Wednesday, March 30, 2011

1920's short story: "The Retreat to Mars" by Cecil B. White

Thanks to Doc Mars of the amazing French-language website Mars & la Science Fiction, you can download and read “The Retreat to Mars” (pdf), a short story written by Cecil B. White and illustrated by pioneering pulp sci-fi artist Frank R. Paul, as it was originally published in the August 1927 issue of Amazing Stories magazine. Set largely on Earth, the storyline revolves around an archaeologist who discovers documents and artifacts from an advanced but deceased Martian civilization buried in the dark of Africa. Here are the opening lines:

THE sun had dipped below the western hills, leaving a gorgeous mass of color in its wake. I stood there as the twilight arch swept up from the east, watching the shadows creep over land and sea while the faint clouds overhead turned blood-red under the last glancing rays of the sun.

Many times had I watched the setting of the sun and the evening shadows, while the mosquito-hawks hovered overhead with their plaintive cries, or plunged whirring downward upon their prey. Never twice the same that picture held me, until the city lights sprang into being in the distance and the flashing lights of the sentinels of the coast pierced through the gloaming.

As I turned away to begin my night’s work the crunch of footsteps on the gravel path broke the stillness of the evening.  An elderly, bearded man approached.  He had come up the trail and I had not noticed him until he was nearly upon me....

According to the reference book Science-Fiction: The Gernsback Years: A Complete Coverage of the Genre Magazines Amazing, Astounding, Wonder, and Others from 1926 Through 1936 (1998), by Everett Franklin Bleiler and Richard Bleiler, the name “Cecil B. White” was a pseudonym used by William Henry Christie (1896-1955), a noteworthy astronomer and physicist.

Merci beaucoup, Doc Mars!

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