Phoenix from the Ashes: The Literature of the Remade World

By Carl B. Yoke | Go to book overview

7
WEINBAUM'S FIRE FROM THE
ASHES: THE POSTDISASTER
CIVILIZATION OF THE BLACK
FLAME

Edgar L. Chapman


1.

Stanley Weinbaum achieved the status of a legendary figure in science fiction histories and folklore largely because of the promise displayed in "A Martian Odyssey" ( 1934) and some other short stories and because of the poignancy of his early death. Isaac Asimov expresses this conventional view in his introduction to The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum ( 1974), 1 ranking him with E. E. "Doc" Smith and Robert Heinlein as innovators who had stunning impact on the field of pulp science fiction. He bases Weinbaum's case largely on two premises: he was the first writer to treat aliens sympathetically, and he had a major influence on the young Asimov. 2 The second of these is obviously beyond dispute; the first, though a critical commonplace by now, seems to be equally well-grounded. C. S. Lewis, for instance, contended that his Out of the Silent Planet ( 1938) began to reverse a trend as old as Wells when it presented Martians who were different from humans. 3 But Lewis published his novel four years after "A Martian Odyssey" appeared with its lovable alien named Tweel, and it is possible that Lewis had read Weinbaum's story, since he often confessed to reading American science fiction in the 1930s in his spare time. 4 Whatever the truth about this may be, James Gunn presents much the same view as Asimov in a brief introduction to "A Martian Odyssey" in his important anthology The Road to Science Fiction: 2. 5 Despite this, Weinbaum's work has not been viewed very clearly in other respects, both in its strengths and its defects, and I suspect that Weinbaum remains a misunderstood author.

No doubt Weinbaum's death at the age of thirty-three, after a beginning which

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