Since time immemorial, Mars has always figured largely in Earth's mythology. And ever since the prolific imaginations of the likes of HG Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs first put pen to paper beginning the development of modern sci-fi as a genre, Mars, Martians, travel to Mars and life on a hostile Mars have continued to be favourite topics. With "The Martian Way and Other Stories", Isaac Asimov proudly continues this hallowed tradition with a series of four stories written in the good doctor's unmistakable and well-loved style.
Despite its brevity, "The Martian Way" explores a myriad of topics including colonization of an extra-terrestrial planet, acclimation of human beings to space and space travel, the politics and economics of life on another planet and its relationship to "mother earth" and even the development of earth-side prejudices to a people that are now considered foreigners.
"Youth" tells the story of Slim and Red, two young boys, who have found two very strange animals. As any pair of young fellows might do, they hide the animals and feed and care for them to the best of their ability. They even dream about becoming wealthy by developing a circus act. The ending of the story discloses the surprise that the two animals are in fact the only survivors from a crashed alien spaceship (but ... and you'll have to trust me here on this one ... that is not a spoiler!) The REAL ending is a complete blind-side twist that only the likes of a twinkle-eyed fun-loving Asimov could imagine. I'll admit that the ending does seem somewhat artificial and forced but Asimov fans have long known that he loved his humour and always enjoyed tweaking his readers' noses. The joke is on us and even Asimov's silliness forces a reader to look into himself and investigate his self-centered notions of superiority.
Unfortunately, many sci-fi authors have fallen in to the trap of creating aliens that are simply humans (or humanoid, to use one of Star Trek's favourite aphorisms) with only a bizarre variation on their outward appearance. In "The Deep", however, Asimov has departed from that mundane mind-set and created a technologically advanced species with telepathic abilities that lives underground on a planet with dwindling resources. Teleporting an advance scout to earth to explore the possibilities of establishing contact with us and sharing our space on earth, the species discovers that the cultural, linguistic, physical and sociological gap between humans and their species is so vast that it could never be crossed.
"Sucker Bait", the longest of Isaac Asimov's novellas, deals, in a nutshell, with the potential rigors and difficulties of space travel, exploration and planetary colonization. An expedition to Troas, an earth-like planet located in orbit around a binary star system in the Messier 13 globular cluster, met with a mysterious disaster and failed to return or report back in any way. We are told the story of the follow-up expedition that was mounted to determine the fate of the original exploration. Although his tongue may have been at least partially inerted into his cheek, Asimov also uses "Sucker Bait" to cleverly discuss the potential pitfalls of ever continuing specialization in scientific research and the alarming and ever growing dearth of generalists and polymaths.
The back cover of the edition I read asks, "Still thinking like an earthling? Get out of your rut, open mind - there's a whole universe waiting." I've got to agree. If you enjoy science fiction, then you'll enjoy this classic collection of four short stories from perhaps the finest author the genre has ever seen. Highly recommended.
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