From his first published story, “A Martian Odyssey,” it was obvious that Stanley Grauman Weinbaum was something new and different. Up until that time most science fiction stories, especially those in the pulp magazines, were little more than adventure stories with a change of locale to some planet or moon that really wasn’t that different than a Terrestrial desert or jungle. Aliens, if they were present, were merely monsters, there for the hero to vanquish before getting the girl.
With “A Martian Odyssey” and its sequel, “Valley of Dreams,” Weinbaum changed science fiction forever. In these two stories of the first Martian expedition, his explores come in contact with Tweel, half bird, half plant, but completely alien. Instead of a monster, Tweel is friendly, even helpful, in his own very unique way, helping the expedition survive and learn about the planet and the Martians.
In many ways, it was Weinbaum that put the science in science fiction. At the University of Wisconsin he had studied chemical engineering before changing his major to English. He was knowledgeable about many areas of chemistry, physics, mathematics and biology, and his stories are infused with what for the time were scientifically accurate concepts.
Each of the stories he wrote during his too short career was centered on some particular scientific fact or theory that had struck his fancy. In the prescient “Shifting Seas” he examined what would happen if the Gulf Stream was diverted so that it no longer warmed Europe. The resultant ecological catastrophe and resulting political crisis brings all too clear the dangers in climate change. His story, “Proteus Island,” has an experiment with radiation induced mutation running amok in a manner that predates any number of 1950’s science fiction movies using the same concept.
He took great delight in inventing alien worlds populated by bizarre life forms. Once he had decided on a premise, he would rigorously examine how this would actually affect the environment his heroes and heroines inhabited. The Venus described in “Parasite Planet” is tidally locked on the sun, with one side baking in eternal day while the other is a frozen wasteland in perpetual darkness, while the border between the two hemispheres is an unstable zone where the plants and animals compete to survive. In “Redemption Cairn” he describes the moon Europa as having valleys with breathable air while the intervening mountains extend above the atmosphere. His hero must devise a way to cross from one valley to the next using only local resources. “The Lotus Eaters,” “The Planet of Doubt,” “Flight on Titan” and “The Mad Moon” all feature strange creatures in exotic environments. In “Red Peri” the heroes must deal with carbon eating crystals and space pirates, but having to face the vacuum of space without a spacesuit is the real heart of the story.
While his stories have plenty of the action typical of the period, it was the science and ideas that were the core of his stories. This was a concept that was to become common during the “Golden Age” of science fiction starting with the editorship of Astounding under John Campbell, but as Isaac Asimov put it, Weinbaum was writing “perfect Campbellian stories before John Campbell.” The idea of taking a concept and exploring the consequences was a major innovation in the genre and set the tone for much of what came after.
As an example, in the set of humorous stories featuring Dixon Wells and the slightly mad Professor Manderpootz, the professor invents a number of gadgets that Dixon then tries out. In “Worlds of If” the device allows him to explore an alternative world where he takes a rocket plane that crashes, in “The Ideal” the machine realizes an image of the ideal example of a word the user contemplates, and in “The Point of View” the device allows the user to see the world from the point of view of another person. Of course, in each case, the result is unexpected, Dixon falls in love with a woman only to have her marry someone else, and a nice little moral is expounded.
The story, “Pygmalions’s Spectacles,” has the hero try a device which immerses him in a dream world where he falls in love with a beautiful woman. When he awakes, he finds it was all an illusion. In “Adaptive Ultimate” a woman is given an experimental medical treatment which heightens her ability to adapt to fight off her disease. The unintended consequence is that she becomes invulnerable and beyond control.
The tragedy is that less than eighteen months after his first story was published, Stanley Weinbaum was dead from lung cancer. We shall never know what he might have written had he lived. While much of the science that he based his stories on is now, seventy-five years later, now dated, we are indebted to him for the idea that science fiction should be based on real science. Even if the science is dated, the stories still maintain their ability to entertain reader.
Resurrected Press has gathered in this volume all of the short fiction Weinbaum wrote in his short career. Several stories have been omitted because they were finished after his death by others. This was done, not because of any defect in those stories, but because they do not, completely, reflect the character of the author. We think that this collection represents an important facet in the history of science fiction. Beyond that, the stories are entertaining and and I hope you will enjoy them as much as I have. Order the book here!