The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum (1978, Del Ray)
Stanley G Weinbaum was a brilliant flame who flashed brightly across the night sky of golden age science fiction. Starting in July of 1934 he published one of the most influential science fiction short stories in history, “A Martian Odyssey”. He would publish many more short stories in pulp magazines, more than most aspiring. Eighteen months later he would be dead of lung cancer. What might have been….
The Best of Stanley G Weinbaum is a collection of his short fiction which appeared in 1974. You can still find it used bookstores ( like me) or order it off the Internet. It’s a good look at a young writer who left a legacy of stories. Most take place on the planets in our solar system. There’s a naive sense of wonder in these stories, not the best drama, but fun just the same. Many contain some of the same characters. These stories take place in what William Gibson called “The Gernsback Continuum”, i.e., giant flying cities, pre-WW2 atomics and zeppelins.
A few stories do stick out: “A Martian Odyssey”, being the one every sf fan seems to have encountered. This is a tale of the first human expedition to Mars, where the explorers meet a large bird-like creature called “Tweel” and the other strange life forms they encounter. Similar stories take place on Venus and the moons of Jupiter. In all cases the air is breathable, but the humans might need oxygen masks in some parts. It’s constant with what was known about the planets at the time.
However, my favourite stories in this collection take place on earth. The first, “The Ultimate Adaptive”, is about what happens when an ordinary woman is given the power of evolutionary adaption to any situation. The ending is contrived, but the tone is chilling. “Valley of Dreams” allows a lonesome young man the ability to enter a fantasy world. The ending is a little contrived too, but it moved in the right direction. And then there’s “Proteus Island” which is a strange merge of “jungle girl” stories and The Island of Dr. Moreau. Again, these three tales stepped outside the “Blasting rockets!” stories and showed the direction Weinbaum might have taken had he lived.
The collection comes with an introduction by Issac Asimov and a remembrance by Robert Bloch. Worth reading if you can find a copy.