Thursday, March 6, 2008

Steinbeck in Alfred Coppel's "Mars Is Ours" (1954)

Here’s a foreboding passage from "Mars Is Ours," a short story by Alfred Coppel (1954) which cleverly uses John Steinbeck’s novel The Moon Is Down (1943) as a powerful device in a dark plot about an American-Russian military confrontation on the Red Planet. Originally conceived as a play, Steinbeck's novel was later adapted into a play.

He thought of the play he had been reading last night. One of the proscribed authors, but it didn’t seem to matter much up here. Graylist, Blacklist. The Loyalty Boards. They all seemed far-off and unreal across the gulf of night. But the play had troubled him. Steinbeck, or some such name. And the title so apt as the line of Weasels crawled their way across the Martian plain through the star-shot darkness. The Moon is Down. About invaders in a war that was forgotten now in a place he’d never heard of. Yet there was a frightening phrase in the play. One that brought on the nightmare again in spite of the luminol. Perhaps it had been wise to keep such a book out of the hands of civilians.

He shook his head wearily. It showed the way discipline was breaking down in the Task Group when an officer could lend a Graylist book to his commander without a twinge of conscience or fear. But my God, he wondered, what else can be expected after ten months on this desert looking for a Cominform Base that might not even exist. He told himself that he must remember to thank Hallerock for lending him the book.
Pictured above: The October 1954 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, in which Coppel’s "Mars Is Ours" first appeared. More recently, the story was published in Fourth Planet from the Sun: Tales of Mars from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, an anthology edited by Gordon Van Gelder (2005).

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