I’m happy to announce the release of my first novel, Return to Barsoom, a modern look at Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars. Burroughs began his series of 11 books with A Princess of Mars in 1912, and ended with The Skeleton Men of Jupiter in 1942.
Burroughs is one of the best of the early science fiction writers who started out in pulp magazines. He is better known for creating Tarzan.
When I began reading the Tarzan books I was 12 or 13, and I thought they were fantastic. The first few were the best. I continued on to read ERB’s other works, which included the Carter books. Whatever Burroughs may have lacked in subtlety in his writing, his stories were always imaginative and rich with detail.
Rereading the stories as an adult in the late 1980s, some of the underlying assumptions in Tarzan and John Carter were out of place in today’s world. Both series of books are in the genre of colonial fiction. The educated western man will invariably triumph and rule over ‘savages’. It is his rightful place in the order of things.
It was also a bit of a young man rejecting his childhood heroes that led me to look at the material with a critical eye. My other work was in comics, and that period of comics was all about deconstruction and reexamination of the form, so it followed if I was going to write a John Carter novel it would in part address what I felt would respect the source material while bringing it into the present.
The spirit of adventure, of not giving up in the face of insurmountable odds, that could stay. Strange aliens and weird customs, all good. But I didn’t buy the idea that the heroic man needed to be superior to all he met. Sure, he’s a hero, but does he need to be flawless? It’s a lot more fun to play off his failings and weaknesses.
Carter’s princess, Dejah Thoris, was always kidnapped as a plot device to give Carter something to quest after, but she never did a whole lot of talking. Carter worshipped her like no other, to be sure, but did they sit down and talk for a couple of pages? No. I wanted female characters to be just as important as the male ones.
The final idea was to reconcile ERB’s Barsoom (his name for Mars), with what we know about Mars in the real world. The juxtaposition of the two worlds I thought would help make Barsoom’s world more accessible to new readers, and for people who knew Barsoom the challenge to their assumptions would bring a freshness to their experience.
Not being the most focussed young man, work continued off and on for a number of years. By 2000, I was near the end of chapter 14 and there it stayed. A few years later we were up to the end of 18. The rest of the book was written in September 2009.
Writing a book from your mid 20s to your mid 40s is not for the faint of heart. 40-something guy invariably cringes at the exuberance… of 20-something guy. Part of the completion process involved editing and rewriting certain parts of the first 14 chapters.
I hope you enjoy the book, and I look forward to your comments.
There’s also a separate blog post with links to current stuff on Mars and Barsoom.