« Summertime | Main | TorCon tidbits »

Marsward ho!

| No Comments

Some musings on the SF of days of yore:

Am most of the way through Hartwell/Cramer's Year's Best SF 8, and liking it more than I've liked some of the earlier volumes in the series. May talk more about some of the other stories later, but for now wanted to comment that the combination of Gene Wolfe's "Shields of Mars" (which is sort of an ironic homage to Bradbury) and Michael Moorcock's "Lost Sorceress of the Silent Citadel" (an explicit homage to Leigh Brackett, including explicit mentions of a couple of her characters) got me thinking about pulp Martian adventure as a viable modern genre. Forget New Pulp; this is a revival of the Old Pulp. It almost makes me want to read Mars Probes, the Mars-themed antho that both of those stories were published in.

It also makes me oddly nostalgic for the old Tom Corbett, Space Cadet books, which were before my time but which I read a couple of as a kid anyway. Stand By for Mars! The Space Pioneers! Thrill to the adventures of heroic Tom, snide Roger, and dumb but mechanically brilliant Astro as they brave the vast deserts of Mars and help defeat treacherous colonists and play Mercuryball and so on. I must've been about ten when I read 'em; it wasn't long after that that I discovered Le Guin and Delany, and I never looked back. But still, I have to admit there's still a certain appeal for me in this kind of straightforward heroic adventures, even though they were entirely lacking in irony, complexity, female characters, or interesting prose style.

Maybe I'm secretly a New Pulper (New Pulpist?) at heart after all.

At any rate, I'm only halfway through the Moorcock, but so far he's mostly (with one exception, to be noted below) doing a good job of capturing the tone of Brackett's adventure stories, which I know mostly via her 1970s Eric John Stark trilogy: The Ginger Star, The Hounds of Skaith, The Reavers of Skaith. Lush metaphor, occasionally baroque prose, heroic adventure, etc. Wikipedia points out, in an entry on Brackett, that Stark was rather more like Tarzan than like Conan—which, I suppose, makes Moorcock's joke about his character's original name even more apt: Captain John MacShard was raised by aboriginal Mercurians, who "named him Tan-Arz or Brown Skin." Funny, yes, but threw me completely out of the story—much too self-conscious a joke to fit the tone of the rest of the story. Ah, well.

This stuff also makes me think of Stanley G. Weinbaum's stories, and of Victorian science fiction. Really, there was almost a subgenre of stories set in a future colonized solar system, with ancient dying decadent High Martians living in trackless deserts and on the borders of canals, and the rough vigor of Venus, a much younger planet, where primitive beast-like humanoids vie with dinosaurs on a planet of eternal rain. And Mercury, such a young planet that it's still undergoing violent geological upheavals, with one face eternally facing the scorching sun and the other face turned away into the frigid darkness. Bradbury and (E. R.) Burroughs wrote in that universe, too. It feels like a rich vein to be mined, but maybe everything that could be done with it has been done, and it's hard for me to take non-ironic heroic-adventure stories all that seriously these days anyway. (And I should note, since I keep using the term "adventure," that these really were mostly Adventure stories that happened to have sfnal settings; the emphasis was on the thrilling fights and the heroic action. I don't see so much overlap between Adventure and Science Fiction genres these days.)

Of course, it might also be fun to subvert some of that old stuff, dig away at some of the assumptions, play with the tropes from a more modern point of view. But that might lose a lot of the appeal.

Post a comment