"Okay, Galactic Standard co-ordinates are 4.71 alpha,
9.32 beta, and 1.01 gamma... that's Right Ascension... uh,,,
Declination... um,,, Carry the two... Oh, Hell! Look, I'm from here,
okay? The teeny star next to the Horse Head nebula on the corner
by the Seven Eleven."
face it, Ugmar of Zeta 12 here was no Klaatu. All
those billions of dollars spent on radio telescopes, SETI
screensavers, and space probes with gold-plated gramophone
records and naughty plaques tacked to them and this is what we get: a
three-eyed blob of earwax whizzing about on a flying go-kart.
Even the man on the lower right has a "what the
But that was the 1920s for you. It was a time when there was just enough
knowledge about outer space to make life on other worlds a
possibility, but not enough to keep speculation from going completely ga-ga.
Reasoning usually went like this: Mars looks similar to Earth, the Italian astronomer Schiaparelli thought he saw lines on the surface that looked like
canals, and before you could say "Orson Welles" you had people running
around talking about ancient Martian civilisations bent on conquering
the 1920s and '30s the most influential of science fiction
illustrators was Frank R. Paul. He supplied many of the covers
for Hugo Gernsback's magazines such as Amazing Stories and
though the people he drew looked like suet poured into clothes, his
buildings, machines, and aliens had a complexity, detail, and drama
about them that provided artists with the visual vocabulary of science
fiction to this day.
In the late '30s, Paul had a chance to
let his imagination run for a bit with a series of back-cover pieces
depicting cities on other planets and the creatures that inhabit them.
His ideas of what our neighbours in the Solar System and beyond look
like were often strikingly beautiful and showed a creativity that put
the standard Star Trek man-with-a-lumpy-forehead school to shame.
They were meant as flights of fancy rather than educated theories, but
it says a lot about the times that his Martians, Venusians, and Whateverians were taken seriously and not as the product of using
paint thinner in an unventilated space.