Sunday, 26 August 2012

ERBian Series

An indirect sequel to Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter series is his Venus series. A rocket launched from Earth towards Mars but pulled off course by lunar gravity falls towards the Sun, thus crossing the orbit of Venus which, fortunately, is close enough to land on. Before leaving Earth, Carson Napier had contacted Edgar Rice Burroughs because of the latter's known interest in Mars which presumably means his publication of Carter's manuscripts.

Despite this, Napier seems to be uncertain what he will find on Mars. However, the two series are definitely connected through other Burroughs works. Gridley contacts both Mars/Barsoom and the Earth's Core/Pellucidar by radio. He, Tarzan and others visit Pellucidar through the North Polar opening and ERB mentions this visit in the first Venus book.

Thus, half a dozen ERB series are concurrent and sometimes interactive, like a comic book universe. 

Saturday, 25 August 2012

The Structure Of A Series: John Carter

I never got into Tarzan. The character teaching himself to read English from a picture book is impossible and should never have been published. Knowing without being told that the sound "Tarzan" corresponds to the written letters T, A etc is also impossible. The sequence of events, not a plot, in Tarzan's Quest was so implausible and chaotic that I found it the opposite of pleasurable to read it. Tarzan At The Earth's Core I read only because it was a Tarzan/Earth's Core crossover. Since there are over twenty Tarzan volumes, I have read very little of this series.

By contrast, Edgar Rice Burroughs' Martian series had something going for it. The New English Library republished the eleven volumes annually through my teens so I bought each as it appeared:

an opening trilogy in which Carter saves the lives of everyone on Mars/Barsoom, overthrows the religion of Issus and becomes Warlord of Mars;

one book each about Carter's son, his daughter and a second Earthman transported to Mars;

two Martian warriors' stories transmitted to Earth by the second Earthman;

a return to Carter who now has a granddaughter, fights the Assassins' Guild and visits a Martian moon and Jupiter.

There are three sequel series:

Carson Napier aims for Mars but reaches Venus;

like John Carter and Ulysses Paxton, a third soldier dies on Earth and is projected across space in an astral body that solidifies on arrival - in this case not on Mars but on an extrasolar planet atmospherically linked to several others in a common orbit (a precursor of Larry Niven's Smoke Ring) so that he is able to make an interplanetary crossing by airplane (Beyond The Farthest Star);

in the future, Earthmen and Martians communicate by radio and each planet launches a spaceship towards the other but the Earth ship, the "Barsoom," crashes on the Moon which then invades Earth (the Moon Maid trilogy).

Thus, Burroughs wrote an increasingly intricate sequence of imaginative interplanetary stories -

Two trilogies (almost) recount Carter's adventures:

the opening volumes are a structural trilogy with cliff hanger endings to volumes I and II and a culmination ("...let him be Jeddak of Jeddaks, Warlord of Barsoom!") at the end of volume III;

three later volumes, though not structurally a trilogy, are the welcome return of Carter, soldier, statesman, scientist and scholar, as both narrator and central character, the best way that ERB could have completed the series.

Two heroines are title characters of opening volumes, A Princess Of Mars and The Moon Maid, although the second installment of the Moon trilogy presents a different kind of story, describing an oppressive society.

Two Earthmen go to Mars.

Two children of Carter adventure on Mars.

Two worlds, Mars/Barsoom and the Earth's Core/Pellucidar, are contacted on the Gridley Wave.

Two Martian warriors' stories are transmitted to Earth.

Two other worlds are visited by Carter. (A Martian moon is small but a spaceship and its occupants shrink as they approach so that, when they are on it, it is as large to them as Barsoom with proportionate inhabitants and surface features!)

Two Earth people go to Venus. (A later volume discloses a second mysterious case, more akin to Carter's astral travel.)

Two (or three) planets receive unexplained astral projections from Earth.

Two spaceships launched towards Mars arrive elsewhere:

the first, deflected by the Moon, reaches Venus;
the second, sabotaged by a crew member, lands on the Moon.

Two moons, terrestrial and Martian, are inhabited.

Two worlds, Earth and its Moon, are hollow spheres with inhabited interiors.

Two worlds, the enclosed Pellucidar and the clouded Venus, are believed by their inhabitants to be bowl-shaped and floating on an ocean. (It would have made more sense for the Pellucidarians to believe that the universe was endless solid rock with many other worlds occupying empty spaces within it and tunneling machines the equivalent of spaceships.) 

Two interplanetary invasions are planned:

Jovians will invade Mars, then other planets;
Moon Men do invade Earth where they rule tyrannically for several generations.

Two outcomes are unknown: of the Martian-Jovian conflict and the extrasolar interplanetary crossing.

Four planets, Mars, Venus, Jupiter and extrasolar Poloda, are visited and we are told that there is a Mercurian civilization.

ERB stays at the still center of the storm, receiving visits and manuscripts from Carter, radio messages from Paxton, telepathic messages from Napier, telekinetic messages from Poloda and accounts of a pre-remembered future from Julian. He does get some action on a future polar bear hunt in 1969.   

In HG Wells' inhabited Solar System, we do not know the outcome of the Martian invasion of Venus because Wells deliberately left this, and the future of life in the universe, uncertain. In the ERBian universe, ERB would simply have continued to add extra installments if he had lived longer. However, he did leave some mysteries unsolved, the strangest being the origin of John Carter who remembers no childhood but has always, in his memory, been an adult. Very near the end of the series, he speculates just once that he might be the materialization of a long dead, potentially, another series remains to be written.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Kipling In Comics And SF

Mike Carey's The Unwritten features both Oscar Wilde and Rudyard Kipling as characters and made me seek out a verse I remembered from The Jungle Book. When I emailed the verse to Mike Carey, he replied with another Kipling verse about "...the old grey Widow-maker."

Neil Gaiman described his Sandman story, "Hob's Leviathan," as " doing Kipling..." (Hy Bender, The Sandman Companion, London, 1999, p. 180). "Hob's Leviathan" includes an Indian king who becomes a mendicant as an Indian Prime Minister did in The Second Jungle Book.

Poul Anderson's Harvest Of Stars Tetralogy names Kipling in Volumes I and III and quotes without naming him in Volumes II and IV and the first quotation is "...the old grey Widow-maker."

Monday, 20 August 2012

Ad Astra

Apart from "The...," what is the most frequent word in science fiction titles? There are references to "Mars," "Space" and "Time" and a few to "Sky":

Farmer In The Sky
Tunnel In The Sky
Orphans Of The Sky
(and Red Planet)

"Get Out Of My Sky"
(and Welcome To Mars)

"Hunters Of The Sky Cave"
(and "The Martian Crown Jewels")

But the most frequent single word has to be "Star" or "Stars":


Star Beast
Starship Troopers
Time For The Stars
Starman Jones
Double Star

The Stars Like Dust
(and "The Martian Way")

The Star Dwellers
Mission To The Heart Stars
They Shall Have Stars
A Life For The Stars
The Seedling Stars
Fallen Star
And All The Stars A Stage
Star Trek (script adaptations)
"Detour To The Stars"

Trader To The Stars
We Claim these Stars!
The Enemy Stars
Star Fox
Harvest Of Stars
The Stars Are Also Fire
The Fleet Of Stars
Star Ways
World Without Stars

Anderson (titles of sometimes overlapping collections)
The Dark Between The Stars
Kinship With The Stars
Time And Stars

Beyond The Farthest Star
(and ten "Mars" titles)

The Stars My Destination

The City And The Stars
(and The Sands Of Mars)

Wreath Of Stars 

Behold The Stars

Star Trek
Star Wars  

Sunday, 19 August 2012


Some sequels should not have been written. Others are clever continuations that enhance the original.

Larry Niven's Ringworld Engineers makes us realize that his Ringworld had told us almost nothing about the place. Each volume of the originally unplanned and unintended Ringworld Tetralogy is different and imparts considerably more information until a history of the construct emerges.

James Blish's "A Case Of Conscience," a work that had been complete although ending ambiguously became, in expanded form, Book One of the Hugo award-winning novel, A Case Of Conscience. His Black Easter ended with demonic victory at Armageddon but, incredibly, his originally unplanned The Day After Judgement continues the story from exactly where the first work had ended and spells out the implications that we had missed. ACOC, ...Easter and ...Judgement, the latter two retrospectively regarded as a single work, form an originally unplanned trilogy with a historical novel.

Poul Anderson's Harvest Of Stars ends with colonists at Alpha Centauri planning to spread life through the universe. We do not expect to see this happen but his The Fleet Of Stars opens in a later colony, one of three, at Beta Hydri. We should also mention prequels. Anderson's Flandry stories, originally appearing in sf magazines, came to be preceded by three "Young Flandry" novels and to be followed by three later novels that could be packaged as "Children Of Empire." However, instead of continuing that or any other series indefinitely, Anderson later wrote new works like Harvest Of Stars.