Sunday, February 27, 2011

1950’s short story: "The Hitch Hikers" by Vernon McCain

Thanks to the industrious folks at Project Gutenberg, you can read online or download a free copy of "The Hitch Hikers," a short story penned by science fiction writer Vernon L. McCain (?-1958) and illustrated by Frank Kelly Freas, the "Dean of Science Fiction Artists." Originally published in the November 1954 issue of If: Worlds of Science Fiction magazine, the storyline revolves around the Rell, a great and ancient Martian race, faced with extinction when all moisture is swept from the Red Planet and their canals run dry. Here are the opening lines of the story:

THE dehydration of the planet had taken centuries in all. The Rell had still been a great race when the process started. Construction of the canals was a prodigious feat but not a truly remarkable one. But what use are even canals when there is nothing to fill them?

What cosmic influences might have caused the disaster baffled even the group-mind of the Rell. Through the eons the atmosphere had drifted into space; and with it went the life-giving moisture. Originally a liquid paradise, the planet was now a dry, hostile husk.

The large groups of Rell had been the first to suffer. But in time even the tiny villages containing mere quadrillions of the submicroscopic entities had found too little moisture left to satisfy their thirst and the journey ever southward toward the pole had commenced.

The new life was bitter and difficult and as their resources were depleted so also did their numbers diminish...

Thanks to Dave Tackett of QuasarDragon for the tip!

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