Edgar Rice Burroughs

The Sword & Sorcery Anthology, edited by David G. Hartwell and Jacob Weisman

If you like your fantasy gritty, violent, personal, and character-driven, featuring flawed antiheroes, then you’ll want to listen to these two fascinating three-part series of podcast episodes on SF Signal.

Hosted and moderated by Patrick Hester and Jaym Gates, the panels include noted authors, editors, and artists, such as Lou Anders, Scott Lynch, James Enge, Saladin Ahmed, John Picacio, and many more.

The discussions are wide ranging: The panelists discuss what makes a story sword & sorcery (do you agree with Lou?), the proper length of a sword & sorcery story in prose form, and what the boundaries between sword & sorcery, sword & planet stories (Edgar Rice Burroughs’s John Carter), epic fantasy, and urban fantasy are. They talk about the new sword & sorcery (by authors Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, James Enge, Michael Chabon, and others) in relation to its progenitors in the classic pulps (Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber) and the more mature work of Michael Moorcock, the proliferation of sword & sorcery into non-Western settings (e.g., sword & sandal stories by Saladin Ahmed and Howard Andrew Jones), and sword & sorcery in different mediums, such as film (Conan), table-top roleplaying games (D&D), contemporary video games (Skyrim), and art (Boris Vallejo).

After listening to all of these episodes, what’s your take on sword & sorcery?

[Keep reading…]


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John Carter

John CarterThere is a certain charm to the recently released John Carter, helmed by Andrew Stanton. The two leads, Taylor Kitsch’s John Carter and Lynn Collins’s Dejah Thoris, have enough chemistry to draw the audience in; the world of Mars itself is a treat for the eyes; the basic plot is well within the bounds of standard epic adventure but perfectly sound; and many of the situations that the characters find themselves in have real potential, albeit never fully realized. In short, there was a grand story there for the telling, had there been a director capable enough to pull it off. There was not, and consequently a theatergoer is likely to leave feeling frustrated by the large gap between what was and what might have been.

After a useless prologue that actually ruins the later effect when the protagonist appears on Mars for the first time, we are introduced to John Carter, a former officer of the Confederacy and current gold prospector. When the United States army tries to conscript him to fight the Apaches in Arizona, he tells them he owes them nothing and prefers to go about his own business. This defiance of the state should not excite the libertarian too much, however, because just moments before, he was busy abusing the rights of a shop owner, refusing to leave the man’s store when he wouldn’t sell. Carter’s reticence to join and fight, it turns out, is more about his bleak personal cynicism after the deaths of his wife and child than it is about a freedom-friendly moral code.

In the course of his attempt to escape the clutches of the war machine, he stumbles upon a cave where he is ambushed by a strangely dressed man with seemingly magical powers (the reason for the ambush is never made clear, though one cannot help but notice that the plot would have come to a standstill without it). After killing the ambusher, Carter takes a medallion from his cadaver and gets transported to a strange land he eventually learns is the planet Mars. He discovers he has extraordinary new powers with which he amazes some of the creatures he finds there.

Eventually, he meets a woman, a princess, fleeing an arranged marriage that could stop a war between two city-states. She wants to use him and his incredible physical prowess for her ends, which are to save her city-state from destruction without getting married; he wants to use her for his, which are to return to Earth with the help of her esoteric knowledge of his amulet. They form a distrustful alliance and adventure ensues. I’ll leave it to the reader to guess whether or not they fall in love.

[Keep reading…]


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BOOK REVIEW | The Empress of Mars by Kage Baker Thumbnail

The Empress of Mars
By Kage Baker
Trade paperback, 304 pages
Tor (2009), $10.87

The Empress of Mars was written by the late Kage Baker (June 10, 1952 — January 31, 2010; 1st name pronounced like ‘cage’). It started out as a novella (Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine July 2003), which won the 2004 Theodore Sturgeon Award and was nominated for a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award, but was later expanded into the full-length novel published in 2009 that I review here.

The Empress of Mars is not Martian royalty. This is not Barsoom, the Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs. You won’t find a John Carter-type hero fighting native Martians and rescuing princesses within these pages, though Baker does pay homage to Burroughs’ Mars tales. Tars Tarkas makes an appearance as the Martian Santa Claus, for example.

No, The Empress of Mars is a restaurant and bar owned by one Mary Griffith, an early settler of Mars and former biological scientist. A tough, motherly figure, Mary Griffith embodies the rugged individualism and pioneer spirit that pervades Baker’s The Empress of Mars. Baker’s tale is more scientifically literate than Burroughs’, and qualifies (mostly at least, see below) as hard science fiction, leavened with superior writing and humor. It is set some unspecified time after the year 2186 — marking a past event, the year the Kutuzov expedition discovered Olympus Mons is not an extinct shield volcano, it was the only date I recall seeing in the novel.

The story revolves around Mary, her three daughters, and a host of other quirky characters, some of whom she takes under her wing, others she befriends or does business with, as they deal with at first neglect by and then interference from the bureaucrats of the British Arean Company (BAC).

[Keep reading…]


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