image above shows the cover of the July, 1934 edition, which ran “A Martian Odyssey” by Stanley Weinbaum for the very first time.

The short story is about four men on an expedition to explore Mars. Jarvis, the chemist among them, has just returned from the first walk on the planet, and describes what he saw, and the creature named Tweel that he befriended. The classic science fiction author Isaac Asimov said that this short story was one of a few stories that changed the way future science fiction was written.

I found this little gem of a story in a small paperback collection of his short stories in a used bookstore yesterday. While looking for more information online about the author, I found out that the copyright on this book has expired, therefore making it possible to read and download for free! The world-famous Gutenburg project has made it available for all to enjoy, in several different formats. I thought the Australian version was the best. You can check it out here:
http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0601191h.html

Unfortunately, Mr. Weinbaum died at the young age of 33, only a year and a half after this story was published. He left behind many manuscripts, which were published posthumously.

A Martian Odyssey

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Argos Book Shop

2017-06-14 Argos Book Shop b

I thought it was about time to try out a used bookstore I hadn’t been to before. My internet search led me to a little shop in a mostly-residential neighborhood. My first obstacle was to find a place to park my car. There was a small lot a few doors down, but it was unclear whether it was private or public. As I had no desire to have my car towed away, I drove down some side streets, circled around, and found a spot not too far away.

2017-06-14 Argos used bookstore hardy boys

 

Once inside, the place seemed deserted, until I spotted a man slouched down behind the counter, his head hunched over a computer. He said nothing, so I just started quietly exploring. The area nearest the door was the neatest, with collections of comic books organized in boxes and individual slip covers. There were also a lot of classic youth series, like “The Hardy Boys”, “Nancy Drew” and “Cherry Ames”.

2017-06-14 Argos used bookstore music section

The farther in I went, the messier it got. There were bookshelves so high they could only be reached with a ladder, as well as books lying on the floor. As I looked up, I could see what had once been an elegant ceiling, but was now in disrepair. There was only one chair in the entire shop for customers to sit in, which seemed odd. I passed by fiction, mystery, presidents, history, music, and other non-fiction sections. The prices, which were hand-written inside the front cover of each book, were a tad high.

2017-06-14 Argos used bookstore messy

The science fiction/fantasy area was quite large. I was impressed (although it isn’t my typical reading preference). Then I found the 50 cent bookshelf! There were hundreds of old yellowed paperbacks from many decades ago that beckoned me. I picked out a half dozen of them and brought them to the counter. The man behind the computer rang them up with little enthusiasm, and I walked out the door and back to my car.

2017-06-14 Argoes books I bought

Based on my experience, I would give this used bookstore a “C”. With bookstores going out of business left and right, kudos to the owner for keeping it open. But if you want people to keep coming in, you need to have a welcoming smile, a cheerful hello, and a willingness to help your customers find at least one great book to take home.

The Day Of The Triffids – by John Wyndham (1951)

Triffids_Pair

 

In this classic science fiction novel, triffids are plants that have been bio-engineered to produce a high-quality oil extract. They give off a poison, however, and have to be handled carefully. Catastrophe strikes when their spores are released into the atmosphere in what looks like a beautiful meteorite shower. Every human who sees it is left permanently blind. To make matters worse, the triffids have somehow learned how to walk!

The main characters are Bill Masen, a biologist who used to work with the plants, and Josella, a popular writer. The two of them are among the fortunate who did not see the triffid shower, and therefore still have their vision. They have to provide for themselves and the blind around them, while fending off the increasingly-aggressive triffids.

The story actually fits with today. We live in a world where science is constantly looking to alter nature. Animals are bred for specific traits. Our vegetables and fruits are genetically modified to produce higher yields. Chemical fertilizers are mixed into the soil to enrich it. New types of flowers are developed. Genes are spliced. Animals are cloned. When you consider all this, the idea of the triffids is not all that far-fetched.

This was a fun read for me. It was ridiculous and horrifying at the same time, much like a crazy dream that wakes you up with a pounding heartbeat. There was nothing very gory or graphic in the story, which was fine with me, as I have a very good imagination. I also liked the way the author focused on just a few characters, which kept the storyline simple and clean. If you’re in the mood for some old-fashioned sci-fi, this is your book!