A Martian Odyssey

"A Martian Odyssey" is a science fiction short story by American writer Stanley G. Weinbaum originally published in the July 1934 issue of Wonder Stories. It was Weinbaum's second published story (in 1933 he had sold a romantic novel, The Lady Dances, to King Features Syndicate under the pseudonym Marge Stanley[1]), and remains his best known. It was followed four months later by a sequel, "Valley of Dreams". These are the only stories by Weinbaum set on Mars.

"A Martian Odyssey"
AuthorStanley G. Weinbaum
CountryUnited States
Genre(s)Science fiction
Published inWonder Stories
Publication typePeriodical
PublisherGernsback Publications
Media typePrint (Magazine)
Publication dateJuly 1934
Followed by"Valley of Dreams"
Martian Odyssey Map
Dick Jarvis' journey across Mars in "A Martian Odyssey" (south is at the top of the map).

Plot summary

Early in the 21st century, nearly twenty years after the invention of atomic power and ten years after the first lunar landing, the four-man crew of the Ares has landed on Mars in the Mare Cimmerium. A week after the landing, Dick Jarvis, the ship's American chemist, sets out south in an auxiliary rocket to photograph the landscape. Eight hundred miles out, the engine on Jarvis' rocket gives out, and he crash-lands into one of the Thyle regions. Rather than sit and wait for rescue, Jarvis decides to walk back north to the Ares. Just after crossing into the Mare Chronium, Jarvis comes across a tentacled Martian creature attacking a large birdlike creature. He notices that the birdlike Martian is carrying a bag around its neck, and recognizing it as an intelligent being, saves it from the tentacled monstrosity. The rescued creature refers to itself as Tweel. Tweel accompanies Jarvis on his trip back to the Ares, in the course of which it manages to pick up some English, although Jarvis is unable to make any sense of Tweel's language. At first, Tweel travels in tremendous, city-block-long leaps that end with its long beak buried in the ground, but upon seeing Jarvis trudge along, walks beside him.

Upon reaching Xanthus, a desert region outside the Mare Cimmerium, Jarvis and Tweel find a line of small pyramids tens of thousands of years old made of silica bricks, each open at the top. As they follow the line, the pyramids slowly become larger and newer. By the time the pyramids are ten feet high, the travelers reach the end of the line and find a pyramid that is not open at the top. As they watch, a creature with gray scales, one arm, a mouth and a pointed tail pushes its way out of the top of the pyramid, pulls itself several yards along the ground, then plants itself in the ground by the tail. It starts exhaling bricks from its mouth at ten-minute intervals and using them to build another pyramid around itself. Jarvis realizes that the creature is silicon-based rather than carbon-based; neither animal, vegetable nor mineral, but a little of each. The strange combination of a creature produces the solid substance silica and builds itself in with the by-product, then sleeps for an unknown length of time.

As the two approach a canal cutting across Xanthus, Jarvis is feeling homesick for New York City, thinking about Fancy Long, a woman he knows from the cast of the Yerba Mate Hour show. When he sees Long standing by the canal, he begins to approach her, but is stopped by Tweel. Tweel takes out a gun that fires poisoned glass needles and shoots Long, who vanishes, replaced by one of the tentacled creatures that Jarvis rescued Tweel from at their first meeting. Jarvis realizes that the tentacled creature, which he names a dream-beast, lures its prey by projecting illusions into their minds.

As Jarvis and Tweel approach a city on the canal bank, they are passed by a barrel-like creature with four legs, four arms, and a circle of eyes around its waist. The barrel creature is pushing an empty, coppery cart; it pays no attention to Jarvis and Tweel as it goes by them. Another goes by, then a third. Jarvis stands in front of the third, which stops. Jarvis says, "We are friends," and the cart creature repeats the phrase from a diaphragm atop its body, "We are v-r-r-riends," before pushing past him. The next cart creature repeats the phrase as it goes by, and the next.

Eventually the cart creatures start returning to the city with their carts full of stones, sand, and chunks of rubbery plants. Jarvis stands in front of one and refuses to move. The cart creature tweaks his nose hard enough to make him jump aside and yell "Ouch". After that, every cart creature that passes by says "We are v-r-r-riends! Ouch!"

Jarvis and Tweel follow the cart creatures to their destination, a mound with a tunnel leading down below it. Jarvis soon becomes lost in the network of tunnels, and hours or days pass before he and Tweel find themselves in a domed chamber near the surface. There they find the cart creatures depositing their loads beneath a wheel that grinds the stones and plants into dust. Some of the cart creatures also step under the wheel themselves and are pulverized. Beyond the wheel is a shining crystal on a pedestal. When Jarvis approaches it he feels a tingling in his hands and face, and a wart on his left thumb dries up and falls off. He speculates that the crystal emits some form of radiation that destroys diseased tissue but leaves healthy tissue unharmed.

The cart creatures suddenly begin attacking Jarvis and Tweel, who retreat up a corridor which fortunately leads outside. The cart creatures corner them and, rather than save himself, Tweel stays by Jarvis' side facing certain death. The cart creatures are about to finish them off when an auxiliary rocket from the Ares lands, destroying the creatures. Jarvis boards the rocket while Tweel bounds away into the Martian horizon. The rocket returns with Jarvis to the Ares, and he tells his story to the other three. Jarvis is preoccupied with recalling the friendship and bond between Tweel and himself when Captain Harrison expresses regret that they do not have the healing crystal. Jarvis, his mind somewhere else, admits that the cart creatures were attacking him because he took it; he takes it out and shows it to the others.


The story immediately established Weinbaum as a leading figure in the field. Isaac Asimov states that Weinbaum's "easy style and his realistic description of extraterrestrial scenes and life-forms were better than anything yet seen, and the science fiction reading public went mad over him."[2] The story "had the effect on the field of an exploding grenade. With this single story, Weinbaum was instantly recognized as the world's best living science fiction writer, and at once almost every writer in the field tried to imitate him."[3]

Before, aliens had been nothing more than plot devices to help or hinder the hero. Weinbaum's creations, like the pyramid-builder and the cart creatures, have their own reasons for existing. Also, their logic is not human logic, and humans cannot always puzzle out their motivations. Tweel itself was one of the first characters (arguably the first) who satisfied John W. Campbell's famous challenge: "Write me a creature who thinks as well as a man, or better than a man, but not like a man."

In 1970, when the Science Fiction Writers of America voted on the best science fiction short stories before the creation of the Nebula Awards, "A Martian Odyssey" came in second to Asimov's "Nightfall", and was the earliest story to make the list. The chosen stories were published in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One, 1929-1964.

Larry Niven included several references to "A Martian Odyssey" in his Rainbow Mars.

In 2002, the Peter Crowther-edited anthology Mars Probes included "A Martian Theodicy" by Paul Di Filippo, a "thoroughly disrespectful" sequel.[4]


In 2004, Strange Horizons stated that the story has "dated badly", with a "thin" plot, but that it is "partly redeemed by sheer invention."[5]

In 2017, Tor.com stated, "The story is fascinating, brimming with humor, and Tweel is at once likeable and incomprehensible."[6]


"A Martian Odyssey" appears in the following Stanley G. Weinbaum collections:

  • The Dawn of Flame (1936)
  • A Martian Odyssey and Others (1949)
  • A Martian Odyssey and Other Classics of Science Fiction (1962)
  • A Martian Odyssey and Other Great Science Fiction Stories (1966)
  • A Martian Odyssey and Other Science Fiction Tales (1974)
  • The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum (1974)
  • Interplanetary Odysseys (2006)
  • A Martian Odyssey: Stanley G. Weinbaum's Worlds of If (2008)


"A Martian Odyssey" appears as a 26-page comic book adaptation by Ben Avery and George Sellas in the anthology "Science Fiction Classics: Graphic Classics Volume Seventeen" published in 2009. It is quite faithful to the original story although it leaves out the part about the pyramid-building creatures.


  1. ^ http://library.temple.edu/scrc/stanley-g-weinbaum-papers
  2. ^ Asimov, Isaac, ed., Before the Golden Age, Doubleday, 1974, ISBN 0-385-02419-3.
  3. ^ Introduction by Isaac Asimov to The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum, Ballantine, 1974, ISBN 0-345-23890-7.
  4. ^ The SF Site Featured Review: Mars Probes by Rich Horton; posted 2002; retrieved April 30 2012
  5. ^ Reviews: Yesterday's Tomorrows: Robert Silverberg's The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Archived 2014-07-14 at the Wayback Machine., reviewed by Colin Harvey, at Strange Horizons; published March 15, 2004; retrieved July 3, 2014
  6. ^ Quality over Quantity: The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum ""Quality over Quantity: The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum"". 2017-12-14., reviewed Alan Brown, at Tor.com; published December 14, 2017; by retrieved June 24, 2018

External links

3000 Years of Fantasy and Science Fiction

3000 Years of Fantasy and Science Fiction is an anthology of fantasy and science fiction short stories, edited by L. Sprague de Camp and Catherine Crook de Camp. It was first published in both hardcover and paperback by Lothrop Lee & Shepard in 1972. It was the first such anthology assembled by the de Camps, preceding their later Tales Beyond Time (1973).

A Martian Odyssey and Others

A Martian Odyssey and Others is a collection of science fiction short stories by author Stanley G. Weinbaum. It was first published in 1949 by Fantasy Press in an edition of 3,158 copies. The stories originally appeared in the magazines Wonder Stories, Astounding and Thrilling Wonder Stories.

Biology in fiction

Biology appears in fiction, especially but not only in science fiction, both in the shape of real aspects of the science, used as themes or plot devices, and in the form of fictional elements, whether fictional extensions or applications of biological theory, or through the invention of fictional organisms. Major aspects of biology found in fiction include evolution, disease, genetics, parasitism and symbiosis (mutualism), ethology, and ecology.

Speculative evolution enables authors with sufficient skill to create what the critic Helen N. Parker calls biological parables, illuminating the human condition from an alien viewpoint. Fictional alien animals and plants, especially humanoids, have frequently been created simply to provide entertaining monsters. Zoologists such as Sam Levin have argued that, driven by natural selection on other planets, aliens might indeed tend to resemble humans to some extent.

Major themes of science fiction include messages of optimism or pessimism; Helen N. Parker has noted that in biological fiction, pessimism is by far the dominant outlook. Early works such as H. G. Wells's novels explored the grim consequences of Darwinian evolution, ruthless competition, and the dark side of human nature; Aldous Huxley's Brave New World was similarly gloomy about the effects of genetic engineering.

Fictional biology, too, has enabled major science fiction authors like Stanley Weinbaum, Isaac Asimov, John Brunner, and Ursula Le Guin to create what Parker called biological parables, with convincing portrayals of alien worlds able to support deep analogies with Earth and humanity.

Hare-Way to the Stars

Hare-Way to the Stars is a 1958 Warner Bros. Looney Tunes cartoon featuring Bugs Bunny and Marvin the Martian. The title is a play on the song "Stairway to the Stars."

List of science fiction short stories

This is a non-comprehensive list of short stories with significant science fiction elements.

Parasite Planet

"Parasite Planet" is a science fiction short story by Stanley G. Weinbaum originally published in the February 1935 issue of Astounding Stories. It was Weinbaum's fourth published story, and the first to be set on Venus. He quickly followed it up with a sequel called "The Lotus Eaters".

Stanley G. Weinbaum

Stanley Grauman Weinbaum (April 4, 1902 – December 14, 1935) was an American science fiction writer. His first story, "A Martian Odyssey", was published to great acclaim in July 1934, but he died from lung cancer less than a year and a half later.

The Adaptive Ultimate

"The Adaptive Ultimate" is a science fiction short story about an experimental medical treatment gone awry. It was written by Stanley G. Weinbaum and first published in the November 1935 issue of Astounding magazine under the pen name "John Jessel". It was collected in various editions of A Martian Odyssey, as well as the 1979 The Best Of Stanley G. Weinbaum.The story was dramatized on the radio program Escape March 26, 1949 and later that year on the television program Studio One episode called "Kyra Zelas" (the name of the title character) aired on September 12, 1949. It was dramatized on June 20, 1952 on the television show Tales of Tomorrow under the title "The Miraculous Serum" (Season 1, Episode 38), and again on December 3, 1955 on the television show Science Fiction Theatre under the title "Beyond Return", starring Zachary Scott and Joan Vohs, with the story credited to John Jessel. A film version was released in 1957 as She Devil, starring Mari Blanchard, Jack Kelly, and Albert Dekker.

In the 1971 Astounding/Analog All-Time Poll, the story tied for 16th in the Pre-1940 Short Fiction classification.

The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum

The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum is a collection of science fiction stories by Stanley G. Weinbaum, published in 1974 as an original paperback by Ballantine Books. The volume included an introduction by Isaac Asimov and an afterword by Robert Bloch. Ballantine reissued the collection twice in the later 1970s; Garland Publishing published a library hardcover edition in 1983, and Sphere Books released a UK market edition in 1977, under the title A Martian Odyssey and Other Stories. The original edition placed third in the 1975 Locus Poll for best genre collection.

The Lotus Eaters (Weinbaum)

"The Lotus Eaters" is a science fiction short story by Stanley G. Weinbaum originally published in the April 1935 issue of Astounding Stories. "The Lotus Eaters" was Weinbaum's fifth published story, and is a sequel to "Parasite Planet".

The Mad Moon

"The Mad Moon" is a science fiction short story by Stanley G. Weinbaum, first published in the December 1935 issue of Astounding Stories. As did his earlier stories "A Martian Odyssey" and "Parasite Planet", "The Mad Moon" emphasizes Weinbaum's alien ecologies. "The Mad Moon" was the only Weinbaum story set on Io.

The Planet of Doubt

"The Planet of Doubt" is a science fiction short story by Stanley G. Weinbaum that was first published in the October 1935 issue of Astounding Stories. It is Weinbaum's third story featuring Hamilton Hammond and Patricia Burlingame, a sequel to "Parasite Planet" and "The Lotus Eaters".

The Red Peri

"The Red Peri" is a science fiction novella by Stanley G. Weinbaum that first appeared in the November 1935 issue of Astounding Stories. Sam Moskowitz has noted that Weinbaum planned to write a series of sequels to "The Red Peri" but died before he could do so. "The Red Peri" is the only Weinbaum story set on Pluto. The novel also inspired Arthur C. Clarke, who stated that David Bowman's helmetless spacewalk in 2001: A Space Odyssey was inspired by Frank Keene's escape from the pirate base in "The Red Peri".

The Red Peri (collection)

The Red Peri is a collection of science fiction short stories by author Stanley G. Weinbaum. It was first published in 1952 by Fantasy Press in an edition of 1,732 copies. The stories originally appeared in the magazines Amazing Stories, Astounding and Thrilling Wonder Stories.

Tweel (A Martian Odyssey)

Tweel (also referred to as a "Tweerl", the exact pronunciation of the word is said to be impossible for humans) is a fictional extraterrestrial from the planet Mars, featured in two short stories by Stanley G. Weinbaum. The alien was featured in A Martian Odyssey, first published in 1934, and Valley of Dreams four months later. Weinbaum died of lung cancer soon after, and a third installment in the series never saw fruition. Tweel remains one of the most recognised aliens in early science fiction, and is said to be an inspiration for aliens in the works of Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke.

Asimov described Tweel as being the first creation in science fiction to fulfill John W. Campbell's request for "(...)a creature that thinks as well as a man, or better than a man, but not like a man."

Tweel (disambiguation)

Tweel is an airless tire design concept developed by the French tire company Michelin.

Tweel may also refer to:

Tweel (A Martian Odyssey), a creature in Stanley G. Weinbaum's short story

Jeff Tweel, songwriter: see Category:Songs written by Jeff Tweel

Valley of Dreams

"Valley of Dreams" is a science fiction short story by Stanley G. Weinbaum originally published in the November 1934 issue of Wonder Stories. "Valley of Dreams" was Weinbaum's second published story, and is a sequel to his first story, "A Martian Odyssey".

Wonder Stories

Wonder Stories is an early American science fiction magazine which was published under several titles from 1929 to 1955. It was founded by Hugo Gernsback in 1929 after he had lost control of his first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, when his media company Experimenter Publishing went bankrupt. Within a few months of the bankruptcy, Gernsback launched three new magazines: Air Wonder Stories, Science Wonder Stories, and Science Wonder Quarterly.

Air Wonder Stories and Science Wonder Stories were merged in 1930 as Wonder Stories, and the quarterly was renamed Wonder Stories Quarterly. The magazines were not financially successful, and in 1936 Gernsback sold Wonder Stories to Ned Pines at Beacon Publications, where, retitled Thrilling Wonder Stories, it continued for nearly 20 years. The last issue was dated Winter 1955, and the title was then merged with Startling Stories, another of Pines' science fiction magazines. Startling itself lasted only to the end of 1955 before finally succumbing to the decline of the pulp magazine industry.

The editors under Gernsback's ownership were David Lasser, who worked hard to improve the quality of the fiction, and, from mid-1933, Charles Hornig. Both Lasser and Hornig published some well-received fiction, such as Stanley Weinbaum's "A Martian Odyssey", but Hornig's efforts in particular were overshadowed by the success of Astounding Stories, which had become the leading magazine in the new field of science fiction. Under its new title, Thrilling Wonder Stories was initially unable to improve its quality. For a period in the early 1940s it was aimed at younger readers, with a juvenile editorial tone and covers that depicted beautiful women in implausibly revealing spacesuits. Later editors began to improve the fiction, and by the end of the 1940s, in the opinion of science fiction historian Mike Ashley, the magazine briefly rivaled Astounding.

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.