sturgeonslawyer (sturgeonslawyer) wrote,

Read: A Martian Odyssey and Other Science Fiction Tales, by Stanley G. Weinbaum (2017-4)

Either you know the story of Stanley G. Weinbaum, or you don't care. If you fall into either of those categories, skip the next two paragraphs.

In those dark days when science fiction was mostly rubbish about robots and slavering aliens menacing beautiful women in brass bikinis, and their (white, heterosexual, cis) male saviors - in those days, I say, an unknown writer named Stanley G. Weinbaum published a story called "A Martian Odyssey." It was far advanced over much of what was being published at the time, featuring alien creatures who were truly _alien_, with life cycles and desires truly different from our own.

Weinbaum, for the next couple of years, produced a great variety of sf stories, sometimes as wildly creative as "Odyssey," sometimes ... not ... He died very young, of cancer, shortly before the (first) "Golden Age" of science fiction would make the kind of thing he had done more common, even _de rigeur_.

This volume - part of a series curated by Sam Moskowitz in the 1970s - collects all the short fiction Weinbaum is known to have written in his short life. Some of it feels very, well, _dated_ - not surprisingly, after 80+ years - but many of his ideas still glitter with the real gold of the stfnal imagination.

Yes, women are - by and large - relegated to traditional roles. But there are a number of stories where women have power and at least one ("The Revolution of 1960") where gender is bent, as much as could be safely done in popular fiction of the 1930s.

Weinbaum came up with original ideas that other writers would mine for decades, and indeed some that they still do. Yes, there are a few stories with space pirates and suchlike, but for every traditional heroes and villains" story there are two that aren't, from "Odyssey" itself to the silly little "Graph" (a story that in many ways could have come from the pen of the mature Heinlein). Weinbaum was an early "hard science" writer, in that he made serious efforts to get his science right, or to at least handwave appropriately when current scientific belief would impede his story.

But in honesty, most of these stories are more of historical interest than anything else. They won't impress people who've cut their teeth on Iain Banks or Ursula Le Guin, Samuel Delany or Gene Wolfe. They are _simple_ in ways that a modern writer of sf really can't get away with. They have no real depth of meaning. They do not challenge anybody's cherished beliefs. They aren't often very funny, and when they are, it's a kind of hokey, old fashioned humor.

But for those (like me) who cherish a historical sense of where sf has come from, who believe that this sense provides an additional layer of depth when considering where it is going now, this is quite an enjoyable read.
  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

  • 1 comment