Barsoomian airships

In the John Carter stories, spectacular Martian airships play prominent roles during the heroes’ adventures. Here is a fan page that takes a look at how they might be designed — link >>>

A  Martian one-man flier.

A Martian one-man flier (click on the picture for a larger version)

Cities of the Underdark

Underground cities and cave systems are common in fictional worlds, both literary and game-related. CNN reports (with pictures) about several such places in the real world, from China to Britain — link >>>

The City of Caves under Nottingham, UK

Dieselpunk Hollow Earth

A dieselpunk rendition of a Burroughsian Hollow Earth. Adventures await the daring explorer. (Click on the picture to see a larger version.)

I found this delightful picture at the Hollow World blog (link >>>), a place dedicated to daredevil adventures inside Earth in the vein of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Pellucidar stories, Lin Carter’s Zanthodon series, and Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Urbs Mobilis — the Nomadic Town

Traditionally on Earth, the pastoral nomadic lifestyle stands in opposition to the sedentary city lifestyle. Ibn Khaldoun, an Arab philosopher of the 14th century, was the first to formalize that observation in social science terms in his book Muqaddimah, in which he analyzed the rise and fall of medieval Arab realms. However, technology occasionally provides the right tools to overcome constraints posed by nature.

Here is a article on how to construct nomadic towns with technology that is only slightly more advanced that what Earth possesses today — link >>>

So such a construct would fit into the worldscapes of SF-games like Traveller (the ship-borne towns in Nomads of the World-Ocean are a maritime equivalent), Star Wars D6 (consider the Jawas’ village-on-tracks in Episode IV), and 2300AD, where human corporations exploit alien worlds for their natural resources. The 2012 movie John Carter introduced the “walking” city of Zodanga, a more spectacular-looking science-fantasy version for Barsoom (the “Mars” of Edgar Rice Burroughs). And the picture below shows us a dieselpunk rendition. Ergo, this is a flexible concept that suits plenty of SF sub-genres.

Semper mobilis — the motto of the roaming cities.

Review: “Jane Carver of Waar”

The title Jane Carver of Waar was irresistible when I spotted this book in a friend’s bookshelf. A few subway journeys later (I read when commuting between home and office) I had reached its end and arrived at a clear conclusion: its author Nathan Long delivers the goods, i.e. a successful parody of the classical John Carter of Mars genre with plenty of well-established tropes:

A weird distant planet — check
Unexplained interplanetary journey — check
Six-limbed barbarians — check
Humans of unusual coloring — check
Swashbuckling — check
Airships — check
Pirates — check
Honor before reason — check
True love™ — check
Dastardly deeds — check
Damsel in distress — check
Slavery — check
Gladiators — check
A hero with extraordinary strength and leaping ability — check

However, several Carterian tropes get subverted. The protagonist Jane Carver is a tall and muscular working-class biker, a petty criminal with a few jail stints and a former private in Airborne Rangers. She is uneducated, streetwise and crude, which is reflected in the language of the story, told in a rough first-person prose. Sexism and the associated shoddy treatment of woman are handled in ways that would have been impossible in earlier works of the genre; the author does not mince words when he describes a pre-industrial society in which commoners are treated like dirt by nobles and becoming an outlaw appears to be the best escape from oppression.

While being chased by Californian cops for man-slaughter, Carver stumbles over a small device that teleports her to the distant world of Waar. How and why is never explained (and in this kind of story it is of little importance). She arrives in the middle of a kidnapping scene (in which strange-colored humans fight with swords), rescues a survivor, gets captured and enslaved by a steppe tribe of “tiger centaurs”, escapes, gains other allies, gets embroiled in some aristocratic power-struggles, serves as a gladiator, and performs many acrobatic deeds to rescue a hapless damsel in distress, over whose hand in marriage several high-ranking men fight. “Full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes” appears to be Carver’s motto. And there is a neat reference to the “War God”, a John-Carter-style terrestrial character who had spent some time on Waar 150 years ago, causing much havoc and turmoil before he vanished.

An amusing twist is that Carver, being solidly plebeian, frequently gets annoyed with the nobility’s code of honor and pretensions. Her speech, peppered with 21st-century popcultural references, is on the other hand equally frequently incomprehensible to her two aristocratic comrades-in-arms. Carver is a competent low-level superhero, whereas the two Waarian men that accompany her are foppish and notably less effectual. Their chief adversary, fortunately, lives up to the reader’s expectations: a blackguard straight out of the pulps.

I give Jane Carver of Waar four red planets out of five. It is exactly the adventure it claims to be. The sole shortcoming is that the plot never surprised me.

There is a sequel, Swords of Waar, and I will be happy to read it in the near future.

The Tarzan Centennial

Edgar Rice Burroughs seems to have had an annus mirabilis in 1912; that year saw the appearance of both John Carter and Tarzan. For any lover of science fiction and action adventures, these two characters serves as the gate-keepers of a new “20th-century” literary phase. Burroughs was a hack writer and admitted openly that he had started writing yarns to earn money for his poor family. But he possessed a peculiar flair for story-telling that still attracts readers.

The ecology of literature is vicious — look at what other action characters from the Edwardian era you will find in 21st-century bookshop. Sherlock Holmes and perhaps one or two more? The others have long since faded out of sight by getting outdated.

Washington Post today has an article about the Tarzan centennial in the literary world. The author has a few pertinent points to what are the particular qualities of the Jungle Lord.
Link >>>