Been busy the last month — too busy to really blog. My agent, the estimable Andrew Zack, asked me to do some formatting of my manuscript in order to send it to editors; did that, did some other things, had a sleep study performed (apnea woke me up, on average, 59 times an hour! No wonder I wake up in the morning feeling completely worn out!) and did the daily work thing.
The result: just like I have to make time to read, I now have to make time to blog. Just how and when, I’ll let you know. For now, it’s right now; and right now, let’s talk about a subject near and dear to my ink-stained, bibiloholic heart: the Red Planet.
I love the rings of Saturn.
I am astounded by the Red Spot of Jupiter, and especially by the gas planet’s two moons, Europa and Io, where volcanic activity far beneath their frozen surfaces give rise to the possibility of alien life.
But it is Mars, the Angry Red Planet, the World of War, that has not only captured my imagination since I was thirteen, but has held the imagination of countless others in thrall, especially since the canali of Mars were “discovered” by Schiaparelli in 1892 and expounded upon later by Percival Lowell.
When I was thirteen, I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs, Captain John Carter of Virginia, Dejah Thoris, an incomparable princess of Barsoom, and Woola, carter’s faithful Martian dog — and my life has never been the same.
Burroughs wrote his last Martian story in the mid-1940s. Since then, not a single original story has been published in book form continuing the adventures of John Carter, Warlord of Mars. (I’m not counting stories published in comic books or as fan fiction.)
I’ve been waiting just about 37 years for new stories about Burroughs’ Mars to be published, and this new anthology is being released to coincide with the release of John Carter, Disney’s hugely budgeted and long-awaited version of Burroughs’ first novel, A Princess of Mars.
Under the Moons of Mars takes its title from the original appearance of the first John Carter tale, in All-Story Magazine, February, 1912. This “scientific romance” featured a Civil War veteran transported to Mars, giant, green, four-armed, tusked warriors, and a human race who walked around naked, except for swords and leather harnesses. Weird stuff in 1912 — and it was that reason why Burroughs used a pen name, Normal Bean, to indicate that the writer was, indeed, normal.
He needn’t have bothered. The story was immensely popular, and with his second and third novels, The Outlaw of Torn and Tarzan of the Apes, the Burroughs name became the gold standard for adventure. The novel was published in hardcover five years later, with its subsequent and classic title, A Princess of Mars.
This anthology is like any other anthology: a grab bag of stories of wide and varying quality. Editor John Joseph Adams has brought together some good and popular writers, but they don’t necessarily provide the best stories. Peter Beagle is a great fantasist, but his version of John Carter comes across as an angry and violent apologist for the Confederacy, and his Dejah Thoris flirts with Tarzan after the jungle lord has been transported to Mars. It doesn’t ring true at all. Joe Lansdale’s story is firmly true to the Barsoom oeuvre, but, as such, is a good introduction to Barsoom, but not very original at all.
There are three A stories here. The first is a surprise, the second tale in the book, by David Barr Kirtly. It features a green warrior and a young woman from Earth, and how they cope with a new existence on Mars. I’d really like to read more about both, especially about Suzanne Meyers from a place called New York.
The final story, “The Death Song of Dwar Guntha,” by Jonathan Maberry, is also an A story — a melancholy tale of a Barsoomian Light Brigade. Usually, the last story in an anthology is the best story; but not this time. Its placement here is absolutely appropriate, as it serves as a thoughtful, lingering conclusion to the book that leaves the reader wanting more.
(Honorable Mention goes to “Woola’s Song,” which looks at the adventures of John Carter and Dejah Thoris through the eyes of Woola, his loyal calot. Woola has always been my favorite dog in fiction — Krypto is a close second — and here he finally gets his due.)
The best and most original story is by seminal comic book writer Chris Claremont. “The Ghost that Haunts the Superstition Mountains” takes our Barsoomian champions and places them in an adventure on earth, during the days of Cochise and the southwestern Apache wars. Claremont gives us Chapter 11 of this story, which is self-contained, placing us firmly in the grip of pulp convention: get the story started right in the middle of the action. I wish that he would write the remainder of the novel — Barsoomian tales, I think, are best at novel-length — and this single story could absolutely lend itself to a lengthy ten chapters before and ten more behind.
Claremont, with a change of setting and a realistic writing style — plus an obvious reverence for the characters — knows how to pace and knows how to tell an adventure story. The characters are written pitch perfectly, and the star of the story, green Thark Tars Tarkas, shines as he’s placed in the alien environment of the American West. “Ghost” is simply invigorating — a new beginning for Barsoomian tales in the 21st century — and I want more. A lot more.
This book comes out in February, just in time for John Carter to hit the movie screens. Read it for a quick Martian fix at Amazon. And here’s the movie trailer.