“.....One of the novas of the SF cosmos.” The New Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction Interplanetary Odysseys collects together all of Stanley G. Weinbaum’s tales set on the planets and moons of our own solar system. With their colony cities and fast, easy space travel, these stories from the great romantic tradition of SF remain entertaining, readable and relevant. Weinbaum was noted as the first SF writer to create believable aliens that were a product of their own planetary environments and eco-systems. The lead story, the classic “A Martian Odyssey”, demonstrates this talent perfectly and with the nine other tales included here it gives readers new and old a chance to relive the sense of wonder that sprang from the glory days of science fiction. The Leonaur Collected Science Fiction & Fantasy of Stanley G. Weinbaum brings together all of the author’s genre novels and shorter works in a uniform edition for the first time ever.
Along toward what we called evening the sun went into our first eclipse. The landscape was bathed in the aureate light of Jupiter alone, and I realized that I’d forgotten how beautiful that golden twilight could be.
I was feeling particularly lonesome, too, so I wandered out to stare at the glowing peaks against the black sky, and the im mense, bulging sphere of Jupiter with Ganymede swinging like a luminous pearl close beside it. The scene was so lovely that I forgot my loneliness, until I was suddenly reminded of it.
A glint of more brilliant gold caught my eye, up near the grove of song-bushes. It was Claire’s head; she was standing there watching the display, and beside her was Coretti. While I looked, he suddenly turned and drew her into his arms; she put her hands against his chest, but she wasn’t struggling; she was perfectly passive and content. It was none of my business, of course, but—well, if I’d disliked Coretti before, I hated him now, because I was lonely again.
I think it was the next day that things came to a head, and trouble really began. Henshaw had been pleased with our meal of indigenous life, and decided to try it again. This time Claire was assigned to accompany me, and we set off in silence. A sort of echo of the coolness that had attended our last parting survived, and besides, what I had seen last night in the eclipse light seemed to make a difference to me. So I simply stalked along at her side, wondering what to choose for the day’s menu.
We didn’t want liver-leaves again. The little nutsies from the salt pool were all right, but it was a half day’s job to gather enough, and besides, they were almost too salty to be pleasant fare for a whole meal. Bladder birds were hopeless; they consisted of prac tically nothing except thin skin stretched over a framework of bones. I remembered that once we had tried a brown, fungoid lump that grew in the shade under the song-bushes; some of Gunderson’s men had liked it.
Claire finally broke the silence.
“If I’m going to help you look,” she suggested, “I ought to know what we’re looking for.”
I described the lumpy growths. “I’m not so sure all of us will like them. Near as I can remember, they tasted something like truffles, with a faint flavor of meat added. We tried them both raw and cooked, and cooked was best.”
“I like truffles,” said the girl. “They’re—”
A shot! There was no mistaking the sharp crack of a .38, though it sounded queerly thin in the rare atmosphere. But it sounded again, and a third time, and then a regular fusillade!
“Keep back of me!” I snapped as we turned and raced for the Minos. The warning was needless; Claire was unaccustomed to the difficulties of running on a small planet. Her weight on Europa must have been no more than twelve or fifteen pounds, one eighth Earth normal, and though she had learned to walk easily enough—one learned that on any space journey—she had had no opportunity to learn to run. Her first step sent her half a dozen feet in the air; I sped away from her with the long, sliding stride one had to use on such planets as Europa.
I burst out of the brush into the area cleared by the blast, where already growth had begun. For a moment I saw only the Minos resting peacefully in the clearing, then I reeled with shock. At the air lock lay a man—Henshaw—with his face a bloody pulp, his head split by two bullets.
There was a burst of sound, voices, another shot. Out of the open air lock reeled Coretti; he staggered backward for ten steps, then dropped on his side, while blood welled up out of the collar of his suit. And standing grimly in the opening, an automatic smoking in his right hand, a charged flame pistol in his left, was Gogrol!
I had no weapon; why should one carry arms on airless Europa? For an instant I stood frozen, appalled, uncomprehending, and in that moment Gogrol glimpsed me. I saw his hand tighten on his automatic, then he shrugged and strode toward me.
“Well,” he said with a snarl in his voice, “I had to do it. They went crazy. Anerosis. It struck both of them at once, and they went clean mad. Self-defense, it was.”
I didn’t believe him, of course. People don’t get anerosis in air no rarer than Europa’s; one could live his whole life out there without ever suffering from air starvation. But I couldn’t argue those points with a panting murderer armed with the most deadly weapon ever devised, and with a girl coming up behind me. So I said nothing at all.I stalked that bladder bird like a cat. Time after time I spent long minutes creeping toward a copse of song-bushes only to have the creature sail blithely over my head and across the valley. But at last I saw the thing crouched for flight above me; I dared not delay longer lest my wounds weaken me too much for the trial of my plan, and I fired. There went my single cartridge.
The bladder bird dropped! But that was only the beginning of my task. Carefully—so very carefully—I removed the creature’s bladder, leaving the vent tube intact. Then, through the opening that connects to the bird’s single lung, I slipped my head, letting the bloody rim contract about my throat.
I knew that wouldn’t be air-tight, so I bound it with strips torn from my clothing, so closely that it all but choked me. Then I took the slimy vent tube in my mouth and began an endless routine. Breathe in through the vent tube, pinch it shut, breathe out into the bladder—over and over and over. But gradually the bladder expanded with filthy, vitiated, stinking, and once breathed air.
I had it half filled when I saw that I was going to have to start if I were to have a chance of living long enough for a test. Breathing through the vent tube as long as there was air enough, peering dully through the semitransparent walls of the bladder, I started crawling up the hill.
I won’t describe that incredible journey. On Earth it would have been utterly impossible; here, since I weighed but eighteen pounds, it was barely within the bounds of possibility. As I as cended, the bladder swelled against the reduced pressure; by the time I had to start breathing the fearful stuff, I could feel it escaping and bubbling through the blood around my neck.
Somehow I made the crest, almost directly above the Minos. It was still there, anyway. Gogrol hadn’t come this way, and now I saw why. There was a sheer drop here of four hundred feet. Well, that only equaled fifty on Earth, but even fifty—But I had to try it, because I was dying here on the peaks. I jumped.
I landed with a wrench of pain on my wounded leg, but much more lightly than I had feared. Of course! Jumping down into denser air, the great bladder had acted like a parachute, and, after all, my weight here was but eighteen pounds. I crawled on ward, in agony for the moment when I could cast off the stinking, choking bladder.