Stowaway to Mars by John Wyndham

‘Perhaps it is because women, on the whole, do not come into contact with machinery as much as men do?’ Dugan suggested.

‘Again, that might account for a very small number, but nowadays both girls and boys encounter small domestic machines from their earliest consciousness, yet the difference soon begins to show. I’m generalizing, so don’t go throwing particular instances of brilliant women engineers at me in general, I say, the boy becomes intrigued by the intimate details of the machine, but the girl’s interest falls behind his: she accepts the fact that the thing works without caring why, and finally she reaches the state when she does not want to know why. She becomes not only uninterested, but antagonistic and this though her life may at any time depend upon its proper working. Odd, you must admit.’

Jealousy,’ Froud murmured, addressing no one in particular; ‘green eyed monster, et cetera.’

‘I thought you’d been silent for a long time. What exactly do you mean by “jealousy” in that cryptic tone?’ the doctor asked.

‘The highest duty of woman is motherhood,’ Froud said. ‘It is the crown of her existence. No woman can say she is fulfilled until she has created life with her own life, until she has felt within her the stir of a new life beginning, until she has performed that holy function which Mother Nature has made her glorious task, her mystic joy, her supreme achievement down the echoing ages ‘

‘What on earth is all this about?’ asked the doctor patiently.

Froud raised his eyebrows.

‘Don’t you like it? My readers love it. It seems to console them a bit for all the actual messiness of reproduction, somehow makes them forget that cats, rats and periwinkles do the same thing so much more efficiently and easily.’

‘Well, just forget your readers for a bit, if you’ve got anything to say. Try ordinary prose.’

‘My art is spurned. All right, at your request, I strip off the rococo. Listen. No one can deny that woman’s greatest urge (like you, Doc, I generalize) is creative. If he did try to deny it he would come up against the fact of the race’s survival, the life force, George Bernard Shaw and other phenomena. So let us admit that she embodies this intense creative urge.

‘So far, so good. But Nature, that well known postulate, has taken great care that for all its power, its direction shall be severely limited. In other words she has said to herself=”Let woman be creative, but let her create the right things she mustn’t go footling about creating omnibuses, tin openers or insurance companies let her creative instinct be concentrated on producing children and on the matters connected therewith.”

‘I, personally, think it was a mean trick. It has resulted in vast quantities of women in a vastly interesting world being shut into vastly uninteresting compartments. Because, you see, Nature’s little scheme necessitated a curtailment of the imagination to keep them on the job. Hence the average woman; history means nothing to her; the future means less (although her children will have to live in that future); world catastrophes are far less interesting than local mishaps. Nature has given her an ingrowing imagination, working chiefly in a bedroom setting. So monotonous.’

‘Very quaint,’ agreed the doctor, ‘but what’s all this got to do with?’

‘Ah! I’m just coming to that. The point is this: they simply have not got the imagination to see the machines as we see them, but they have the power to be jealous of them. Women are creators: The Machine is a creator: in that they are rivals. They are afraid of it, too. What is it they fear subconsciously? Is it that man may one day use The Machine to create life? to usurp their prerogative? They do not know why they fear it, but they resent it. They resent having to share their men with it they’re sulkily jealous. They try to minimize it as though they were dismissing a rival’s charms. There is nothing good they can say for it. It’s noisy, it’s dirty, it’s ugly, it’s oily, it stinks: and, anyway, it is only a jumble of metal bits what can be really interesting in that? It is not human and sentient. There you have the crux: the new inhuman creator confronts the human creator.’

‘I suppose all that means something,’ Dugan said reflectively as Froud stopped.

‘Certainly,’ agreed the doctor; ‘it means that men are more interested in machines than women are.’

‘But hadn’t you already said?’

‘I had.’

Froud waved a casual hand. ‘Oh, go ahead, don’t mind me. I merely tried to shed a little light on the troubled waters.’

‘Oil,’ said the doctor. He turned to Joan.

‘Speaking as a woman, what did you think of that mouthful?’ he asked.

She smiled. ‘Not much.’

‘That was only to be expected,’ Froud said. ‘Now if it were possible for her to speak as a neuter ‘

‘All the same,’ Joan went on, ‘most of the women I know who dislike machines dislike them actively. I mean that they dislike them differently from the way in which they dislike, say, an inconvenient house. But then, I should say that such women have resented men’s toys all through the centuries, just as men have resented the same type of woman’s absorption in domesticity.

‘But we seem to have got off the subject. Dale was telling us what he felt about machines, he only instanced Mrs. Curtance to show us what he didn’t think, but we haven’t let him finish.’

‘I don’t know that I can, very well. It is, as you say, a feeling. When I think about it, it’s difficult to find the words. But I can tell you something of what I don’t feel. I don’t feel that a good machine is an utterly impersonal thing a jumble of metal bits, as Froud was saying just now any more than I feel that a musical composition is a jumble of notes. And it can’t be impersonal. Something of the ingenuity, skill and pride of work that went into the making of it remains in it just as something of the sculptor remains in carved stone.

‘And there is a delight in machines, a kind of sensuous delight that derives from smooth running, swiftly spinning bars and wheels, sliding rods, precise swings and the perfect interaction of parts. And, behind it all, a sense of power. Power which, coupled to men’s brains, knows no bounds.’ Power to do what?’ Joan asked.

‘To do anything to do everything perhaps not to do anything. I don’t know. Sometimes it seems as if power is the goal in, itself: as if a force drove one to master force.’

His words were followed by a silence during which Dugan looked as if he supposed all that also meant something. Joan, noticing his frown, wondered if he disagreed. He shook his head.

‘I don’t know. You people all make it sound so frightfully complicated. I mean, I like machines all right, they’re grand fun to play about with, but I’m hanged if I can see half of what you’re talking about. They’ve just been made for us to use: and a mighty dull world it would be without them. I’d hate to have been born a couple of centuries ago or even one century ago. Think of not being able to fly! It’d have been well, I mean to say, what did they do then? Honestly, I don’t see what you’re getting at. We’ve got machines; we couldn’t get on without them. Naturally, we use them. I don’t see what more there is to be said.’

An unexpected voice chimed in for his support. Burns for once was paying some attention to the rest.

‘Aye, you’re right, lad. Use your machines and use them decently. Don’t overdrive them and break their hearts. Look after them an’ they’ll not let you down which is more than you can say for some human beings.’


THIS is not the place to lecture upon the details of the inter planetary journey. If you want the figures of the quantity of explosives used, of the changes consequent upon extra load, rates of acceleration and deceleration, necessary corrections of course, divergencies between theory and performance, etc., you will find them, together with a host of other details, carefully considered in Dale’s book, The Bridging of Space, and some of them, more popularly arranged, in Froud’s Flight of the ‘Gloria Mundi’. Here, one is interested chiefly in the aspect which neither of these gentlemen saw fit, for one reason or another, to include in his book. And though I believe that Froud toyed for a time with the idea of a less impersonal story of the flight, it is unlikely now that it will ever be written. Almost twelve years have passed since the Mount Wilson observatory lost sight of the Gloria 11. Whether Dale, Froud and the rest of their party ever reached Venus in her we cannot tell but she has never returned.

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