Short story about an alien boy?
April 20, 2017 1:48 PM   Subscribe

I have vague memories of a sci-fi short story that I would have read some time in the mid-to-late 70s, involving a kid, un-athletic and not capable of doing much physically, who discovers in the end that his physiology is perfectly suited for (if memory serves) Mars. Help me find this story?

I have no idea what the original publication date would have been, or what collection of short stories I might have read it in. I know it's not Heinlein's "Misfit" or Pohl's "Man Plus".

I don't remember much more about the story than presented above the fold. There was a lot of talk about how he was teased as a kid because he couldn't run to keep up with other kids, and stuff like that. Somehow, he (eventually, as an adult, maybe?) ends up on Mars and (*if* I remember this part clearly) runs low on oxygen in his suit, takes off his helmet (to die?) and discovers that he can breathe perfectly well. The story *may* have ended with something like "Laughing, he began to run", although Google's not coming up with hits on that.

Ringing a bell for anyone?
posted by hanov3r to Media & Arts (8 answers total)
Alan Mendelson, The Boy from Mars by Daniel Pinkwater.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 2:14 PM on April 20, 2017

Stranger in Paradise, by Asimov? It's not quite right -- non-verbal autistic kid who is used to run a telepresence robot on Mercury? But the feel is pretty close.
posted by LizardBreath at 2:15 PM on April 20, 2017

Alan Mendelson, The Boy from Mars by Daniel Pinkwater.

That book is amazing but it is not this book.
posted by jessamyn at 3:16 PM on April 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

Heinlein's Red Planet?
posted by Confess, Fletch at 5:50 PM on April 20, 2017

I'm 99% certain I've read this, but thus far the author/title is eluding me as well. I seem to recall something about the boy being tall and awkward, and it was definitely a short story, not a novel, if it's the thing I'm thinking of. I almost want to say it sounds like Bradbury - will search more, because this is going to bug me now!
posted by aecorwin at 9:59 PM on April 20, 2017

This is not it, but Are You Afraid of the Dark did an episode, The Tale of the 13th Floor, with an almost identical storyline. I did some googling, but couldn't determine if it was based on anything. The alien in that story is a girl, not a boy. It's one of their most famously creepy, disturbing episodes, and is up on YouTube, if you want to give it a view.
posted by backwards compatible at 4:56 AM on April 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

I do hope you find your story. I'm afraid I don't have any specific suggestions. But because he's been mentioned twice, I am almost certain that there is no story in Heinlein's body of work that matches this description. I have all of Heinlein, and I just spent the afternoon digging though his books, and while there are stories with physical disadvantages and running out of air, none of them fit. But as I read them, Heinlein didn't end stories with open motion. His endings, especially for short stories, were more decisive.

Anyway, because it sounded familiar, I also checked the work of John Varley. While the story as described is far more thematically resonant with Varley's early work than Heinlein's in general, none of Varley's short stories fit all of the given parameters. (Though Varley does end his book Demon with a transformative running jump, it is the 3rd book in a trilogy and the protagonist is female. If you like mental and physical transformations that border on fantasy, often in a fairly hard sci fi framework, I recommend his short stories, the Gaea trilogy, and the two later novels Steel Beach and The Golden Globe. The Ophiuchi Hotline and Millennium are for masochistic completists.)
posted by monopas at 6:03 PM on April 21, 2017

It is definitely not one of the books or stories already mentioned, although I appreciate the thought people have put into this. The synopses I've read of that "Are You Afraid of the Dark" episode definitely make it sound as if it's in a similar vein, but it's only tangentially related.

I've pored over the lists I can find of Bradbury stories (my copy of the complete Bradbury short story collection is in storage) and none of the stories that have names that would appear to be relevant are the story I'm looking for.

I never read any Varley as a kid; I *did* enjoy Millennium, but I was 16 when it was released and my memory of this story is probably 6 or 7 years older than that.
posted by hanov3r at 11:50 AM on April 24, 2017

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