Transwarp Tuesday! The Martian Way by Isaac Asimov

Water, water, everywhere…


robot dreamsOne of the ‘Big Three’ of sci-fi writers of the mid-to-late twentieth century (with Robert A Heinlein and Arthur C Clarke), Isaac Asimov was not just incredibly prolific but also hugely influential – on actual science as well as on later sci-fi authors. He also happens to be my favourite sci-fi author of all time and the one I’ve read most extensively, though mostly long, long ago. Most of his stuff is ‘hard sci-fi’ – roughly speaking, possible human futures based on realistic science – and he’s arguably best known for his robot stories. Pretty much all the later robots and androids of our acquaintance are direct descendants of Asimov’s characters and he was, as far as I know, the first to really speculate in any depth about where the dividing line is between ‘machine’ and ‘life’. Anyone who watched Commander Data of Star Trek fame struggle to become ‘human’ was in fact watching an Asimov-inspired creation – a credit the Star Trek team were glad to give. The ‘positronic’ brain and the ‘Three Laws of Robotics’ have not just become a sci-fi standard, but also something that real robotocists (another Asimov term) still use as a goal – as is evident from Michio Kaku’s recent book on The Future of the Mind.

commander data

So when I downloaded this collection of Asimov’s short stories, Robot Dreams, I intended to review a robot story…but I may have previously mentioned my Mars obsession, so instead went straight to the following story for this week’s…


* * * * * * *

The Martian Way by Isaac Asimov


As this longish short story begins, the colony on Mars has been in existence for around three generations and the people born there have begun to think of themselves as Martians rather than colonists. However they’re still dependent on Earth for some of their food and, more importantly, for the water that they need not just to live, but to provide their rockets with the power that they need to get their ships into space. As each water-holding shell is used it is jettisoned into space, and the first people we meet are Martian ‘scavengers’, who search for these shells and recover them for their scrap value.

The original pubblication in Galaxy magazine in 1952
The original publication in Galaxy magazine in 1952

But back on earth a politician is whipping up a storm about the amount of water that is being taken from Earth and ‘wasted’ in space or in the colonies. And when Hilder gets into a position of power, he aims to stop providing supplies to Mars, effectively ending the ability of the colonists to stay there. The option is open for them to return to Earth to live – but they feel they are Martian now. So one of the scavengers, Ted Long, comes up with a daring and dangerous plan to find a water source elsewhere in the solar system…

This is hard sci-fi at its finest. Asimov takes what is known at the time of writing and builds realistically on it to speculate what might be possible in the future. Obviously the science is sometimes out-dated now with new discoveries making Asimov’s speculations look wrong – but when you know as little about real science as I do that really doesn’t matter. I once asked a couple of sciency-type people if Asimov’s science is robust and, while they were a bit sniffy about the way he sometimes makes incredibly complex things sound reasonably straightforward, I felt that said more about sciency-type people than it did about Asimov! 😉











But it’s not all science, and that’s why he’s so readable. His stories are exciting, with a great mix of suspense and humour, his writing style is approachable even when he’s explaining the connection between quantity of water required and mass plus velocity(!), he sets out to entertain and never patronises the reader, and his characterisation is great. In this one, as is often the case in his stories, the scavengers aren’t scientists – just practical working guys using their skills and experience to solve problems. And, of course, things don’t go smoothly, so they have to be able to think fast and act faster…

An excellent story that is a great introduction to Asimov’s style, you can also read this story online  together with the original illustrations, including the ones I’ve posted here. And now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go read some robot stories…

Little Green Men: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

39 thoughts on “Transwarp Tuesday! The Martian Way by Isaac Asimov

  1. FictionFan – I’ve always thought Asimov to be such a great writer because he could bridge that gap between science and fiction. His writing style works (to me anyway) because it flows and is, as you say, readable. Yet at the same time he discusses science in, of course, such an informed way. And he was in his way quite a philosopher too. So glad you choose one of his stories for this feature.


    • I can’t imagine any series on sci-fi without Asimov in it really! Having been totally uninterested in science at school, mainly because they never really explained what it was for, Asimov gave me the initial push to read some of the popular science books which have got progressively more accessible over the decades. And R Daneel Olivaw is one of the main reasons for my undying love for Commander Data… 😉


  2. Five little men! You know, I think I have some of his stories somewhere in the house. That’s the professor: I buy books and usually never get to them. Stellar review! (You’ve been reviewing interesting books!) I do wonder if Mr. Long was able to get the water or not. Maybe he found Kamino?

    How’s The Child coming? Sorry about bothering you about about about it.


    • You should dig them out and read them! Genuinely, I think they may be the kind of thing you enjoy. Had to google Kamino – I fear I may have to watch Star Wars someday if I’m to keep up! You can find out whether they get the water or not by clicking on the link – you can always skip to the last page!

      So far The Child is really great! It’s a new thing they’re trying – it’s half narration and half-dramatization, and the cast is truly stellar – all Brits you probably wouldn’t know, but big stars over here. And of course Gollum is in it – he’s the creepy baddie I think (I don’t have a cast-list unfortunately). The sound quality, music and effects are fab – I started listening on the Kindle Fire but moved to better speakers after a bit to get the full effect. And so far the story is really good – about halfway through now so hoping it stays at this level…


      • I’ll have to see where they are. I’m a robot, you know. Oh, that’s why you offered Star Wars! Leia isn’t in the Star Wars movie that Kamino is featured in… Only watch Star Wars if you like lightsaber fights! They are cool, you know. I’ll take a look, then!

        You like it better than…say, watching the same thing on TV, huh?


        • Are you? Does that mean you have an off-switch? I’m rather partial to robots, as you and Schwarzy-Data well know. I did watch the first one (ie the fourth one – or was the fourth one the first one? Call it the original one…) and it was…OK. But I don’t really think you’d like Henry V – though it’s got the best battle stuff in all of Shakespeare.

          Hmm…no, different experience. I wouldn’t really compare them. Sometimes (often) I prefer audio though – lets me make up the pictures in my own head. But I keep thinking this one would be particularly brilliant for blind people who’re usually stuck either with a straight narration or a play. This gives the best of both…


          • I can’t find my off switch. Schwarz had one, though! That’s the worst of them all! You should watch…well, you shouldn’t watch any, unless you want to. My favorite is Attack of the Clones. You mean you were trying to set me up? *growls*

            Sounds really good. Probably something I should listen to.

            Okay, so a mound of water! I still don’t believe that’d be enough for all of Mars–and Earth. Why look here, what if there are green bacteria in the water?


            • Perhaps you work by remote control. Schwarzy has everything! *sighs* But don’t you have to watch them in order to know what’s going on? Well – only a bit – you might like it. Branagh’s great in it and there’s some fabulous speeches…”Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war!” and stuff like that! (c&a and f…and cuddly!)

              Ah, but they can go back to Saturn any time and get more – as much as any world could possibly need. They could boil it!!! (Honestly, would Mark have been put off by all these little difficulties??)


            • *gulp* I wonder who has my control then! No, I don’t think so. They never make any sense. Just watch for the sword fights. I’m Dooku. That’s a good speech. I should say it. (*starts humming something obscene*)

              *laughs* Nah! Mark my man would have done everything by hiself. He was so cool…


            • It’s odd you should ask that – when my welcome pack came through from the PFC it had a remote in it…I wondered what it was for… Oooh! Just googled Dooku – he looks awfully sinister! (bet it sounds cute)

              He is – very Professorial really…


            • What sort of emergencies? See? There are no examples! So get rid of it. Yes, the handle is crooked! Something can’t sound fluffy!

              Rotten ones, I hope. Otherwise, they should be turned into tater tots.


            • *laughing* You sound just a touch worried. Don’t you trust me…? *finger hovers over red button*

              It’s a shame he didn’t take a fryer to Mars really – and some Bars, of course.


  3. Lovely post FF But I’m sorry, whenever you talk about your obsession with Mars, I link it with one of your other obsessions. When you say you have to go and read robot stories, is a wrapped (but not for long) chocolate bar in hand?


  4. You’re preaching to the converted here, and this happens to be one of my favourite stories, after “Nightfall” – how about a review of it sometime. Or “The Gods Themselves” – in fact, why not a review of anything by Asimov?


    • I can’t remember Nightfall off the top of my head though I’m fairly sure I’ll have read it. But The Gods Themselves isn’t just one of my favourite sci-fi books, but one of my favourite books of all time. If I ever get time to re-read it, then a review may be done…


  5. Well once again I’ve learnt something new from this series of posts; I didn’t know that Data came from Asimov and he is one of the few characters I know from Star Trek (I always felt sorry for him) As always an interesting post and I love the comment about sciency people.


  6. I’m thinking this is really a story about the coastal cities vs the farms in the Central Valley of California and the fight between the two over who gets the water. Now if we could just find water elsewhere…perhaps Mars….

    As a former engineer (yes, I’ve had more than one life), I feel the need to say that mass is multiplied by velocity, not summed. 😀


    • Yes, I felt there was a definite earth environment aspect to it, but also a feel of America growing out of being a colony and immigrants becoming natives after a generation or two. His stories are good entertainment but they’re often rooted in history – or humanity.

      HahaHA! I’m certain the error will have been mine and not Asimov’s! I just gloss over the difficult bits! Does this mean – *gulps* – you’re a sciency-type people???


  7. It’s strange but like the crime genre I like sci-fi films but not reading sci-fi books. I did when I was younger but for no obvious they stopped being a genre I read. However, regarding the crime novel I have bought Denise Mina’s new novel ‘The Red Road’ but I have to admit that this was more about the fact that I will be attending her talk at the Edinburgh Book Festival. So, you convinced me to give crime novels a go, what Asimov book should I read that you think will have me wanting to read the rest of his oeuvre?


    • I’m beginning to suspect sci-fi gave up on us rather than the other way round. Since I started this little series I’ve really noticed that from about the early ’80s, fantasy begins to more or less swamp what I think of as sci-fi and later morphs even more into ‘magic’ It’s hard now to tell where the ‘science’ part comes into it in most cases.

      Hope you enjoy Mina – I’m ashamed to say I haven’t read her stuff. So it might be a case of you persuading me!

      Starter Asimov – hmm! His Foundation books are considered great, but I think they’re probably for dedicated sci-fi/Asimov fans only. Any of the short story collections will be good – personally I think his shorts are often better than his novels. The Gods Themselves is a great standalone or Caves of Steel is the first appearance of his most famous robot, R Daneel Olivaw. Either of those would be good to get a feel for his style I think.


      • You are probably right regarding sci-fi post 1980s. I have downloaded Caves of Steel onto my Kindle Fire. If I don’t like it and have wasted money, “I don’t know who you are. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”


  8. Bus calling – I still seem to be anonymous. Someday I’ll get the hang of this internet thingy. Or perhaps not. 🙂


  9. Ah, yes, Mr. Asimov. I read quite a few of his stories. And he was prolific. In a book on writing, he said that the way to write is to sit in a room alone with no distractions and the blinds drawn and start writing. I do love the Foundation trilogy. He was also a good student of human nature.


    • Yes, I read all the Foundation stuff way back in the distant past – along with loads of his other stuff. But he was so prolific there’s probably nearly as much that I haven’t read…


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