For a scenic browse, and an answer-page for Guess The World...
...I went down on my knees. Terror, when it reaches a certain stage, paralyses all the impulses, so that the mind operates seemingly in a vacuum, conscious of nothing but its own existence. Blinded, bowed, I knelt there.
The light flicked on, flicked off. As I had seen it do already, it ran up and down the visual scale. But the creature had stopped. It was not approaching me.
I think it must have been for a minute that I knelt like that. I was conscious only of the changing colours of the light and its intermissions. Somehow - how can I convey this? - I gained from those steady changes, unhurried and unstartling as they were, a sense of peace.
A thought broke through the mask that seemed to have settled on my brain. I put my torch before me and pressed the switch. I pressed it and flicked it off again. It was my final throw of madness, to attempt to communicate...
...I received a signal that seemed to me to be a meaningless jumble. I tried to imitate it, and must have succeeded, for I got another one, more difficult. I failed at that, and we both paused, waiting... What 'she' knew, I can't imagine... she had discovered some strange and puny, dim-witted creature in her domain.
backed away and went carefully round me and away into the night... an
intelligence of some kind, and radiating a body heat which told of a
metabolism and power beyond my dreams...
Rex Gordon, No Man Friday (1956)
...He seemed to be seeing a grove... from a viewpoint about a foot off the ground. The viewpoint shifted steadily and erratically as if the camera were being trucked on a very low dolly here and there through the stalks... The viewpoint would shift quickly for a few feet, stop, then change direction and move again, but it never got very far off the ground. Sometimes it would wheel in a full circle, a panorama of three hundred and sixty degrees.
It was during one of these full rotations that he caught sight of a water-seeker.
It would not have been strange if he had not recognized it as such, for it was enormously magnified. As it charged in, it filled the entire screen. But it was impossible not to recognize those curving scimitar claws, the grisly horror of the gaping sucker orifice, those pounding legs - and most particularly the stomach-clutching revulsion the thing inspired....
The viewpoint from which he saw it did not change; it was frozen to one spot while the foul horror rushed directly at him in the final death charge. At the last possible instant, when the thing filled the screen, something happened. The face - or where the face should have been - disappeared, went to pieces, and the creature collapsed in a blasted ruin.
The picture was wiped out completely for a few moments, replaced by whirling coloured turmoil...
...The avenue was wide. On either side the buildings marched, or on occasion fell back to form an odd-shaped square. Here where they were undamaged and free of ice the strangeness of their shaping was more vividly apparent... Some of the structures seemed to have no useful purpose at all. They shot up in twisted spires, or branched in weird spiky arms like giant cacti done in pink and gold, or looped in helical formations, sometimes erect, sometimes lying on their sides...
by one of the cactus-shapes, he saw that the metal spikes were long and
very sharp, and that there were traces on them of some dark stain...
....Back beyond the pink-and-gold structure with the bloodstained spikes, five figures had appeared in the street. Three of them held longish tubes with globed ends that might be weapons. They were very tall, these figures... but they were excessively slender and they moved with swaying motion like reeds before the wind. They were dressed in an assortment of bright-colored garments and queer tall caps that exaggerated their elongated narrow skulls. Their skin was a pale golden color, stretched tight over a structure of facial bones that seemed to be all brow and jaw with little in between but two great round eyes like dark moons...
One of them spoke. His voice was a kind of high-pitched fluting, quite musical, like the call of some strange bird...
"Our weapons are invincible. We can destroy you all..."
Leigh Brackett, People of the Talisman (1964)
...They had called themselves the Machine-masters because all labor in their metropolis was eventually performed by imperishable, self-powered machines that worked in fixed, unalterable routines.
But the Machine-masters, with no toil or struggle to stimulate their energies, soon fell into decadence. There was no need to worry about food. It was all raised and brought to them by machines. Their clothing was made by other machines. They had not even any enemies to fear. Around their city, mindless machine guards patrolled which would instantly slay any intruder.
the Machine-masters, sinking further into decadence, had finally passed
away. But their wondrous Machine City remained. In it, the
imperishable machines continued the unalterable routine of labor and
guarding that their masters had started. For age upon age, the machines
of this place had been working on in the same old way. Everyone in the
System had heard of the Machine City. But few had dared even to
approach it, so formidable were the great mechanical guards that still
protected the place...
Edmond Hamilton, Galaxy Mission (1940, 1967)
...Ahead of them, gold-robed warriors wearing masks like the faces of mantises and long ceremonial spears of translucent crystal stood before the huge circular gate of the fastness, graven with the solar disk. Above it was a symbol that looked like a figure eight laid on its side, surrounded by a glyph in the High Speech of ancient times: SH'U MAZ. Sustained Harmony, from time out of mind the motto of anyone who wished to claim the status of Acknowledged Ruler.
much smaller portal accommodated the real traffic. The guards beside
it carried swords and dart pistols, and one of them held a beast on a
leash. It looked a little like a dog, perhaps a starved, elongated
greyhound with teeth like a shark, a high forehead, and disturbingly
versatile paws. All four of the party stood while it approached and
sniffed them over...
...It was cold in the shadow of the ridge, and the grak's
long fur fluffed out automatically to provide extra insulation. He
looked like a big black owl as he stood scanning the western sky,
sniffing the wind with his beaklike nose. There was a tawny band low on
the horizon, brightening as the sun rose. He had smelled a storm early
in the night, for he had all the uncanny weather-wiseness of his race
and was sensitive to every subtle change in the quality of the
atmosphere. He had started for the nearest arm of the greenlands,
intending to claim the hospitality of the first village he could find,
but the storm front was moving faster than he could run. He had seen
the ridge only just in time...
P Schuyler Miller, The Cave (Astounding Science Fiction, January 1943)
...Leaving Zuarra, who was cautiously sampling the fleshy meat of the great fungus growths, Brant climbed the mossy slope of the hill to where Will Harbin stood awestruck, staring with wondering gaze into the luminosity.
And Brant stopped short, uttering a grunt of amazement.
From a gemmy shore at the foot of the other side of the hill, for as far as the eye could reach, there stretched a shining sea.
The water was milky-white, quite opaque, and was clearly the source of the mysterious luminance, for the radiant fluit was like the essence of light itself, curdled into pearly fire.
"A... sea," whispered Brant faintly. "Here at the bottom of the world...!"
"Yes. In fact, it is the Last Ocean," said Will Harbin softly...
Lin Carter, Down to a Sunless Sea (1984)
...As I walked slowly down the imperceptible slope toward the sea I could not help but note the park-like appearance of the sward and trees. The grass was as close-cropped and carpet-like as some old English lawn and the trees themselves showed evidence of careful pruning to a uniform height of about fifteen feet from the ground, so that as one turned his glance in any direction the forest had the appearance at a little distance of a vast, high-ceiled chamber...
The trees of the forest attracted my deep admiration as I proceeded... Their great stems, some of them fully a hundred feet in diameter, attested their prodigious height, which I could only guess at, since at no point could I penetrate their dense foliage above me to more than sixty or eighty feet.
As far aloft as I could see the stems and branches and twigs were as smooth and as highly polished as the newest of American-made pianos. The wood of some of the trees was as black as ebony, while their nearest neighbours might perhaps gleam in the subdued light of the forest as clear and white as the finest china, or, again, they were azure, scarlet, yellow, or deepest purple.
in the same way was the foliage as gay and variegated as the stems,
while the blooms that clustered thick upon them may not be described in
any earthly tongue, and indeed might challenge the language of the
Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Gods of Mars (1913, 1918)
...Below us was a city!
I can recall as a child the pictures in the story books I read. And always in such books there was the great castle in which the prince lived or the princess was imprisoned. Dream castles they were, all slender spires, graceful minarets, sweeping towers, things of sheer unreal beauty against the picture-book sky.
So this city was, somehow ethereal, breath-taking. A small fertilized area surrounded it, like green velvet about a fragile piece of carved ivory. Yet in spite of its beauty there was a bizarre unearthly quality to the city that no terrestrial artist could have conceived...
cautiously we circled the strange city. No signs of life greeted us.
On the alert for any hostile move we settled the ship on the red plain
just beyond the circle of green that surrounded the cluster of tall
Frederick Arnold Kummer, Jr., Signboard of Space (Startling Stories, May 1950)
...They rose from the rocky bottom to the height of giraffes, with shortish legs that were vaguely similar to those of Chinese dragons, and elongated spiral necks like the middle coils of great anacondas. Their heads were triple-faced, and they might have been the trimurti of some infernal world. It seemed that each face was eyeless, with tongue-shaped flames issuing voluminously from deep orbits beneath the slanted brows. Flames also poured in a ceaseless vomit from the gaping gargoyle mouths. From the head of each monster a triple comb of vermilion flared aloft in sharp serrations, glowing terribly; and both of them were bearded with crimson scrolls. Their necks and arching spines were fringed with sword-long blades that diminished into rows of daggers on the tapering tails; and their whole bodies, as well as this fearsome armament, appeared to burn as if they had just issued from a fiery furnace.
palpable heat emanated from these hellish chimeras, and the Earthmen
retreated hastily before the flying splotches, like the blown tatters of
a conflagration, that broke loose from their ever-jetting eye-flames
Clark Ashton Smith, Vulthoom (Weird Tales, September 1935)
...They plunged into the depths of the forest. It was not difficult going, despite the size of the vegetation. Most of the trees' vigor was concentrated in the broad, flat leaves that made a ceiling far overhead to catch the Sun's rays. It was a green, dim twilight through which they moved, resembling the vague depths of the hydrosphere.
Above the jungle, Quade knew, it was pleasantly warm, but at ground level an icy breeze chilled him. Some of the trees, he noticed, were thickly coated with a furry kind of moss, which apparently served to keep the cold from penetrating through the bark - a striking form of true symbiosis, mutual aid between parasite and host.
Bouncer hopped along quietly, subdued and a little frightened. His
huge eyes, capable of seeing into the infra-red and ultra-violet, found
the gloom no handicap, but more than once the two humans were forced to
Henry Kuttner, The Star Parade (Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1938)
...we were escorted into the interior of the palace. The furnishings were striking, but extremely fantastic in design and execution. The native wood of the forests had been used to fine advantage in the construction of numerous pieces of beautifully carved furniture, the grain of the woods showing lustrously in their various natural colours, the beauties of which were sometimes accentuated by delicate stain and by high polishes, but perhaps the most striking feature of the interior decorations was the gorgeously painted fabric that covered the walls and ceilings. It was a fabric of unbelievable lightness, which gave the impression of spun silver. So closely woven was it that, as I was to learn later, it would hold water and of such great strength that it was almost impossible to tear it.
it were painted in brilliant colours the most fantastic scenes that
imagination might conceive. There were spiders with the heads of
beautiful women, and women with the heads of spiders. There were
flowers and trees that danced beneath a great red sun, and great
lizards, such as we had passed within the gloomy cavern on our journey
>> Edgar Rice Burroughs, A Fighting Man of Mars (1930)
...Their boots were deadened of all sound in the thick green grass. It smelled from a fresh mowing. In spite of himself, Captain John Black felt a great peace come over him. It had been thirty years since he had been in a small town, and the buzzing of spring bees on the air lulled and quieted him, and the fresh look of things was a balm to the soul.
They set foot upon the porch. Hollow echoes sounded from under the boards as they walked to the screen door. Inside they could see a bead curtain hung across the hall entry, and a crystal chandelier and a Maxfield Parrish painting framed on one wall over a comfortable Morris chair. The house smelled old, and of the attic, and infinitely comfortable. You could hear the tinkle of ice in a lemonade pitcher. In a distant kitchen, because of the heat of the day, someone was preparing a cold lunch. Someone was humming under her breath, high and sweet.
Captain John Black rang the bell...
Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles (1950)
...Varnal is more real to me, even in my memories, than ever Chicago or New York can be. It lies in a gentle valley in the hills.... the Calling Hills. Green and golden, they are covered with slender trees and, when the wind passes through them, they sound like sweet, distant, calling voices as one walks past.
valley itself is wide and shallow and contains a fairly large, hot
lake. The city is built around the lake, from which rises a greenish
stream, a delicate green that sends tendrils curling around the spires
of Varnal. Most of Varnal's graceful buildings are tall and white,
though some are built of the unique blue marble which is mined close
by. Others have traceries of gold in them, making them glitter in the
sunlight. The city is walled by the same blue marble, which also has
golden traceries in it. From its towers fly pennants, gay and
multicolored, and its terraces are crowded with its handsome
inhabitants, the plainest of whom would be a sought-after beau or belle
in Wynnsville, Ohio - or, indeed, Chicago or any other great city of our
Michael Moorcock, City of the Beast (also known as Warriors of Mars) (1965)
Fraser began to walk again. He walked a lot at night. The days were ugly and depressing and he spent them inside, working. But the nights were glorious. Not even the driest desert of Earth could produce a sky like this, where the thin air hardly dimmed the luster of the stars. It was the one thing he would miss when he went home.
He walked, dressed warmly against the bitter chill. He brooded, and he watched the stars. He thought about his diminishing whisky supply and the one hundred and forty six centuries of written history gone into the dust that blew and tortured his sinuses, and after a while he saw the shadow, the dark shape that moved against the wind, silent, purposeful, swift.
Out of the northern desert someone was riding…
Leigh Brackett, Mars Minus Bisha (Planet Stories, January 1954)
..."That bag of stuff, Bill... Who puts it beside the track?"
been wondering if he would show any curiosity. "A race of small, furry
creatures," I answered. "They're very shy. They live underground, and
dig ore for us." I grinned at his puzzled expression. "We don't want
the ore, because it's usually only rock. We're interested in the
material of the bags. It's as thin as paper, completely transparent,
and yet it can withstand the weight of tons of rock. They manufacture
it from their own bodies, much the way spiders produce webs. We can't
seem to make them understand that we want only the bags..."
A E van Vogt, The First Martian (written 1939, published in The Far Out Worlds of A E van Vogt (1973))
Even before the storm set in, Ivan had no destination in sight. He picked his way carefully along an endless stretch of cracked road, climbing over the debris of broken-down speeders and fighters left over from the war. The alien metal shimmered a strange green-black even without light. Ivan raised the collar on his duster as if thin fabric would add protection that his chromium shell could not. He couldn't perceive anything beyond a few feet through the curtain of sand and wind that whipped around him, but there was a chirping signal in his quantum processors, clear and immediate over anything else. The satellites had been the first casualties of the invasion, though; there should be no signals.
on, Ivan crested a hill. The wind died down and he found himself
overlooking the twisted metal carcass that had been Damascus, the first
Peter C Aitken, Perchance To Dream in Vintage Worlds ed. John Michael Greer and Zendexor (2018)
One of the Three held in his supple, nine-fingered hand a glittering thing. A hoop of pure crystal, struck across with crystal bars from which hung tiny rings of glassy stuff. A crossbar and a handle, also of crystal, completed the curious instrument. It reminded me of the mystic crux ansata, the Looped Cross, which the ancient Egyptians called the ankh, the Cross of Life. It reminded me also of the sistrum used by the priests of the Nile in certain ceremonies...
We said nothing to each other.
We knew who the three gaunt mummies frozen in the misted amber expanse of crystal were - or who they had been aeons before.
The Timeless Ones...
Lin Carter, The Man Who Loved Mars (1973)
...In their favor, they had the low gravity and the loose, friable earth; against them was the same crumbly texture, with its tendency to collapse, and the incredible dryness. Ordinary concrete wouldn't set decently, before it had dried the ravenous dust had sucked half the water from it and you got a flimsy stuff which the erosion of temperature extremes would soon ruin. So you devised molds of plastic board which would act as a shield till the concrete was properly set. One of the furtive, tiny animals chewed the insulation off power lines, so you had to bury them in concrete too. Then you ran out of cement and had to scout round looking for some local substitute: a clay which mixed with water and baked into bricks.
But you couldn't spend water that lavishly, so you had to find it elsewhere, you had to extract it from the fluid-hoarding cells of certain trees. Quickly growing rootlets with some unknown dowsing sense would split open any pipe or container with moisture in it, so you had to eradicate all plants for miles around and lay the pipes in open tunnels where they could be inspected. And so on, and on, and on.
And slowly the base was growing...
Poul Anderson, Twilight World (1961)
"When I saw that mesh I got my revolver ready, for it seemed to me a pretty obvious protection against some powerful animal. Otherwise, I thought, why not walk about in the open instead of that narrow enclosure?
"There were about thirty of them there, dressed simply and gracefully, though their dress was a bit oriental from our point of view. Everything about them was graceful except that dingy-looking flat house. I came up to the mesh and greeted them. I knew that taking my hat off would probably have no meaning to them, but I took it off with a wide sweep and bowed. It was the best I could do, and I hoped that it might convey my feelings. And it did too. They were sympathetic and quick, and every sign that I made to them, except when too utterly clumsy, they understood at once. And when they didn't understand they seemed to laugh at themselves, not me. They were like that. Here was I utterly crude and uncouth, half savage, compared to them; and they treated me with every courtesy that they could get my poor wits to understand... Well, I stood there with my hands on the mesh, and found it was good stout metal though much less than half an inch wide: I could easily get my thumb through the round apertures, so that we could see each other quite clearly. Well, I stood there talking to them, or whatever you call it, as well as I could, and remembering all the time that there must be something pretty bad in those forests for all that thick wire to be necessary. I never guessed what.
"I pointed to the sky, in the direction in which they would have seen Earth shining at night; and they understood me..."
Lord Dunsany, Our Distant Cousins (Saturday Evening Post, 23 November 1929)
The nights were full of wind that blew down the empty moonlit sea-meadows past the little white chess cities lying for their twelve-thousandth year in the shallows. In the Earthmen's settlement, the Bittering house shook with a feeling of change.
Lying abed, Mr Bittering felt his bones shifted, shaped, melted like gold. His wife, lying beside him, was dark from many sunny afternoons. Dark she was, and golden, burnt almost black by the sun, sleeping, and the children metallic in their beds, and the wind roaring forlorn and changing through the old peach trees, the violet grass, shaking out green rose petals.
The fear would not be stopped. It had his throat and heart. It dripped in a wetness of the arm and the temple and the trembling palm.
A green star rose in the east.
A strange word emerged from Mr Bittering's lips.
"Iorrt. Iorrt." He repeated it.
It was a Martian word. He knew no Martian...
Ray Bradbury, Dark They Were and Golden-Eyed (in The Day it Rained Forever (1959));
the story first appeared as The Naming of Names in Thrilling Wonder Stories (April 1949)
"...We ate breakfast, called out our location to you, and started over to have a look at the city.
"We sailed toward it from the east and it loomed up ahead of us like a range of mountains. Lord, what a city! Not that New York mightn't have higher buildings, or Chicago cover more ground, but for sheer mass, those structures were in a class by themselves. Gargantuan!
"There was a queer look about the place, though. You know how a terrestrial city sprawls out, a nimbus of suburbs, a ring of residential sections, factory districts, parks, highways. There was none of that here; the city rose out of the desert as abruptly as a cliff. Only a few little sand mounds marked the division, and then the walls of those gigantic structures.
architecture was strange too. There were lots of devices that are
impossible back home, such as set-backs in reverse, so that a building
with a small base could spread out as it rose..."
Stanley G Weinbaum, Valley of Dreams (Wonder Stories, November 1934)
Joan's captor sped over the desert with scarcely a sound save the scraping of its metal feet on the coarse sand and an occasional clink as they struct fragments of stone. Only the faintest low-pitched hum told of the machinery at work within the casing; machinery which was acting with a flawless accuracy and judgement beyond the capacity of any animal creation. Not once did it hesitate and not once did it err in placing the six hurrying legs. The smooth, relentless perfection of its progress over the rough ground was uncanny; every climb and every descent was made without a suggestion of a slip or stumble.
After her first shock she had struggled desperately, but, held as she was, it was impossible for her to reach the pocket where her pistol lay. In her panic she battered on the casing until her hands became sore even in their thick gloves, but upon the machine it had no effect whatever. After that, she relapsed into a fatalistic acceptance of the situation. At the rate they had travelled it would take her hours to find her way back over the desert. As far as she could, she resigned herself to face whatever fate the machine intended for her.
in the journey she had caught sight of a group of machines to the west:
and they had seen her captor, too. They came scuttering awkwardly but
speedily to investigate. Her machine swerved and put on speed. It left
them behind easily...
John Beynon Harris (John Wyndham), Stowaway to Mars (1935)
...He got slowly to his feet, careful to make no sudden movements. They were alert, wary, but not afraid. They had eyes of a particularly clear sea-green, and behind these eyes was intelligence. They paid no attention to the ship, having evidently inspected it to their satisfaction while he slept. They watched Marcusson and discussed him between themselves in a musical language - a pleasant, bird-like warble that gave off most ably the nuances of mood, thought, and inflection for which anyone unfamiliar with a language always listens.
Marcusson tentatively extended a hand, thinking, with elation, that all was well. People were the same everywhere. These could be two Earthmen inspecting an interplanetary arrival on Terra. Their reactions, their natural caution, their instincts, were of the same pattern exactly.
One of them was eyeing the gun on Marcusson's hip. Quite obviously, the Martian knew what it was. Marcusson made no motion towards it. Rather, he smiled and raised his hand, palm outward.
"I am Charles Marcusson. I come from Earth. I come in peace and with a spirit of brotherhood." He didn't expect them to understand, but he had invented that speech during the long hours in void and wanted to get it off his chest.
The Martians glanced at each other with bright interest. They did not speak to Marcusson but discussed something between themselves, glancing now and again at the spires of the city beyond the rolling hills.
It was obvious to Marcusson that they were attempting to arrive at some decision. A moment later he knew this had been accomplished because they nodded in agreement and turned their attention to the Earthman.
...The one with the weapon motioned - a beckoning motion -
after which he pointed across the hills toward a spot somewhat to the
right of the city.
Then, both Martians invited Marcusson to walk in that direction by doing so themselves. They stopped, glanced back expectantly, and both of them smiled.
Marcusson chuckled inwardly at these hospitable and kindly gestures. Without hesitation, he moved in the indicated direction. The Martians registered, between themselves, a marked satisfaction. An almost childlike elation, Marcusson thought, at getting their simple ideas across to him. They did not come close, but moved to a point on either side of him and well out of harm's way if he made a quick movement. The armed one kept his weapon ever at ready, but his smile mirrored the friendliness in his mind.
Marcusson estimated they had travelled about four miles when they moved over a low hill and came to the house. Obviously it was a house, but it was like nothing Marcusson had ever seen in the way of a dwelling.
It was a perfect square and no attempt had been made to achieve beauty. Each side ran about twenty feet, and beside it was a smaller square, identical in every respect except size. Grayish windowless walls about ten feet high. Marcusson got the impression of a stockade with a roof, and a tool shed hard by.
The door was merely a section of the wall that pushed inward...
Paul W Fairman, Brothers Beyond the Void (Fantastic Adventures, March 1952)
"Come out of it, Jones. Snap it. We got to move!"
"Yes," I say, hypnotized with the way the word forms like water on the tongue and falls with slow beauty out into the air.
I walk and it is good walking. I stand high and it is a long way to the ground when I look down from my eyes and my head. It is like living on a fine cliff and being happy there.
Regent stands by the stone wall, looking down. The others have gone murmuring to the silver ship from which they came.
I feel the fingers of my hand and the smile of my mouth.
"It is deep," I say.
"It is called a Soul Well."
Regent raises his head and looks at me. "How do you know that?"
"Doesn't it look like one?"
"I never heard of a Soul Well."
"A place where waiting things, things that once had flesh, wait and wait," I say touching his arm...
Ray Bradbury, The One Who Waits (The Arkham Sampler, 1949; Machineries of Joy, 1964)
It grew dark quickly with the sand clouds masking the twilight. Streamers of fire began to lace the mountain top. A continuous purple corona gave it the aspect of luminescence.
The mountain rose slowly out of the desert and the sand gave way gradually to a trail of broken rocks that ground and protested against the runners of the sled.
“We’ll go from here on foot in the morning,” said Firebird. As she brought the sled to a halt she leaped quickly out and started tugging at a huge boulder nearby.
Nathan stared in puzzlement. The boulder slowly tipped on its side, exposing a small cavern.
“We’ll hide the sled in here. I’ll show you why in the morning.”
They prepared a place to sleep for the night and alternated watches. At dawn they gathered their packs of food and water and the weapons. Firebird carefully closed the cavern over the sled.
She led the way along the trail that soon rose to increasing heights above the desert. They came across the burned and blackened ruins of a sand sled, destroyed with all its equipment.
“That belonged to someone who came up here for the first time as well as the last,” said Firebird. “There is no love lost between searchers for the Seven Jewels. They burn each others’ sleds when found.”
The corona lightning increased with terrible streamers of blue and violet light that twisted about the peaks like living things…
Raymond F Jones, The Seven Jewels of Chamar (Planet Stories, Winter 1946)
...there is a light burning in the low stone hut on the edge of the burned New New York, and in that hut, as the wind roars by and the dust sifts down and the cold stars burn, are four figures, a woman, two daughters and a son, tending a low fire for no reason and talking and laughing, and this goes on night after night for every year and every year, and some nights, for no reason, the wife comes out and looks at the sky, her hands up, for a long moment, looking at the green burning of Earth, not knowing why she looks, knowing nothing, and then she goes back in and throws a stick on the fire and the wind comes up and the dead sea goes on being dead.
Ray Bradbury, Dwellers in Silence (Planet Stories, Spring 1949)
The climb was long and dangerous. Ro’s skin glistened with sweat. He had lived in the cliffs all his life, and had made many perilous climbs, but never one on so dark a night. It seemed an eternity before he rested at the bottom.
Feeling his way cautiously, he moved toward the camp. He could sense the presence of many Oan close by. The hair at the base of his neck prickled. He prayed he wouldn’t be seen. An alarm now would spoil his plan.
Ahead of him, he saw a clearing. That would be his destination. On the far side he would find the white ones. He took the stone from his armpit and moved on.
Suddenly he halted. A dim figure approached. It was one of the Oan, a guard. He was coming straight at Ro…
“The rat men have eyes to cut the night.” It was a memory of his mother’s voice. She had spoken those words when he was a child, to keep him from straying too far.
The Oan was only a few feet away now, but his eyes were not cutting the night. Ro could see his large ears, hear his twitching tail. In a moment the beast would stumble over him...
Chester Whitehorn, Coming of the Gods (Planet Stories, Summer 1945)
He found a clearing near a roofless columnar tower and spread his sleeping bag beneath its wall. He went to sleep elated with his good fortune, and slept dreamlessly, and without disturbance.
But then, it took a great deal to disturb George Seeling when he slept.
In the morning the ghels were there. There were about a dozen of them, silently squatting in a semi-circle about his camp, contemplating him at a respectful distance with their soulful, gazelle eyes.
There is something disconcerting about waking up and finding that one has acquired uninvited guests, but Seeling never turned a hair. He reached over and grabbed his rifle, but the ghels never moved. They looked, for all the world, like purple-brown graven images squatting there, except that the round, black eyes blinked once in a while.
The ghel tongue was a very rudimentary one, and Seeling, who was naturally adept at such things, had studied it at some length during the weeks at Parthena. He felt that he could get along.
“I greet you,” he said, still fondling his rifle. “I am an Earthman.”
“We know,” one of the ghels said in a curious, whistling voice. “What do you want here?”
“I come to see the city,” George said.
“This is the sacred city of Solon Regh, the wisest of the ancient ones. We do not welcome visitors here.”
“It is not your city, dammit,” George said.
“What did you say?”
“Sorry, I said, this is not the work of your race. Why do you care if I look around?”
“It is a shrine. The old ones took care of us before they went away. We loved them, and do not want their dead disturbed.”
George Seeling grinned with delight. He never enjoyed himself so much as when he was where he wasn’t supposed to be.
“We should be very said if the dead were desecrated,” the ghel said.
“Umm,” said Seeling impudently, “but what would you do if I went ahead and desecrated them anyway?”
The ghel looked shocked. He turned his saucer eyes on his companions, and they all squirmed on their haunches and looked shocked too.
“We would be very sad,” the ghel answered…
Charles A Stearns, The Grave of Solon Regh (Planet Stories, Winter 1954)
The space-armoured figure was toiling up the slope that led to the igloo. In one hand the man carried a short blast rifle, and as they watched, the two trappers saw him halt and wheel about, the rifle levelled, ready for action, to stare back at the shadows into which the two Hounds had disappeared only a moment before.
A slight movement to the left and behind the man outside caught Kent's eye and spurred him into action.
He leaped across the igloo and jerked from its rack his quartz-treated space suit, started clambering into it.
"What's the trouble?" demanded Charley. "What the hell you doin'?"
"There's an Eater out there," shouted Kent. "I saw it just a minute ago."
He snapped down the helmet and reached for his rifle as Charley spun open the inner air-lock port. Swiftly Kent leaped through, heard the inner port being screwed shut as he swung open the outer door.
Cold bit through the suit and into his very bones as he stepped out into the Martian night. With a swift flip he turned on the chemical heat units and felt a glow of warmth sweep over him.
The man in the ravine below was trudging up the path toward the igloo.
Kent shouted at him.
"Come on! Fast as you can!"
The man halted at the shout, stared upward.
"Come on!" screamed Kent.
The spacesuit moved forward.
Kent, racing down the ravine, saw the silica-armoured brute that lurched out of the shadows and sped toward the unsuspecting visitor.
Kent's rifle came to his shoulder.
The sights lined on the ugly head of the Eater. His finger depressed the firing mechanism and the gun spat a tight column of destructive blue fire. The blast crumpled the Eater in mid-leap, flung him off his stride and to one side. But it did not kill him. His unlovely body, gleaming like a reddish mirror in the starlight, clawed upon its feet, stood swinging the gigantic head from side to side.
A shrill scream sounded in Kent's helmet phones, but he was too busy getting the sights of the weapon lined on the Eater again to pay it any attention.
Again the rifle spat and purred, the blue blast-flame impinging squarely on the silica-armoured head. Bright sparks flew from the beast's head and then suddenly the head seemed to dissolve, melting down into a gob of blackened matter that glowed redly in places. The Eater slowly toppled sidewise and skidded ponderously down the slope to come to rest against the crimson boulder.
Clifford D Simak, Hermit of Mars (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1939)
...He stood gazing silently as the fading light painted the sky in somber colors, preparing to disappear for another night of screaming wind and penetrating sub-zero cold.
He watched until the twilight deepened to purple and then stalked laboriously into the wind, up the gentle slope toward the little hollow where he went each night.
His tall, articulated form strode across the dusty plain. By the time he had reached the foot of the bank the sky was totally blank, except for the stars, and he could barely propel himself forward against the raging world-wide currents of atmosphere. The last few yards he crawled on his bellyplates. He tumbled into the central hollow and lay exhausted, his lungs sucking in and out—
The cry of a Martian odlat would not be audible to human ears, but the screech which emanated within an inch of Peetn's ear-cupulas sent paralyzing waves of terror washing to the tip of his spiny tail. He skirled in agony as inch-long teeth crunched savagely into his shoulder, and the odlat, startled, let go. Peetn's tentacles shot beneath the flapping folds of his cloak and the night-dark was shattered in a hissing blaze of light. The headless corpse of the odlat thudded to the ground. Black reaction smote Peetn a blow somewhere inside, and the Martian lost consciousness…
Raymond Van Houten, The Last Martian (Planet Stories, Spring 1942)
“I think I’ve got the answer,” said Brender, “but first I wish to see the time lock. Let’s climb.”
They rose into the sky, dipping over the lip of the building. Brender saw a vast flat expanse; and in the centre - He caught his breath!
The meagre light from the distant sun of Mars shone down on a structure located at what seemed the exact centre of the great door. The structure was about fifty feet high, and seemed nothing less than a series of quadrants coming together at the centre, which was a metal arrow pointing straight up.
The arrow head was not solid metal. Rather it was as if the metal had divided in two parts, then curved together again. But not quite together. About a foot separated the two sections of metal. But that foot was bridged by a vague, thin, green flame of ieis force.
“The time lock!” Brender nodded. “I thought it would be something like that, though I expected it would be bigger, more substantial.”
“Do not be deceived by its fragile appearance,” answered the thing. “Theoretically, the strength of ultimate metal is infinite; and the ieis force can only be affected by the universal I have mentioned. Exactly what the effect will be, it is impossible to say as it involves the temporary derangement of the whole number system upon which that particular area of space is built. But now tell us what to do.”
“Very well.” Brender eased himself onto a bank of sand, and cut off his antigravity plates. He lay on his back, and stared thoughtfully into the blue-black sky…
A E van Vogt, Vault of the Beast (Astounding, August 1940)
Suddenly, Williams felt an icy tingle course through his blood. His hand dropped again to his ray gun, tore it from the holster. He stood erect, fighting an urge to crouch low against the danger.
Along the crest of the sand-swell before him, something was rising. Bright moonlight shimmered as the rays broke against a pale barrier.
To the right, the left, behind him, it was the same. The white mist was rising, surrounding him. Escape was cut off. Even to reach his nearby spaceship was impossible without cutting through. Barry tried to relax. There was nothing to do but wait.
He remembered the words of the old Martian desert wanderer to whom he’d spoken. This man had once been a chieftain, before the conquest of Mars by Earth. His keen black eyes had bored into Barry.
“If you wish the answer,” he’d advised, “go into the desert at night. You are different – you may return. I can tell you no more.”
Thicker grew the mist…
George A Whittington, Mists of Mars (Planet Stories, Summer 1945)
…The croaking noise was so loud now that it drowned even the crackle in Rick’s headphones, and he stared around, hoping against hope that he would see no movement. For some minutes they went on, and then Bruce stopped again.
“Come up here,” he whispered. “I believe they’re beyond this clump. Whatever you do, don’t shake the stems!”
Rick and Maurice crawled up, their bulky suits pressing gently against the gas-leaves. Ahead was a slight rise, and as they came to the top of it the sound rose to a crescendo; at last they were at the summit, and cautiously Rick poked his head through the plant mass. Then he bit back a cry of horror – the sight facing him was something which he had never pictured in his worst dreams.
He was looking into a next of “bugs”. The shallow pit beyond the stems was bare of plants, and seemed to be filled with insects very like the one he had killed, but much larger. Some of them were three or four feet long, and all had the same lizard-like heads, red glinting eyes and sharp teeth; their bodies were striped with black and grey, and they had short, veined wings which whirred like fans as they hovered over the lair. Altogether there must have been several dozens of them, and Rick was almost sick with fear as he stared. The creatures were not only ugly; they were evil as well, while around the nest lay parts of the bodies of luckless dragonflies which had obviously been killed and then dragged back to feed the females and larvae.
“Stars and moons,” came Maurice’s voice in a husky whisper. “This beats the band. Let’s get out of here!”
Bruce drew back. “You’re telling me! I don’t think we’ll bother to say ‘hallo’ to this little lot. If – “
He broke off with a shout. The top of the bank was crumbling beneath his weight…
Patrick Moore, Peril on Mars (1958)
…here, in this place of eternal bareness and solitude, it seemed that life could never have been. The stark, eroded stones were things that might have been reared by the toil of the dead, to house the monstrous ghouls and demons of primal desolation.
I think we all received the same impression as we stood staring in silence while the pale, sanies-like sunset fell on the dark and megalithic ruins. I remember gasping a little, in an air that seemed to have been touched by the irrespirable chill of death; and I heard the same sharp, laborious intake of breath from others of our party.
"That place is deader than an Egyptian morgue," observed Harper.
"Certainly it is far more ancient," Octave assented. "According to the most reliable legends, the Yorhis, who built Yoh-Vombis, were wiped out by the present ruling race at least forty thousand years ago."
"There's a story, isn't there," said Harper, "that the last remnant of the Yorhis was destroyed by some unknown agency—something too horrible and outré to be mentioned even in a myth?"
"Of course, I've heard that legend," agreed Octave. "Maybe we'll find evidence among the ruins, to prove or disprove it. The Yorhis may have been cleaned out by some terrible epidemic, such as the Yashta pestilence, which was a kind of green mould that ate all the bones of the body, starting with the teeth and nails. But we needn't be afraid of getting it, if there are any mummies in Yoh-Vombis—the bacteria will all be dead as their victims, after so many cycles of planetary desiccation. Anyway, there ought to be a lot for us to learn. The Aihais have always been more or less shy of the place. Few have ever visited it; and none, as far as I can find, have made a thorough examination of the ruins."
The sun had gone down with uncanny swiftness, as if it had disappeared
through some sort of prestigitation rather than the normal process of setting.
We felt the instant chill of the blue-green twilight; and the ether above us
was like a huge, transparent dome of sunless ice, shot with a million bleak
sparklings that were the stars...
...Even in my thick, double-lined bag, I still fell the rigor of the night air; and I am sure it was this, rather than anything else, which kept me awake for a long while and rendered my eventual slumber somewhat restless and broken. Of course, the strangeness of our situation, and the weird proximity of those aeonian walls and towers may in some measure have contributed to my unrest. But at any rate, I was not troubled by even the least presentiment of alarm or danger; and I should have laughed at the idea that anything of peril could lurk in Yoh-Vombis, amid whose undreamable and stupefying antiquities the very phantoms of its dead must long since have faded into nothingness...
Clark Ashton Smith, The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis (Weird Tales, May 1932)
…It came in an orange glow in the south, and the glow was quickly shrouded by an expanding white cloud. Then, minutes later the ground pulsed beneath them, quivered and shook. The quake subsided, but remained as a hint of vibration. Then after a long time, they heard the dull-throated roar thundering across the Martian desert. The roar continued steadily, grumbling and growling as it would for several hundred years.
There was only a hushed murmur of awed voices from the crowd. When the wind came, some of them stood up and moved quietly back to the trucks, for now they could go back to a city for reassignment. There were other tasks to accomplish before their contracts were done.
But Manue Nanti still sat on the ground, his head sunk low, desperately trying to gasp a little of the wind he had made, the wind out of the ground, the wind of the future. But lungs were clogged, and he could not drink of the racing wind. His big calloused hand clutched slowly at the ground, and he choked a brief sound like a sob.
A shadow fell over him. It was Kinely… he said nothing for a moment as he watched Manue’s desperate Gethsemane.
“Some sow, others reap,” he said.
“Why?” the Peruvian choked.
The supervisor shrugged. “What’s the difference? But if you can’t be both, which would you rather be?”
Nanti looked up into the wind… It was a good sensible question. Which would he rather be – sower or reaper?
Pride brought him slowly to his feet, and he eyed Kinley questioningly. The supervisor touched his shoulder.
“Go on to the trucks.”
Nanti nodded and shuffled away…
Walter M Miller, Crucifixus Etiam (Astounding Science Fiction, February 1953)
The scene I now contemplated was exceedingly novel and striking. The sky, instead of the brilliant azure of a similar latitude on earth, presented to my eye a vault of pale green, closely analogous to that olive tint which the effect of contrast often throws over a small portion of clear sky distinguished among the golden and rose-coloured clouds of a sunset in our temperate zones.
The vapours which still hung around the north-eastern and south-eastern horizon, though dispelled from the immediate vicinity of the Sun, were tinged with crimson and gold much deeper than the tints peculiar to an earthly twilight. The Sun himself, when seen by the naked eye, was as distinctly golden as our harvest moon; and the whole landscape, terrestrial, aerial, and celestial, appeared as if bathed in a golden light, wearing generally that warm summer aspect peculiar to Tellurian landscapes when seen through glass of a rich yellow tint. It was a natural inference from all I saw that there takes place in the Martial atmosphere an absorption of the blue rays which gives to the sunlight a predominant tinge of yellow or orange. The small rocky plateau on which I stood, like the whole of the mountainside I had descended, faced the extremity of the range of which this mountain was an outpost; and the valley which separated them was not from my present position visible. I saw that I should have to turn my back upon this part of the landscape as I descended farther, and therefore took note at this point of the aspect it presented. The most prominent object was a white peak in the distant sky, rising to a height above my actual level, which I estimated conjecturally at 25,000 feet, guessing the distance at fifty miles. The summit was decidedly more angular and pointed, less softened in outline by atmospheric influences, than those of mountains on Earth. Beyond this in the farthest distance appeared two or three peaks still higher, but of which, of course, only the summits were visible to me. On this side of the central peak an apparently continuous double ridge extended to within three miles of my station, exceedingly irregular in level, the highest elevations being perhaps 20,000, the lowest visible depressions 3000 feet above me. There appeared to be a line of perpetual snow, though in many places above, this line patches of yellow appeared, the nearer of which were certainly and the more distant must be inferred to be covered with a low, close herbaceous vegetation. The lower slopes were entirely clothed with yellow or reddish foliage. Between the woods and snow-line lay extensive pastures or meadows, if they might be so called, though I saw nothing whatever that at all resembled the grass of similar regions on Earth. Whatever foliage I saw—as yet I had not passed near anything that could be called a tree, and very few shrubs—consisted distinctly of leaves analogous to those of our deciduous trees, chiefly of three shapes: a sort of square rounded at the angles, with short projecting fingers; an oval, slightly pointed where it joined the stalk; and lanceolate or sword-like blades of every size, from two inches to four feet in length. Nearly all were of a dull yellow or copper-red tinge. None were as fine as the beech-leaf, none succulent or fleshy; nothing resembling the blades of grass or the bristles of the pine and cedar tribes was visible.
Percy Greg, Across the Zodiac (1880)
...In front and to the left smooth water spread like a silk sheet to the horizon. A mile or more to the right lay a low embankment with yellow red sand showing through rush-like tufts of skimpy bushes. Far in the background rose the white crowns of purple mountains.
the mild warmth of noon Bert let his boat carry him along. Behind him,
a fan of ripples spread gently and then lapsed back into placidity.
Still further back the immense silence closed in again, and nothing
remained to show that he had passed that way. The scene had scarcely
changed for several days and several hundred miles of his quietly
John Wyndham, Time To Rest (in the collection The Seeds of Time (1956))
…I broke open a packet of rations, and ate some food. I felt no hunger, but the familiarity of the simple act of eating held some comfort. The food did me good, too. It gave me strength, and I felt better able to resist. Then, suddenly, I became aware of silence…
Looking out of the window again, I saw that the flare of the rocket-tube had vanished. There was nothing but blackness and the stars. All sound had ceased, and left such a silence as was never known on Earth. Nor was it just that, not just the negative absence of sound; the silence was hard, positive, a quality of eternity itself. It rang in one’s ears until they sought relief by hearing sounds that did not exist; murmurings, far-off bells, sighs not so far off, tickings, whispers, faint ululations…
A bit of verse, that my grandfather used to quote came into my mind:
I heard their thin gnat-voices cry
Star to faint star across the sky,
and I seemed to hear them, too; they had no words, they were on the threshold of sound, but they encouraged me…
And, God knows, I needed encouragement, crouched there in my flimsy dome…
The voices cry – but the elemental terrors prowl. We need numbers to sustain us; in numbers we can dispel the terrors; alone, we are weak, mutilated. Taken from our pool of corporate strength we gasp, we wriggle defencelessly while the terrors circle round, slowly closing in…
John Wyndham, The Outward Urge (1959)