Posts Tagged With: Edgar Rice Burroughs

Mars Awaits

This month, Mars moves into the best position for observers on Earth since 2003. What Mars book are you reading to welcome the Red Planet?

mars

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From Callisto to Deep Beneath the Earth

I have finally finished my review of the old-fashioned adventures of Lin Carter. First was the Conan-inspired Thongor. Then we flew to the Green Star, where a man trapped by his circumstances on Earth, founds himself in endless adventure in a distant star system. Now, in the Jandar of Callisto series, we follow Johnathan Dark to the moon of Jupiter, where rapid-fire, breathless adventures await.

This is one of Carter’s best, on par with Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars and Carson Napier of Venus epics. Escapist like the rest, but why do so many seek to escape into such books? Are the unhappy with reality? Perhaps, but some do so for fun or to relax. It’s no different then sports or television, though certainly more engaging then the latter. For others, it is more deeper (and maybe they don’t even realize this).

Maybe society, or jobs, or other people, have defined their lives or killed their souls. Carter’s books, and others like it, often start with some disaffected earthman being swept away to another world. There he finds his true self, his purpose, his Story.

Carter continues this thread in his Zanthodon books — his answer to Burroughs’ Pellucidar. In some ways, Carter’s is better — not as drawn out and more focused. The hero, Eric Carstairs finds himself in a lost world underneath the Sahara. There he also finds the beautiful Darya, woman of the bronze age. Darya is realized as a strong female character that stands above the stereotype of pulp fiction. Even she, though, is painted as a contrast to the controlling society miles above — free from what shifting winds there try to define women as.

So take the leap, fly to another world, or go deep below, and perhaps you’ll find that ember inside waiting to burst into fire and flame.

thon

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Fly to the Green Star

Man is dissatisfied with his life. The never-ending, ever-repeating, events of daily life threaten to kill him with boredom

Then he finds himself on another world, in one peril after another. And nearly always, he encounters a woman that was meant for him and he must fight for her by conquering unimaginable dangers.

This is the classic foundation of the stories perfected by Edgar Rice Burroughs in lost worlds, hidden jungles and on faraway planets. He managed to keep each creation fresh and exciting, as did Otis Adelbert Kline who followed in his footsteps. Another is the underrated Lin Carter, who’s creation of Thongor we have already reviewed. Now, travel to a distant world in the Green Star series.

Here a crippled man finds a way to send his soul to a faraway world. There he enters the dead Chong the Mighty, and later Karn the Hunter, taking his place in this tropical world where the races live in towering forests. Soon he encounters Niamh the Fair, a princess, who he quickly falls in love with. However, and this is no surprise, before he can forever be her mate, five books full of death-at-every-turn adventure must be overcome.

Why have such stories, so often derisively called “pulp,” endured for decades? They all have the underlying theme of being fed-up with conformity, the status quo and what society has decided life should be like. Sure, they are often told from the perspectives of men, but the women they meet are not fragile flowers.

The desire to be better, to find one’s purpose, is a call that never goes quiet. These are tales of earthlings finding and doing what their own world won’t allow. As I have written before:

Read to be entertained. Read to get lost. Read to be inspired.

thon

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A Nonconformist? So was Tarzan.

We’ve often been told that adventure fiction is dead or not worthy of note other than a quick escape from reality. Apparently authors and film makers have not been made aware of this impending collapse of their world. In fact, they have been told for decades that there is no place for their fiction. Even over a century ago, when Edgar Rice Burroughs came on the scene, author Brian Stableford wrote in an introduction to a recent edition of Tarzan that, “…critics thought the Romantic tradition might be outdated and ripe for replacement.” What they called the “Romantic tradition” was embodied in the high adventures of H. Rider Haggard or Jules Verne. Burroughs added to the mix John Carter of Mars and Lord Greystroke — otherwise known as Tarzan. Stableford continues:

Burroughs demonstrated…that there is something in the Romantic tradition that offers a deep and fundamental appeal to the human imagination…[and] Tarzan does so by appealing to the frustrations of conformity that we all feel in living in a complex society…[but] Tarzan does not merely live an ideal existence in his symbolic jungle, but he also carries the skills learned there into his social intercourse with the damaged products of civilization.

Literary-level thought in Tarzan among the unrelenting action? Perhaps many have had their perception colored by the many bad films that stray from the source material. Even Burroughs considered the movie versions in his day “travesties.” A new film this summer may remedy that and provide a needed respite from superhero overload.

Ironically, Tarzan was one of the first modern superheros that inspired much of what followed. And he taught us a thing or two about society along the way.

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Return to Mars

Ever wish there were new adventures of your favorite books? One more trek across Middle Earth? Just a few more stories from Bradbury? Another voyage to Barsoom? Once an author has passed away, all such chances fade away, with rare exception. Tolkien’s son did complete his fathers The Children of Hurin. When Robert Jordan knew his health was failing, he made sure someone was going to finish his Wheel of Time series. There also has been a number of attempts to bring back Edgar Rice Burroughs quintessential space hero, John Carter, back to life through the world of comics.

First, I’ve never been into comics. I think I owned one at some point long ago. Now even the word “comics” is archaic and they have been replaced with graphic novels (graphic in the sense of lavishly illustrated). I may have to make an exception here, if it means more epic adventures across the Red Planet.

Back in the late 1970s, Marvel created the John Carter: Warlord of Mars series of new tales that took place within the first book, The Princess of Mars. A few years ago, all of the issues were collected into one volume (it’s surprising how vivid the artwork is when printed on high-quality paper as opposed to the old comic newsprint).

In recent years, Dynamite has brought Carter back in its graphic novels. One of the spin-offs of the series features the princess of Mars, Dejah Thoris, in her own adventures before she ever met earthling John Carter. Because of the highly visual nature of this iteration, these stories are usually labeled for “mature” readers.

Burroughs’ books weren’t explicit in nature, but what happens when the violence is visualized – and those barely clothed Martians are depicted? Whereas the books leave much to the imagination, these graphic novels — not so much. Ironically, Burroughs’ blink-and-you-miss-it description of Dejah Thoris in the first book would inspire decades of sci-fi and fantasy art.

So if you long to return to high adventure on the distant Red Planet, John Carter and Dejah Thoris are still out there generations after we first read of their meeting.

The ultimate action couple.

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Lord of the Apes

I have posted numerous times on the books of Edgar Rice Burroughs. His knack for fantastic adventures set the stage for books and film for decades right up to this day. Funny, though, I have never read his best known series.

Tarzan.

Twenty-six books in the series were penned by Burroughs. Some 200 films have the name Tarzan in the title, but most stray considerably from the source material. First written in 1912, Tarzan finally gets the big budget Hollywood treatment it deserves:

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Disney failed to launch Burroughs’ epic Barsoom tales into a franchise (though take a look at how much Burroughs’ Mars books inspired Star Wars), but maybe Warner Brothers can bring Tarzan into the 21st Century.

And quite frankly, we need a hero who isn’t a mutant or alien.

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Finding Sexism in Fiction…A Modern Witch Hunt?

There seems to be a trend of searching through books and find reasons to label them sexist. For example, The Lord of the Rings is sexist because there aren’t enough women characters and the ones that are there aren’t doing enough important things. This leads me to ask:

What is the proper woman character quota for novelists? Is the role of someone like Eowyn fighting the Nazgul at a critical moment in the story not important? If a book or film is overwhelming centered on women, is that sexist?

See the overreach of certain critics? We also can suspect that some are looking to push an agenda by convoluting whatever book, film or television show they can. Take a recent criticism of the new show Supergirl in which it was called “sexist” because of her name (girl) and the fact she seem concerned by such things as relationships with men. The show itself smartly ridiculed the problem with the name and shouldn’t the world’s most powerful women be allowed to pick the relationship she wants? When we are oft told to be tolerant and inclusive of everything, only to be told certain relationships are not okay. Is this not a red flag for someone’s agenda? The ultimate irony is that apparently a woman who can do anything is not woman enough.

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Finding Your Destiny Off Planet

Robert Ellsmore Grandon stifled a yawn…He was tired of life at twenty-four, he decided – tired and disillusioned and trapped…[he] yearned for action, adventure, romance – something that seemed to be gone in this world of the Twentieth Century.

That is how Otis Adelbert Kline’s novel Planet of Peril began.

And it was written in 1930.

We often think that our lives are unique to our time, but in many ways they are not. So were the fantastic adventures of Kline and his contemporary Edgar Rice Burroughs, at their foundation, a reflection of buried desires? In particular the desire not to be suppressed and molded by whichever social and political masterminds are currently in style? To not be drug into endless, mindless repetition? The rebellion against conformity and corruption?

Perhaps some think this is reading too much into the over-the-top adventures from sci-fi’s first Golden Era. On the other hand, those extreme adventures may also be reminders of how far we fall from our potential.

Read to be entertained. Read to get lost. Read to be inspired.

popoak

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Epic Sci-Fi…From 1933

It seems that many authors think that their sci-fi or fantasy books must run 200,000 words to qualify as a world-building epic. As we discussed before, that isn’t always the case. There are many lengthy books that are must reads, but many others that fail to let their stories breath and trust their readers’ imaginations.

Older sci-fi tended to be much shorter, such as Otis Adelbert Kline’s The Swordsman of Mars and The Outlaws of Mars. A contemporary of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Kline wrote in the same vein of swashbuckling adventures.

Does the short nature of these books mean they lack detail? No, you quickly find yourself on the red world, immersed in another culture. for a short while you are there on a world that never was. I have often argued that just enough detail can go along away to implanting images in the reader’s mind. Describing every last button and rock along the trail just slows down the journey.

A writer must learn when to detail and when not to. Where to pause and give more, and where to forge ahead and trust the reader. Surely reader preferences may come into play, but most want to be pulled in and stranded in a fantastic adventure.

The Red Planet is a good of a place as any to start.

oak

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Realism or Escapist Entertainment?

Ever know someone who can’t just let themselves enjoy a book or movie? “That movie is just completely implausible and unrealistic,” they say. “But it’s about alien robots!” you respond. Not everything has to be dead serious. Can you write purely for entertainment?

We have examined how a writer can be entertaining and thoughtful, about writing with your own voice and readers misunderstanding your book. These are all important considerations to a writer, but can he or she write more for pure entertainment? Sure they can.

Ultimately, an author’s beliefs or views come out somewhere in a book, but they don’t even have to be the central theme – or a theme at all. Think of all the barely plausible thrillers, and the movies that come from them such as 007, and how entertaining they are. Edgar Rice Burroughs nearly invented the swashbuckling “man finds himself in alien world/culture and must survive one peril after another to get the (native) girl in the end” scenario. He used the archetype in nearly every book he wrote, but through changing the details and characters he made each an original, breathless read.

Sure, his books weren’t without comments on society and such, but for the immersive reader they are the perfect escape. An immersive reader disappears into a book and doesn’t analyze or critique or try to figure it out. They want to be pulled in and, if the writer is good, the reader will catch whatever themes and messages work their way into the story. There’s nothing wrong with starting with a message, so long as it is organically delivered. However, most authors are seeking to tell a story first and foremost. Some may be doing so for pure escapism. Robert Adams writes at the start of his Horseclans series:

The following tale is a fantasy, pure and simple. It is a flight of sheer imagination. It contains no hidden meanings and none should be read into it…rather, [this is] intended for the enjoyment of any man or woman who has ever felt a twinge of that atavistic urge to draw a yard of sharp, flashing steel and with a wild war cry recklessly spur a vicious stallion against impossible odds.

It’s your story. Have a little fun.

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