Thursday, 19 February 2015

"Martians Never Die" by Lucius Daniel

Hey guys! Did you realize that the Gutenberg Project has old science fiction? It does! (I don't know why this surprised me, but it did.) So, hey, why not read some of them and review them? Not to poke fun at the old science fiction, although there might be a little of that. No, I'm more interested in looking at what this old science fiction tells us about the worlds that were being imagined at the time. What did they think about science? Gender? Race? The eventual fate of the world?

From Galaxy Science Fiction, April 1952

I actually like this little story quite a lot. Sure, the gender politics are troubling, but as a story, it holds up better than some I have been reading. I think that's largely because Daniel, whoever he was, (Google is not forthcoming), has focused more on telling a creepy little story than on the nitty-gritty details of the science. So many authors I've read for this series are all about the details, and it tends to be frustrating.

Okay, the plot. A scientist has sent himself out on wavelengths, and there is one day a year when he could return from Mars. It's been four years, and his wife isn't expecting him to come home anymore, and she's taken up with his investment advisor.

This is strongly reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut's The Sirens of Titan, actually, in which a man turns himself into waves in space, and they intersect with Earth once a year. Vonnegut is out to do more with this idea, and perhaps does it better, but the core is very similar.

It will probably not surprise you at all to hear that he does come back, having spent some time with the intelligent beings on Mars, and, apparently, picking up an equivalent of a Martian dog, although it looks more like a frog (that's him up there in the picture), named Schaughtowl. The wife, Beryl, immediately becomes solicitous, leaving Stern, the investment advisor without either the wife or the money he'd planned on having.

Stern becomes immediately homicidal, deciding to kill off the scientist by overloading his heart - it'll be passed off as due to the difference in gravities. But to do so, he has to get through Schaughtowl. He smashes in the head of the creature and pushes it over a cliff, but not before it stings him. As the story closes, Stern more or less becomes Schaughtowl - not physically, I don't think, but somehow Schaughtowl took over Stern's body with that sting. This is obviously how "Martians Never Die."

As a story, it hangs together well - it's creepy, and Stern is unlikeable enough that is fate is both enjoyable and unsettling. Stern's pretty cynical about women, and that may be just the character, but it's hard to know. When Beryl starts taking care of her recently-returned husband, Stern thinks to himself that it's "the way a woman is when she has a man to impress." Later, he thinks to himself that the changeability of women is "enough to make a man lose faith in the sex."

Certainly, Beryl is there as a plot device to cause Stern's downfall. She's only there to go back to her husband and thus drive Stern to homicide. For all that, she seems fairly capable, both in knowing her husband's science, and in her ability to get things done.

Other than that? As almost always, no race, no class issues come into the story.

What about the scientists? The only one is Dr. Curtis, who went to Mars, and he's mostly abstracted. Not evil, which is refreshing, but far away. Is it just me, or is there a sense that he might be under the control of the Martians?

At any rate, this was not a story that caused me great hilarity. In fact, it was one that made me nod my head and decide that it wasn't bad.

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