Friday, October 1, 2010

Retro review: 1949 novel The Kid from Mars by Oscar J. Friend

The Kid from Mars, by Oscar J. Friend. Fell, New York. $2.50.

Reviewed by Arthur F. Hillman

"Er -- excuse me. I'm a Martian --"
"I've just come from Mars. Could you direct me -- ?"
"-- To the nearest psychopathic ward? Certainly, brother. If you'll just follow me . . . "

It's an odds-on chance that any man who announced himself as a visitor from the Red Planet would meet with incredulity. Any man, I repeat; for everybody knows that only a green-eyed monster with writhing tentacles and a ray-gun could possibly emerge from a space-vessel. So when Llamkin, messenger from Mars, settles his craft down in the midst of a crowd of Long Island polo players, he finds his lack of tentacles, or mandibles, or any other of the accoutrements of non-terrestrial creatures, a definite handicap.

The visitor is not assisted by his explanation that his Martian mentors reared him from birth in a special laboratory that simulated Earth conditions. For the ancient Martian race desperately needs aid from Earth. Having lost their sense of humour over generations, they find that without its saving grace their people are dying, and Llamkin has been sent to summon a conclave of Earth's scientists to see if they can solve the problem.

The moment the ambassador from Mars sets foot on Earth, he is caught up in a train of riotous events. His too-human appearance convinces all concerned that his mission is a down-to-earth commercial stunt; his spaceship is considered merely , an improved stratosphere craft. With an eye to sensational publicity, however, the president of Rainbow Pellets and the head of Tri-Dimensional Pictures vie for his services. His vessel draws the attention, not only of the U.S. authorities, but of a sinister subversive group. It requires only Llamkin's production of a bag of uncut, laboratory-made diamonds to set the pot a'boiling; and the result is one of the most amusing science fiction stories of the lighter kind ever made available for general reading.

To those who followed the fortunes of Thrilling Wonder and Startling Stories during '38-42, when, as Science Fiction Editor for Standard Magazines, his own work was frequently to be found in them, Mr. Friend's admirable flair for satirical humour of this sort will not come as a surprise. Nor, to those who may have read the magazine version in September '40 Startling, will this particular story, presented now as his first full-length novel. Although it is hardly an "important" book -- a tag which the publishers have applied in advance to the volumes they are adding to their new Science Fiction Library -- it merits, none the less, a better description: an enjoyable book.

The author's characterisations are all extremely good; from the blasé columnist Louis Shayne, to whose care the visitor is first committed, to the haughty film star Elaine Elliott, whose beauty causes even the very human alien to succumb. But it is in the person of Llamkin, the Kid from Mars himself, that Mr. Friend has scored his greatest triumph. With his quiet air of authority coupled with his sublime innocence, this latest in a long line of supermen and "Odd Johns" strikes one at first as the weakest of his species; but his failings and amusing slips soon made him. for me, a more credible and likeable character than most of his superior breed I have encountered. In fact, a nice kid.

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