Thursday, January 10, 2008

Leslie F. Stone's "The Human Pets of Mars" (1936)

Originally appearing in the Vol. 10, No. 12, October 1936 issue of Amazing Stories, "The Human Pets of Mars," a novelette by Leslie F. Stone, is an influential, but controversial, piece of early Martian science fiction.

The novelette has a seemingly simple story line: Martians land on a golf course at Haines Point, Washington, D.C., and capture a small group of humans, transporting them back to Mars, where they are kept as pets. After a short but abusive captivity, the humans steal a Martian spaceship and make their way back to Earth. At the story’s conclusion, one of the former captives declares: “I’m going to make a life work of freeing every animal pet in the land!”

Yet, as Isaac Asimov points out in his Before the Golden Age: A Science Fiction Anthology of the 1930’s (1974), “This story ... does not hold up on rereading as well as many of the other stories in this book did, and I am keenly embarrassed by the simple-minded portrayal of the Blacks in the tale. Yet I well remember thinking the story was absolutely great when I read it for the first time. ... It was sometime in late 1936, encouraged, I believe, by my pleasure in The Human Pets of Mars, that I could finally resist no more. I had grown tired of the endless pages of my fantasy, which was getting nowhere, and I decided to try, for the very first time, science fiction!

A detailed analysis of the racial elements of Stone’s novelette is “Race and Color Coding in Leslie F. Stone's The Human Pets of Mars: Reflections for the Repertoire of the Multicultural Classroom,” a scholarly article by Batya Weinbaum (1997).

As one of the first woman writers to have her work published in science fiction magazines, Leslie F. Stone was an important sci-fi pioneer. A short biographical sketch of her appears in Partners in Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction 1926-1965, by Eric Leif Davin (2006).

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