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“The Martian Way and Other Stories,” was the fourteenth book that Isaac Asimov published, and the first collection of short stories Asimov did that did not have a theme. “I, Robot,” consisted of nine connected stories; and the “Foundation” books consisted of nine connected stories. However, by 1955, Asimov had no more “connected” stories in his, at that time, fledgling portfolio.
Evidently, according to the author, putting out random collections of your work was, what we would call today, “box office poison.” These books seldom sold and were the first sign that your carrier as a writer was on the skids (who would have thought). However, having a thrust for being published, and a good relationship with editors, Asimov pitched the idea to then editor of Doubleday’s new science-fiction program, Walter I. Bradbury (referred to, in Asimov’s biographies, simply as “Brad”). To Asimov’s surprise “Brad” liked the idea and so “The Martian Way and Other Stories” came to print.
A slim work, only about 176 pages, it contains four “novelettes.” These are shorter than your standard novel but longer than a “short” story. They were written between 1952 and 1954 and originally published in “Galaxy,” “Space Science Fiction,” and “Astounding.” These were among the plethora of SF pulp and glossy magazines that filled the racks in the dawn of the “Atomic Age.”
The first story is called, of course, “The Martian Way.” Unfortunately, this being still early in Isaac’s career, he had not begun the habit of introducing his works. Later, of course, he thrilled in the habit of adding light to the works presented. Here the reading public will be in the dark. Unless, of course, you read my reviews.
“The Martian Way” was written in 1952 at the height of what would later be called “McCarthyism."
Then Senator Joseph “Tail-gunner Joe” McCarthy was stomping all across the United States rooting out Communism (a.k.a. “The Red Menace”). His simple-minded “patriotism” sickened the young Isaac Asimov and while McCarthy did not affect him directly, he knew it was only a matter of time before SF authors were rounded up and paraded before the “House un-American Activities Committee.” So Asimov decided to fight back the only way he knew how, with an SF story. A story that deals with Martian colonists, with a problem, who were victimized by a “McCarthy-style” politician back on earth. Rather than bend to the will of narrow-minded “patriots,” they find a better solution to their problem and at the same time shame them into silence and reduce them to ridicule. He did it in 18,000 words. The November 1952 issue of “Galaxy” featured “The Martian Way,” on the cover, with Isaac’s name misspelled. He sat back and waited for the mail he was sure his story would elicit, denouncing him or supporting him, but it never came. The story was so subtle that no one got the satire. Still the story is a good one and has stood the test of time. Faced with a shortage of water, used not only for personal necessity but also for propulsion of spacecraft, the Mars colonists, shunned from the earth, turn to space to satisfy their needs. In an exciting and imaginative story, one that could happen in my lifetime, "The Martian Way” is used to solve the problem, for good.
“The Deep” is an unusual story for Asimov for it deals with a totally alien world and culture. In his later writings, only humanoid characters would populate the Asimov universe. In these earlier times, Isaac explored the possibility of other life forms and other ways of life. The story centers on a planet that orbits a slowly dying sun. The civilization, unable to move to another planet, is forced to dig toward the only source of energy left, the molten core. As that too slowly cools, the society makes one final effort at survival. It is interesting on several levels. First, it is a product of its time, December of 1952. The technological references, while SF, are clearly pre-transistor. Second, Asimov invents a society were even “mother love” is considered obscene. At a time when “soulless Communism” was the threat and “mom and apple pie” were American virtues, no editor would dare risk his magazine’s reputation on such a radical story idea. As a matter of fact Tony Boucher of “Fantasy and Science Fiction,” did reject it. However “Galaxy” bought and ran it. Today the idea seems tame, but back then it was a different world.
“Sucker Bait” is the final story in the collection and its history sheds some light on the publishing world of that time. It was, at that time, not unusual for a publishing house to call some of its writers in and present them with a project. They would give the diverse authors the same set of facts, and then ask them each to write their own story, based on those facts. For example once, in 1957, Larry Shaw, of “Infinity,” called in Asimov, Harlan Ellison, and Randall Garrett, to his office and gave them the title, “Blank.” Each author was to write a story with that title. These stories were collected and published in his magazine, with the appropriate ad campaign. In 1953, Twayne Press had the idea of producing what it called “Twayne Triplets” (I am sure only for the love alliteration). The idea was to create a planet with a particular astronomical or chemical situation, and then have three different authors write three different stories all based on that planet as background. Asimov loved the idea but was afraid that the other two authors might not live up to their end of the deal and he might be stuck with an unused story (sacrilege to a professional writer). Asimov (who may have know more than he let on) secured the serial rights to his story, as a hedge against trouble. It paid off for one of the authors pulled out of the contract and Twayne Press folded. “Sucker Bait” was the result of this ill-fated venture, and it deals with a teenage human computer who is on a ship sent to investigate what happened to a space colony over a hundred years ago. The theme of the story, as the crew sets out to solve the mystery, is that a genius is useless if he cannot see beyond his own training. This would be a theme the Renaissance Asimov would visit a number of times. Each member of the science party is an unquestioned authority in his own field, but it is up to an unstable “Nummonic” to put all of the pieces together.
“The Martian Way, and Other Stories,” is well worth the time of any reader. As science fiction, it
explores different worlds, cultures, and adventures. As the early work of Asimov, it adds insight into his early career and ideas he would come back to again and again, and as mystery and adventure, it never lets the reader down.
Although this book was first published in 1955 it is still available, new, from Amazon.com for under $16.00.