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Literature / Men, Martians and Machines

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This novel by Eric Frank Russell is a collection of short stories originally published in Pulp Magazines.
Our narrator is the sergeant at arms aboard the merchant spaceship Upskadaska City, known to seasoned spacers as the Upsydaisy, making regular voyages between Earth and Venus until holed by an errant glob of space debris that sends the Upsydaisy hurtling directly into the sun. The ship survives thanks to her captain's navigating, the skill of her rather unusual emergency pilot and the grit displayed by all hands. As a reward captain and crew are given the new interstellar explorer ship Marathon and sent to explore 'strange new worlds' all of which prove somewhat inhospitable to aliens. Our band of brothers is augmented a staff of government experts and a smart mouthed official photographer.It also includes a Martian repair crew, goggle eyed ten tentacled beings who frequently complain about thick air, human odor and want to play chess at the most inopportune times.



  • Alien Arts Are Appreciated: The Martains are crazy about chess.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: The natives of Symbiotica and Mesmerica qualify and so do the Martians.
  • Chromosome Casting: There is not a single female character in the entire book.
  • Cool Starship: According to Sarge the Marathon is very much this. Her crew is delighted with their new ship.
  • Distressed Dudes: The crew of the Marathon rather tends to get captured.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Sarge.
  • Excuse Me While I Multi Task: The Martians have the ability to think about two different things at once. Hence it's not unusual for them to play chess while doing crucial repairs on the hull of the spacecraft!
  • Explosive Decompression: The Upsydaisy suffers this when her hull is penetrated by -
    '- a gob of meteoric nickel-iron ambling along at the characteristic speed of pssst!'
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  • First Contact: The Marathon's mission. Unfortunately every species they meet prefers to shoot first.
  • First-Person Smartass: Sarge, so very very much.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: The crew of the Marathon's preferred fighting style when captured and disarmed - something that happens to them a lot.
  • Handwavium: : The Flettner drive is described by one government expert as 'Magic and nuts!'
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Kli Morg, head of the Martian repair crew, volunteers to steer the Upsydaisy at her closest approach to the sun. He is turned down in favor of the Emergency Pilot.
  • Hyperspeed Escape: The Flettner drive allows the Marathon to leave the pursuing ships of Mechanistria far behind.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: The Marathon fends off attack with a multi-barrelled pom-pom gun.
  • Ladies and Germs: When addressing his crew McNulty says 'Gentlemen and Vedras' the latter being the Martian word for 'adults' and a piece of Red Planet snark.
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  • Last-Name Basis: Jay Score is the only character whose first name is mentioned.
  • Mechanical Lifeforms: Mechanistria is populated by specialized robots networked together. Individuality fascinates them. Unfortunately They Would Cut You Up to find out more about it.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: The Marathon remains planet bound regardless of the danger until every man and vedra (Martian) is back aboard or otherwise accounted for.
    • After successfully fighting off the machines of Mechanistria the Martian repair crew promptly climb into one of the Marathon's shuttlecraft and head out to find and rescue their human shipmates.
    • When the men of the landing party on Symbiotica suddenly realize that their Martian comrade hasn't returned to the ship with them they promptly grab weapons and head back into the forest to find him.
  • No Seatbelts: Totally averted. One of Sarge's duties is to make the rounds before take-off to see that everybody is securely fastened into their harnesses.
  • Nuke 'em: Midget atomic bombs are used to get them out of a scrape on Mechanistria.
  • Ray Gun: The sergeant at arms keeps a locker full of 'needlers' presumably ray guns with a very thin beam.
  • Ridiculously Human Robot: Emergency pilot Jay Score when you think about it there's no reason he has to be so completely humaniform.
  • Ship of Snark: The crew of the Marathon seems to be made up solely of snarkers.
  • Society Marches On: With the exception of their 'Negro' ship's physician and the Martians the crew of the Marathon consists entirely of white males. However the book is Fair for Its Day in having a multi-racial crew in the first place.
  • Spaceship Slingshot Stunt: How Jay Score saves the Upsydaisy in the first story.
  • Technology Marches On: Wilson frets constantly about breaking his photographic plates. If he'd just go to digital...
  • They Would Cut You Up: The robots on Mechanistria do this to organic life as they don't understand the nature of individuality.
  • Tomato Surprise: Jay Score is actually a J-Model android, number 20.

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