Isaac Asimov called Stanley Weinbaum a nova who burst into the field of science fiction writing like an exploding star in 1934 with his debut short story "A Martian Odyssey". Perhaps super nova would have been a better euphemism because, like a supernova, Weinbaum not only exploded onto the scene but disappeared a scant 18 months after his first story was published, a victim of throat cancer.
"The Best of Stanley Weinbaum" is a collection of short stories that, unfortunately, probably represents half of this astonishing writer's entire output.
Perhaps the greatest and most enduring charm of Weinbaum's stories rests with his collection of unique extra-terrestrial life - sentient, intelligent life that clearly had alien psychologies and motivations beyond human understanding. The most innovative feature of Weinbaum's collection of creatures was that they were not simply monstrous foils used to showcase the heroism of the human protagonists. Nor were they shallow anthropomorphized critters that merely happened to have green skin and six arms and legs. Tweel, the comical ostrich-like creature from "The Martian Odyssey" was Weinbaum's phenomenal response to John W Campbell's dictum "write me a creature who thinks as well as a man, or better than a man, but not like a man". The outrageously bizarre intelligent plant "Oscar" from "The Lotus Eaters" challenged the thinking sci-fi reader in ways that had never been achieved up until that time. Indeed, a case may be made that no sci-fi writer has created this type of alien intelligence since.
Although current knowledge of our solar system has moved beyond what was available to Weinbaum in the thirties, his presentation of alien ecologies was fascinating, compelling and yet wholly believable in the context of the science of the day. His presentation of a hostile Venusian jungle in "The Parasite Planet" is positively chilling.
Beyond that, even within the limitations of the short story format, Weinbaum also demonstrates the ability to create complete characters whose achievements matter to the reader. They are fleshed out utterly human down-to-earth "folks" with foibles, failings, happiness and sadness to accompany the heroism and feats of derring-do that are only to be expected in stories like this.
If you've never sampled Stanley Weinbaum, then you are in for a truly delicious treat. Read slowly and savour it, because, sadly, there is far too little of his work available. Highly, highly recommended!