Chris's Reviews > Outpost Mars

Outpost Mars by C.M. Kornbluth
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Nov 23, 08

Recommended for: fans of cheesy old-school sci-fi
Read in September, 2008, read count: 1

I can’t say that it’s often that I pay double the cover price for a book, but seeing as this gem initially sold for a quarter back in 1952, I wasn’t about to put the bespectacled and seemingly-sweet old lady at the thrift-store counter in a headlock and quibble over a fifty cent purchase. Besides, she’ll be the one that has to sleep with the fleecing of society on her conscience, she’ll ultimately be the one answering to a higher power for her actions; I’ll be busy checking out what Ted Sturgeon was hailing as “Definitive science-fiction” back when my father was still looking forward to puberty.

Truth be told, I’m pleased as hell to have found this on the shelf, along with the many other books I routinely buy at this place, which claims to use their proceeds to support battered women, while in reality probably just fronts as a legitimate business to cover up back-door cocaine trafficking. I couldn’t care either way, unless there was any way I could get them to throw in a few grams of Columbia’s Finest with each paperback purchased, maybe I could threaten to start snooping into the receiving practices of their inbound ‘donations’ department. Seems like a waste of time and losing proposition in the long run, as I’d actually have to start dropping real coin on books if they got pinched by the narcs.

Anyway, it seems like half the time I go there they have a plethora of new books, and based on the authors and genres of these recent additions, they usually appear to have come from a single collection. I can’t imagine who suddenly parts with 50-100 books, so this always encourages the uncomfortable thought that someone has either passed away or been recently rendered illiterate after being struck by lightning while getting kicked in the forehead by a dromedary. This worries me; when the collection is predominantly older books, I presume it’s usually a case of the former, and I always secretly hope they didn’t die from their head exploding due to the awesomeness of one of the particular books I intend to purchase. Maybe the book carries a curse like the video in the movie “The Ring”; I certainly don’t need any of that. When all is said and done, I bravely decide to buy them anyway, unless they are soaked in blood or stink of a hex, of course. As for those who God showed his inexplicable love for via a lightning strike, I assume that’s how the odds and ends of Tom Clancy, Dan Brown, Michael Crichton, and John Grisham books always manage to trickle in.

Again, when the books are older, and by old I mean published prior to 1960, I can’t help but think some old-school badass recently passed away, and always wonder what the guy was like. Judging by his books, the guy kicked ass, and I am saddened that when the days of apocalypse come this dude won’t be there to handle shit. And it always seems like these collections are sci-fi oriented; what the hell gives with that? Either science fiction fans are kicking off quicker than the rest of us, or I pay so little attention to new collections of Western, Romance, and Legal Drama that they don’t even register. Besides, when the end of days draws nigh what use are the readers of that puke going to be; will their understanding of fictional courtroom proceedings help rebuild society, is it possible we’re going to be so bad off that we’ll accept someone’s ‘circle the wagons’ strategy while defending against the hordes of Apaches that will undoubtedly emerge from the aftermath? I suppose the veteran cougars of multiple scandalous marriages who have learned a thing or two about the merits of a quick tug job might help us repopulate, but it’s the old school sci-fi geeks that I want around, dudes who have already played this calamity out in their minds a thousand times and already know what their first ten goals are when society utters its piteous death rattle.

These sci-fi classics usually rule supreme, the authors seem to be very forward thinking, and tend to have a good idea where the world was headed; right into the fucking dumpster. Granted, most of them play off the same sensationalism lingering around today, threats of overpopulation, irreconcilable pollution, the stupidity of global conflict post-Hiroshima, and catastrophe from outer space resulting in an alien future. What impresses me is that these guys saw what was happening over 50 years ago and offered solutions as to how to become the masters of our destiny; when in reality, we went and put a footprint on the fucking moon, realized how puny and insignificant we really are in the grand scheme of things and opted to dull the pain with iPods and Pokemons instead of taking those next great strides.

With “Outpost Mars”, reputed opium-addict Cyril Judd foresees one of these bleak futures just around the corner, and weaves a tale of interplanetary treachery within those confines. Escaping the lunacy and growing barbarism of Earth, where resources are dwindling and tension amongst the increasingly crowded billions is reaching its breaking point, settlers are venturing to Mars in order to start anew. Some have come for profit, established by the Earth-bound conglomerates to harvest resources abundant on the red planet, others have come for adventure or to simply get the hell away, these early settlers are badasses with ‘Mars-worthy’ lungs, able to exist on Mars without any ill-effect, and finally there are the good-spirited folk of Sun Lake Colony, who only want a chance to establish a society free of the insanity taking place back home. In order to finance their uptopia, Sun Lake relies on their makeshift lab run by idealist Dr. Tony Hellman to produce radioactive medicines for patients back on Big Blue. The life is tough, the pay seems crappy, and the number of potential sexual partners available is ghastly, but their great dream puts enough fuel in the engine that keeps them going.

Dr. Tony is having a hell of a week. The Colony is preparing its next shipment of wares and as the man in command, his ass is constantly busy keeping them on schedule lest they miss their shipping window. He’s recently delivered the first child of one of his fellow colonists and this little bundle of joy is strangely reluctant to eat. But topping his list of troubles is a surprise visit from the corrupt local lawman, Commissioner Hamilton Bell (chased off Earth for his shady dealings), and Mars tycoon Hugo Brenner, a pioneer in the manufacture of marcaine, which may have some actual medical use, but is best known for getting people sideways wasted. The visit turns out to be an unpleasant one, Brenner claims that a hundred kilos of his astro-blow have apparently grown legs, and the resulting footsteps lead from his plant to the Sun Lake Colony. This royally sucks, as almost every way to appease Brenner entails getting totally hosed, and they finally compromise that Sun Lake will inspect their facility and deliver the purloined parcel before the next rocket arrives, or the Colony will be sealed off from inbound and outbound shipments, which will ultimately result in not only their financial ruin, but will pose some difficulty for the colonists that rely on Ox-En to assist in being able to breath in the Martian atmosphere.

The Colony begins their inspections, and they sink deeper into despair each time a promising lead turns out to be a bust. Worse yet, that damn baby still won’t fricking eat and the mother appears to be experiencing postpartum psychosis, convinced that naked dwarves are roaming the area in an attempt to steal her baby. To further complicate matters, Brenner starts attempting to lure Dr. Tony to his enterprise for a million bucks, Tony’s saucy assistant Anna seems to be hoping he’ll make an honest woman of her, and their resident old-timer Learoyd is discovered to be a marcaine fiend. As if all this wasn’t enough, Douglas Graham, a notorious earthman reporter with the gift to sway the masses with the written word is dropping in, and it’s likely that the allegations against Sun Lake will come to light during his visit, perhaps ruining their credibility back home amongst their clientele.

As it turns out, each of their troubles is only a piece of the puzzle that the Sun Lakers have to assemble; Graham conveniently decides to settle with Sun Lake and has a remarkable history with Commissioner Bell, Anna admits to having some extrasensory perception, and the stolen space-smack and the lunatic with her tales of child-thieving Martian dwarves all collide, resulting in a book that is, ultimately, not awesome, despite all the weird shit I was rapping about earlier. The only characters I found even slightly convincing were a few scrubs that barely appeared within the pages, the dialog was usually borderline ridiculous, the ‘whodunnit’ element was flimsy at best, and the sudden revelation of a character’s ESP as the key to resolving multiple issues can only be considered shameless dues ex machina. In spite of all this, having an old-ass book with pages edged in green is pretty damn sweet, so that’s got to count for something I suppose.

Recently, Chuck Klosterman described the long-awaited Guns N Roses album “Chinese Democracy” as “the sonic equivalent of a Russian robot wrestling with a reticulated python”. I’ll be honest, I don’t have the foggiest clue what the hell that can possibly mean, but for some reason, it conjured images of “Outpost Mars”.
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