The Ominous Octopus

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Red Peri By Stanley Weinbaum

Can a human being survive in outer space without a spacesuit?

The Red Peri

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


"The Red Peri"
AuthorStanley G. Weinbaum
Country USA
Genre(s)Science fiction short story
Published inAstounding Stories
Publication typePeriodical
PublisherStreet & Smith
Media typePrint (Magazine)
Publication dateNovember 1935

"The Red Peri" in the November 1935 Astounding Stories.
"The Red Peri" is a science fiction novella by Stanley G. Weinbaum that first appeared in the November 1935 issue of Astounding Stories. Sam Moskowitz has noted that Weinbaum planned to write a series of sequels to "The Red Peri" but died before he could do so.[1] "The Red Peri" is the only Weinbaum story set on Pluto. The novel also inspired Arthur C. Clarke, who stated that David Bowman's helmetless spacewalk in 2001: A Space Odyssey was inspired by Frank Keene's escape from the pirate base in "The Red Peri".[2]


 Weinbaum's Pluto

"The Red Peri" was written only five years after the discovery of Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh, when the only things known about it were its orbit and the fact that its apparent magnitude was 14.90, too dim to be a gas giant. Given its known distance from the sun, this meant that the higher Pluto's albedo was assumed to be, the smaller it would have to be. Weinbaum assumed that Pluto's surface was as dark as coal, and that its diameter was greater than Earth's, with a correspondingly greater gravity. Weinbaum also assumed that Pluto was airless and had a twenty-hour period of rotation and a surface temperature of 10 kelvins. Despite its harsh conditions, Weinbaum's Pluto includes a number of life-forms, all of them crystalline creatures called crystal crawlers that consume various elements, including aluminum, iron, and carbon.

 Plot summary

Around the year 2080,[3] the Dutch spaceship Aardkin out of Venus is approaching Earth when she is boarded by a notorious pirate ship, the Red Peri. Passenger Frank Keene, an American radiation engineer and spaceship pilot, sees that one of the pirates has red hair before that pirate literally tweaks his nose and leaves.
A year later, Keene and astrophysicist Solomon Nestor are on board the Limbo, conducting a survey of cosmic radiation in the outer reaches of the Solar System for the Smithsonian Institution. One of the Limbo's stern jets melts, leaving the ship crippled. They are forced to land on Pluto, in the hope of finding a deposit of some refractory metal they can use to build a new jet. Shortly afterwards, they are captured and taken to a secret base which turns out to be the lair of the pirates.
They meet the Red Peri herself, a nineteen-year-old redhead whose late father built the Red Peri and established the base sixteen years earlier. The Red Peri says she can't let Keene and Nestor go, and she doesn't intend to let them remain, but she hesitates to kill them in cold blood. She leaves them under guard while she ponders their fate.
One of their guards is a twenty-year-old blonde named Elza, whose dislike for the Red Peri is obvious to Keene. He learns that Elza is in love with a fellow pirate named Marco Grandi who, to her dismay, is enamoured with the Red Peri. Keene enlists Elza's aid by promising to help her win Grandi's love.
The next morning, Keene wakes up to discover the door to his room is unlocked. Elza tells him that the Red Peri has allowed him the run of the base; since he has no access to a spacesuit or the key to his ship, he can't escape. Breakfast with the Red Peri is followed by a tour of the base, ending with a view of a cavern full of oxygen ice. There, Keene rescues his captor from a swarm of "crystal crawlers" that feed on carbon. When Keene's toe falls prey to one of them, the Red Peri quickly cuts off the infected area.
While treating Keene's injured toe, the Red Peri reveals that she is the daughter of Perry Maclane, an inventor who was cheated out of his patent by Interplanetary, Inc. Swearing revenge, Maclane built the Red Peri, crewed it with others who had also been wronged by the company, and began preying on its spaceships. When the elder Maclane died three years ago, his daughter Peri took his place. Her ultimate plan is to use the money she makes from piracy to start a rival spaceline and put Interplanetary out of business.
Keene returns to his room to find that Nestor has been plotting with Elza. Her father has been working on the Limbo, so she can get the key. When Nestor tells Keene his plan, Keene is divided. The next morning, after Elza slips him Limbo's key with his breakfast, Keene arrives at the base's entrance to find the Red Peri being loaded with supplies; clearly, Peri Maclane is planning to raid more ships. Keene confesses his love for her and tries to persuade her to give up piracy, to no avail. He decides then that he will go along with Nestor's plan.
Keene jumps out through the electrostatic field that serves the pirate base as an airlock, taking a surprised Maclane with him. Carrying her, Keene sprints a thousand feet in the frigid vacuum of Pluto to the Limbo, barely making it to the airlock. He launches the Limbo, then chains the unconscious Maclane to a chair. When she wakes up, he explains that stories of humans exploding in vacuum are a myth—human tissue is strong enough to withstand the body's internal pressure for several minutes.
The Red Peri comes alongside Limbo but is unable to attack with Maclane on board. Keene falls asleep, and wakes to find Maclane and the Red Peri gone. A note she left explains that she used an iron-eating crystal crawler to free herself from the chain. Keene realizes she braved the vacuum of space again by jumping from the Limbo's airlock to the Red Peri.
Keene is certain Maclane will set up another base somewhere else in the solar system. He decides to leave government service and get a job on an Interplanetary freighter. Eventually, their paths will cross again.

 Critical reception

Everett F. Bleiler reported that "the background is imaginative, but the romance is on the level of the shopgirl pulps, and the writing leaves much to be desired."[4]


"The Red Peri" appears in the following Stanley G. Weinbaum collections:
  • The Dawn of Flame (1936)
  • The Red Peri (1952)
  • A Martian Odyssey and Other Science Fiction Tales (1974)
  • Interplanetary Odysseys (2006)
The Project Gutenberg versions of "The Dawn of Flame" and "A Martian Odyssey" do not contain "The Red Peri". The full text of the novella is available here: http://homepage.ntlworld.com/forgottenfutures/weinbaum/peri.htm


  1. ^ Introduction by Sam Moskowitz to A Martian Odyssey and Other Science Fiction Tales, Hyperion, 1974, ISBN 0-88355-152-7
  2. ^ Arthur C. Clarke, Astounding Days: A Science Fictional Autobiography, Bantam, 1990, ISBN 0-553-34822-1.
  3. ^ Approximately a century and a half after the Houston-Westland expedition flew over Mount Everest in 1933.
  4. ^ Everett F. Bleiler, Science-Fiction: The Gernsback Years, Kent State University Press, 1998, p.483

                                          *                                     *                                  *

As to whether a man can survive in outer space without a spacesuit, that seems to depend on who you ask. My answer would have been "no", but an internet search turned up scientiffic opinion that it might be possible to survive a brief exposure to the vaccum of outer space. And I also found that "Some flight surgeons at NASA, for instance, say death in a vacuum would be almost instantaneous."
The problem goes beyond whether the human body is "strong enough to withstand the internal pressure" that Weinbaum spoke of: the lack of atmospheric pressure outside the body would cause a difference of pressure that could cause fatal injury to the lungs. A difference in external and internal lung pressure can also cause air embolism, forcing bubbles into the bloodstream.*
Even if someone exhaled immediately, the effect of the vaccuum on the lungs could be serious and might be fatal. The vaccuum might cause bleeding from the openings of the body. It is believed that an astronaut exposed to a vaccuum would lose concisousness in ten or fifteen seconds, and would die within minutes. The outlook for a suitless astronaut would not be good.

In Weinbaum's story, the hero is said to have run a thousand feet in greater than normal gravity while carrying a girl and without breathing: that only makes things even worse than they would be otherwise. Of course, the planet Pluto actually is smaller than the Earth, something that wasn't known at the time the story was written.  
Stanley Weinbaum was a brilliant writer and was one of the most popular science fiction authors of his day. Even today he remains one of the most famous science fiction authors of all time. But his belief that a man could survive prolonged exposure to a vaccuum was mistaken. It's worth noting that no one has ever tried this in real life space travel.

 The Red Peri, in person.

 The famed if impractical scene from 2001: A SPACE ODDYSSEY
That's all, folks!

 * This is a problem that is sometimes encountered by scuba divers who fail to exhale when swimming up towards the surface.

Human Exposure To A Vaccum:




THE RED PERI - read the story online:

Stanley Weinbaum:





No comments:

Post a Comment