“The Lost Pioneer”

My review of the essays in Brian Stableford’s Outside the Human Aquarium concludes with a look at Stanley G. Weinbaum. He’s not a completely forgotten author, but I come across few references to his novels these days.

Review: “The Lost Pioneer: The Science Fiction of Stanley G. Weinbaum”, Brian Stableford, 1982, 1995.

The science fiction pulps had only been around for eight years when Weinbaum was first published in them and his career, from “A Martian Odyssey” to his death from throat cancer (and he wrote right up to his death) was only seventeen months. I was surprised to learn, though, that Weinbaum was a published writer before “A Martian Odyssey” appeared in 1934. 

Born in 1902, he wrote several novels in the 1920s and 1930s but only one got published and that was under a pen name. Some of those novels were published by small sf presses after his death. 

His degree was in chemical engineering, and his sf work features scientific speculation. But, even the relatively small amount of his fiction published during his lifetime, also has a strong thread of femme fatales, doomed and difficult love affairs, and hopeless sexual attraction. Sam Moskowitz even speculated this was either because Weinbaum was dominated by strong women or wanted one who was his intellectual equal.

While Stableford agrees that Weinbaum is remarkable for imagining plausible and alien ecosystems, he also presented worlds in which the struggle to survive was not pre-eminent.  Survival is often by co-operation between different species, particularly sentient aliens and humans. 

Some of the prolific Weinbaum’s sf works were published under the pseudonym John Jessel. Some his stories were completed by his sister Helen after his death. (Helen Weinbaum had published some of her own work in sf pulps and Weird Tales.)

His novel The New Adam is a sympathetic superman tale unlike Olaf Stapledon’s Odd John or John Beresford’s The Hampdenshire Wonder. Stableford characterizes it as not a work of social criticism like those novels but an “eccentric exercise in hypothetical existentialism”.

Stableford concludes by saying Weinbaum work is still worth examination as period pieces if you can imaginatively approach them as they were first read on publication.

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