Marooned On Mars

Marooned on Mars

Marooned On Mars was copyrighted in 1952 by Lester del Rey and published that same year by John C. Winston Company. In 1962, Holt, Rinehart and Winston published the edition shown in these pictures. The cover art was created by Paul Orban. Lester del Rey was a well known science fiction writer of the mid 20th century and a frequent contributor to the science fiction pulp magazines of the era, most notably Astounding Science Fiction. Later in his career he was also the editor of del Rey Books. As well as this book, he was the author of several of what came to be known as the Winston Juveniles, books written specifically for young people.

Chuck Svenson was a citizen of the moon, proud of it and because of his unique qualifications, was selected as one of six to go on the first mission to Mars. Cut from the mission at the last minute when it was discovered that he was a few days under the minimum age of 18, Chuck, who felt he was treated unfairly, stowed away on the ship and traveled to Mars anyway. Since he was already well prepared for the trip, Chuck turned out to be an asset to the crew.

During the transit to Mars, the ship’s controls were wrecked by a meteor impact with the result that their landing on Mars was actually a crash. The ship was seriously damaged, but not mortally so and the intrepid astronauts immediately began repairs, repairs that because of the positioning of the planets in their orbits, needed to be made within seventy days. Chuck worked hard and was an integral part of the repair effort. It was while performing his share of the tasks that he made a troubling discovery: certain items of ships stores and equipment had gone missing. How Chuck eventually solved the mystery of the disappearing items is the subject of the second half of the book and I will leave that solution for the reader to discover as well.

Written as it was, before Mariner and the subsequent exploratory missions to Mars, the Mars planetary science is dated. The canals, which del Rey postulates as vine like growths emanating from the polar caps and webbing the planet, we now know to be nonexistent: merely optical illusions. The atmosphere, though thin in del Rey’s story is thick enough to support plant life. We now know it to be whisper thin and probably incapable of supporting any life at all.

These facts notwithstanding, the story is solid and moves right along. Chuck is a likeable and believable character and being born off the earth, has a unique perspective. That perspective allows him to see things that his Earth-born shipmates overlook when addressing the mystery of the missing property. Since this book was written when the primary audience for juvenile science fiction was thought to be male, all of the important characters are male as well. But I think you can ignore the limitations I mentioned, sit back and enjoy a good story, written by one of the founding fathers of modern science fiction.

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