Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Author Samuel R. Delany on Red Planet juvies

It’s always a treat when a highly respected author reminisces about an early reading experience. Here, we have an excerpt in which award-winning SF author, professor, and literary critic Samuel R. Delany reflects on two juvenile books about the Red Planet. The excerpt is from Delany's Silent Interviews: On Language, Race, Sex, Science Fiction, and Some Comics: a Collection of Written Interviews (1994).
The first science fiction novel I read all the way through was The Red Planet Mars, by John Kier Cross [sic]. The book I’d wanted to read, however, was Robert Heinlein’s Red Planet, whose plot my elementary school friend Robert had detailed to me in intense and luminous particulars, as, in jackets and jeans, we’d wandered, shoulder to shoulder, down 89th Street half a block beyond Lexington Avenue to spend the afternoon in his penthouse apartment -- watching Berr Tilstrom’s Kukla, Fran, and Ollie on his mother’s new television set ... Robert’s was the first television set I ever saw in anyone’s house.

But it was Cross’s book that, three whole exhausting weeks later, my mother returned with from the library, where she’d recently begun working as a clerk.

I was dubious. But she explained that it was almost the same title, was probably about the same thing -- perhaps it even was the same book, and I was simply mistaken. And even I could see it was the same color (red) as the one Robert had been reading in school.

It didn’t, however, have the same illustrations. But after two or three days, I gave it a try, reading it, even enjoying it -- though I was still certain the other book, Robert’s book, must be, somehow, better.

But by now Robert had been joined by another school friend, Johnny, in thrusting this book and that at me -- more Heinlein and Clarke juveniles -- some of which I read and some of which I balked at -- while my friend and seventh grade confidante, Priscilla (who, a year later, was the first person I knew to have a color television) detailed the plot of Titus Groan to me over a two-and-a-half-hour phone call. ...
Note that I couldn't find a book titled The Red Planet Mars by John Keir Cross. Presumably, Delany is referring to Cross’s The Angry Planet (1945) or its sequel, The Red Journey Back (1954), which was published in the United Kingdom as SOS From Mars (1954).

Pictured above: Copy of jacketless The Angry Planet (1945).


Anonymous said...

So, what was *your* early science fiction/Mars experience? Mine was Robert Silverberg's "Lost Race of Mars". That one book has rippled through the rest of my life in very profound ways.

Paul said...

My experience was reading The Martian Chronicles in high school.