Marooned off Vesta by Isaac Asimov

Amazing Stories Cover March 1939

Amazing Stories Cover March 1939

The name Isaac Asimov is somewhat synonymous with the term Science Fiction. It’s difficult to think of one without the other. But the author’s deep-rooted history is even more fascinating when you consider how he got started in the field – or almost didn’t.

Marooned off Vesta was Asimov’s first published story, appearing in the March 1939 issue of Amazing Stories. Not yet 19 years old, the young author didn’t even get cover credit! Now don’t despair. Without giving up too many spoilers, it turns out that Asimov did okay for himself. But it should also be noted that his first attempt at short stories titled “Cosmic Corkscrew” had been turned down by John W. Campbell of Astounding Science Fiction. Nine months later, Marooned off Vesta was scooped up by Amazing Stories, who saw potential in this budding new writer. So, to all of you future writers out there – don’t let those rejection letters dampen your determination.This brings us back to that amazing red book, The Best of Amazing, which I’ve discussed in this blog on occasion. It is not by accident that the fourth story selected by Joseph Ross for the anthology happened to be Asimov’s first successful sale. The sensible choice by Ross not only touts the skills of Asimov at such an early age, it also validates the talent of Raymond A. Palmer, then editor of Amazing Stories, in his willingness to believe in the writer.

Image of asteroid Vesta from the spacecraft Dawn on July 19, 2011

Image of asteroid Vesta from the spacecraft Dawn on July 19, 2011

The story Marooned off Vesta is about the three remaining men stranded aboard what is left of the spaceship Silver Queen with a week’s supply of food and a year’s supply of water, but only three days of oxygen. A captain’s decision to save time by plunging though the field of asteroids rather than skirt around the belt is to blame. Now trapped in an orbit around the asteroid Vesta (note: it is the brightest asteroid in the solar system and totals almost 10% of the mass of the asteroid belt), the men contemplate their doom.

With only three characters to focus on, Asimov creates a clear separation in personalities with a conscious balance of emotions. Mark Brandon is a young pessimist who does not shy away from pointing out all that is wrong at every turn. Michael Shea is the laidback member of the flight crew and provides the technical knowledge of the ship with an unnatural calmness. Warren Moore is the voice of reason and refuses to give up hope. Individually, the characters would be banal. But intertwined, the three roles interact with valuable cohesion.

Marooned off Vesta by Isaac Asimov is an examination of man’s will and determination to survive – to never give up. With just enough technical accuracy to keep the loyal science fiction fans enticed, readers will find a story of determination forged by one of the genre’s greats. The fact that this was Asimov’s first publication is just as amazing as it is intimidating. Then again, it’s also a good example of writer determination and a lesson to never give up.

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