A Martian Odyssey

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We are v-r-r-r-iends! Ouch!
The barrel creatures, mindlessly parroting the main character

A Martian Odyssey is a science fiction short story by writer Stanley G. Weinbaum that was published in the July 1934 issue of Wonder Stories magazine. It is famous as one of the first "planetary romances" as well as having one of the first extraterrestrial characters who was more than just "humans with a few differences". Not to mention being friendly rather than a fearsome monster.

The story is set in the early 21st century and features an American scientist, Dick Jarvis, who is part of the first international expedition to the planet Mars. Jarvis sets out to explore the planet on his own when his flying vehicle malfunctions, leaving him stranded miles away from the landing site. He decides to walk back to the camp.

Along the way, Jarvis encounters a plant-like monster about to devour a creature resembling an ibis. Noticing that the creature is carrying a pouch, he concludes that it's a sentient being and saves it from the monster. The creature, named Tweel, is obviously grateful, though they cannot speak directly since their languages are too different. However they manage to communicate by a combination of body language and basic mathematical concepts. Tweel decides to accompany Davis as he makes it to safety.

Along the way they encounter an amazing selection of lifeforms, most notably a race of barrel-shaped creatures, whose bizarre behavior even Tweel cannot figure out. Davis finds out that the creatures own a crystal with healing properties and tries to take it, but is attacked by them; he escapes with Tweel's help and is rescued by the rest of the expedition. Once Davis is reunited with them, Tweel departs without meeting the others.

The story was followed by a sequel, "Valley of Dreams" (November 1934) where Jarvis is reunited with Tweel and discovers that the Martian's race had visited Earth in ancient times (the Egyptian god Thoth was apparently based on them). Weinbaum later wrote similar stories set in other planets.

Tropes used in A Martian Odyssey include:
  • Aliens Speaking English: Averted and played with -- Jarvis appears to think every alien he meets might speak English, so he sees no reason not to try greeting them in that language.
  • America Saves the Day: Of the international crew, it's the American scientist who has the adventure. The others are also described somewhat comically. (Though they do end up saving his life at the end.)
  • Anagnorisis: The reveal at the end that Jarvis's theft of the glowing stone is what caused the barrel-creatures to attack him and Tweel, and that he's had it in his pocket all along.
  • Cure for Cancer: One of the scientists laments the loss of the glowing stone, speculating that it might be this.
  • First Contact Math: Tweel manages to use basic math to explain to Jarvis which Martian creatures are sentient and which ones aren't -- and which are dangerously telepathic.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: One of the scientists is named "Putz".
  • Healing Magic: The barrel-creatures' stone radiates a healing effect.
  • Hive Mind: The barrel-creatures seem to be this.
  • Idiot Hero: Despite being a scientist, Jarvis makes some very foolish decisions, like wandering too far or thinking he could just take the barrel-creatures' treasure. The author even gives him a cowboy accent, as if suggesting this trope intentionally.
  • Interactive Narrator: The whole story is told by Jarvis to his fellow spacemen after the fact.
  • Kleptomaniac Hero: Jarvis's decision to just up and take the barrel-creatures' glowing rock certainly drops him firmly into this territory.
  • Science Marches On: Obviously the story was written long before we discovered the true nature of Mars.
  • Silicon-Based Life: One of the life forms encountered was a creature that ate sand and excreted bricks that it used to build pyramids(!).
  • Starfish Aliens: A lot of the fun comes from Jarvis encountering one species of these after another, each more bizarre than the last.
  • Your Heart's Desire: The plant monster captures prey by putting them in a trance where they see the thing they want most; Jarvis is affected by a second monster but Tweel saves him.