Posts Tagged With: Edgar Rice Burroughs

Messing with Nature

Long before genetic engineering, or people even knew of DNA, fiction has been warning us of taking our tinkering with nature too far. Books like The Island of Doctor Moreau, Frankenstein and The Monster Men are all at least a century or more old. Yet these authors all saw the age-old hubris in man to try to “improve” on nature, for good or evil.

Some may think the hideous creations in these books will never happen. In the decades after these books were written, we saw how naive this thinking is with experimentation by the Nazis and Imperial Japanese. Since then, genetic science has made it easier…

Is some government or group making fiction fact? Unfortunately, the answer is probably.

Science is an amazing gift, created in the minds of men. Too bad some of those men turned science into a god — a religion of scientism. Others abandoned good for evil.

No wonder such books have endured for so long. We all — whether we admit to it or not — instinctively know danger lurks in the shadows.

And there must always be someone to stop it.

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Lost on Venus

While Mars gets all the attention in sci-fi, Edgar Rice Burroughs (of course) penned a five volume series back in the day (1930s) and has been the epic adventure on the clouded planet ever since.

He uses his classic formula: Earth man lost on another world, meets the girl of his dreams (native of the other world), must face peril after peril, often losing and rescuing his girl in the process. In spite of being a well-used plot in his books — and an archtype for much of pulp fiction that would come later — he creates fresh backdrops of alien cultures and beasts. One can detect allusions to nations or ideologies of our own world in his creations, yet he’s always subtle, never in your face with parallel meanings.

Is there anything wrong with an entertaining story that lets the reader disappear into another world? Must every book be on some sort of crusade? No, but all good books have some depth to them. Others try too hard and come off unintelligent to the thoughtful reader. Yes, there are those who like books that explicitly affirm their worldviews, no matter how poor the presentation.

Burroughs’ books, however, decades after they were written remain fresh, relevant and, above all, entertaining.

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Under the Moons of Mars

Mars has always weighed heavy on man’s imagination. Since ancient times, the red planet has hung in the sky taunting us. Before space probes revealed it to be a dead world, it was where many authors set their adventures. Even afterwords, it has still lured writers there. First Burroughs and Bradbury explored the races among the red canyons and hills of the dying world. Even much later, Ben Bova’s manned mission to Mars found hints of a lost civilization.

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Perhaps the allure of Mars stays strong, in spite of being empty of cities and canals, because it still is seen as the most livable planet after Earth. That’s not saying much, considering how quickly one would die on its surface. But as planets go, it has resources that can be converted to fuels and supplies. And even better, perhaps it can be terraformed into a livable planet as outlined in Kim Stanley Robinson’s epic Mars Trilogy (starting with Red Mars). Robert Zubrin, in his The Case for Mars, describes how we can get there and why we should.

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Recent years have seen a growing armada of robots to Mars. It is obvious that its ancient hold on us has not gone away. While many people can’t break away from their televisions, the distant red sands still call on that part remaining inside of many humans that wants to explore and push our race forward out of the mud. Yes, there are those alien enthusiasts who get excited every time a rock looks like a “bone” or something and then conspiracy theories come out of the woodwork. Sorry, as much as we would like otherwise, Mars has not been hospitable to complex life even in the best of times. In fact, the universe is likely very barren. Most people look out at all the stars and think, “There must be millions of worlds out there teeming with life!” Yet, even statistics must yield to physics. The requirements for life are so specific and narrow, there are few places out there that could harbor others like us (or unlike us).

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Some think it depressing we may be all alone. Others still think advanced aliens are flying here in little ships that buzz cars in remote locations and crash a lot. Then perhaps, as many have suggested, maybe because we are here against impossible odds, we are special after all?

Even after all these centuries, Mars still calls on us to find our place and purpose in the universe. That is why writers will still explore the red sands until others finally set foot where water once flowed.

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Burroughs’ Dystopian Earth

Edgar Rice Burroughs is best known for his pulp-sci-fi Barsoom series (John Carter of Mars) and Tarzan. His swashbuckling heroes and their over-the-top adventures influenced countless authors and movies ever since. He’s not known for dystopian tales like those so popular today. Yet, before Orwell and Huxley, he wrote one, a lesser known book, The Moon Men.

A sequel to The Moon Maid, it takes a decidedly different tone than that volume. Maid is the typical Burroughs adventure: Hero finds himself in perilous situations, always perseveres and rescues the girl in the end. In Men, Flash forward a few centuries after these events, and we find Earth invaded and conquered.

Earth, after its own wars, had created “peace” by disarming all. The world’s militaries also all abandoned. A world lulled into a false Eden, ripe for someone to take advantage of it. What follows is a subjugated population who worships in secret, books are rare and people are stolen by those aligned with the invaders. Fall out of line and face death and being fed to the alien race. But Julian has had enough.

Burroughs, writing in the 1920s, had seen the destructive Great War and writes of the follies of war in the first book, but also of the futility of pretending evil is conquered and peace can be forced. He then shows how tyranny can begin to falter because of one man. The master of pulp fiction showed that this genre could give us as much to think about as any “literary” work.

And any worthwhile book should entertain and make us think.

pyr

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The Original Lost World

Edgar Rice Burroughs will always be best known for creating Tarzan and yet this was only a small part of this prolific author’s legacy.

Decades before Jurassic Park or the endless “lost island with extinct creatures” films of Old Hollywood, Burroughs was one of the first with his The Land That Time Forgot and its two sequels.

In his trademark style, this swashbuckling, impending-death-on-every-other-page adventure inspires to this day much in fiction and film. His prose is from another era, yet readable and page-turning. Like many of his books, they are written in the first person, giving the story an even more immediate sense of urgency. Very over-the-top, not unlike modern thrillers, but much more straight forward in the storytelling. Modern writers sometimes want to show their skill by cramming in as many plots, subplots, gimmicks and twists as they can. Burroughs shows this isn’t really necessary. Sure, there are cliffhangers and surprises and layers of meaning, but why clutter a story up when one doesn’t have to?

As in most of his novels, there’s always a love interest for the hero to save. In these books, the heroes never fail to find a native girl that they first cannot imagine being with, only to risk it all for them by the end.

While not as epic and expansive as his John Carter of Mars series, the lost island of Caspak has probably inspired more that followed. The whole trilogy can be found in one volume here. This wasn’t Burroughs’ only foray into lost worlds, his exploration of Pellucidar under the Earth’s surface spanned many novels. Read the first two in The Hollow Earth.

Nearly a century after it was written, his lost world is still the standard all others are measured against.

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John Carter of Mars

If you’ve seen the movie previews of John Carter and the name is not familiar, you’ve missed out on an epic sci-fi series. The classic eleven-book series from Edgar Rice Burroughs, written decades ago, was ahead of its time. During the era when Mars was still the subject of many a fantasy and full of life, Burroughs created this swashbuckling adventure. John Carter, earthling and Civil War vet, finds himself somehow on Mars (Barsoom) in the midst of a war. Fantasy, sci-fi and high adventure form these best of Burroughs’ works, even though he is often better remembered for Tarzan and The Land that Time Forgot. Hopefully, the film-makers do the first book justice and we can look forward to more.

All eleven books in four volumes: Books 1-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-11.

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