Friday, January 20, 2006

A Princess of Counter-Earth

The first science fiction novel I ever read was A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I was thirteen, or possibly younger, in a B. Dalton bookstore in a mall, and my father trust it into my hands and said, "Here, read this."

Because I didn't like to do anything my father told me (what thirteen year old does?), and because we were a good Christian family, and because my father was a lawyer -and thus, open to debating his decrees- I took one look at the gorgeous Michael Whelan cover (today, my favorite of his illustrations), and said, "But it has a naked woman on the cover!"

"I know it has a naked woman," replied my father, "but it's still a good book." And he bought it and ordered me to read it. Which I did. And I went on to read the other 10 books in the series, the entire Tarzan series, the Pellucidar series, and many more over the course of the next year or so, for a total of 62 Burroughs paperbacks (still on my bookshelf today, in the same condition they were purchased in, if a bit yellowed at the edges). Suffice to say there was a lot of naked people in the Anders' house, and at least one or two embarrassing incidents involving teachers at school.

From Burroughs, I graduated to Tolkien and Moorcock and Leiber, and on to the rest of genre fiction, but I never forgot sailing over the moss-covered plains of Barsoom, and I confess to gazing up at the heavens more than once while lying on the ground, trying to slip my astral self out of my fleshy shell like a hand from a glove so I could cross that cold emptiness in a blink and join Tars Tarkas on the field of battle.

So it should come as no surprise that we have not one, but two homages to ERB within the first three seasons of Pyr's line. The first is the wonderful fantasy novel, The Prodigal Troll, from Charles Coleman Finlay, called "anthropological fantasy of quite a high order" by Locus magazine and "unusually intriguing and satisfying" by Kirkus Reviews. A tale of an orphaned boy adopted by a mother troll grieving for her own lost offspring, it's not hard to spot its literary roots in the lord of the jungle.

The other, due out this coming May, is Chris Roberson's Paragaea: A Planetary Romance, which takes not the Lord Greystoke as its inspiration, but the Warlord of Mars, if one adds in a touch of The Land That Time Forgot and alters the fighting man of Virginia to a female Russian cosmonaut fresh out of 1960s Star City. Paragaea is nothing short of an old style pulp fiction, with all the swashbuckling adventure of an Edgar Rice Burroughs or a Leigh Brackett, but with the attention to actual science that Roberson is swiftly becoming known for. As Mike Resnick says, Roberson "brings Edgar Rice Burroughs and Alex Raymond into the 21st century."

Now, following swiftly on the heels of fellow Pyr author David Louis Edelman, Roberson has produced a content-rich website in support of the book, As well as the usual bits and bobs, the site contains a beautifully illustrated map of Paragaea (courtesy of the wonderful map-maker Ellisa Mitchell), character bios, and an entire novel, the prequel Set the Seas on Fire, which features Paragaea protagonist Hieronymus Bonaventure in a nautical adventure set during the Napoleonic wars (with zombies, natch). The prequel is available for free in a variety of formats via a Creative Commons license. Described as "Horatio Hornblower meets Lovecraft," Set the Seas on Fire is a great introduction to Roberson's work, and a perfect way to tide oneself over until May.


A.R.Yngve said...

It's amazing how wide the impact of those John Carter books has been...

Carl Sagan wrote in COSMOS (both the book and the TV series) how A PRINCESS OF MARS got him interested in Mars and astronomy.

Al said...

The John Carter books, along with Asimov and Silverberg's early stuff, are the first things I ever read. The latter two my mother already had so the Carter books really count as the originals for me. I've loved Mars ever since. I even bought a martian globe as a child and put sticky labels on it marking the locations of the book (and proving Burroughs actually never got his map data right...).