Posts Tagged With: John Carter

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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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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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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Mars: A New Hope

NASA’s most ambitious Mars probe is set to land late today (or early tomorrow, depending where you live). NASA is one of the few government programs that actually invests in a major — and important — industry that supports high-tech jobs and science and technology advancement. However, the geniuses in Washington has been throwing NASA under the bus as of late. They’d rather bailout unsuccessful ventures. But I digress. At least NASA is finally relying more on the commercialization of space. Now if they only would do that with the International Space Station.

Man’s obssesion with Mars has been detailed by many authors in great fiction. Ray Bradbury’s classic The Martian Chronicles showed us the ruins of a dying world.

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ swashbuckling John Carter series is an amazing adventure series decades ahead of its time.

Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy is a detailed epic on man’s settlement and terraforming of the Red Planet.

There are many others, but these are of the best. Even though Mars is a dead world, it still draws us to it as one of the most dynamic — and mysterious — worlds in our Solar System. As unfolds in Robinson’s novels, it’s the most likely world for humans to colonize if we can ever begin to look further than next week. Robert Zubrin’s The Case For Mars explains the reasons and means for exploring the Red World.

In an era where the politicians lack any vision, and most people wander aimlessly through life, maybe Mars will inspire a few to raise the bar.

Especially in this election year with the same empty promises and waves of deception, Mars could be just what we need.

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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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