Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Anderson And ERB

Edgar Rice Burroughs had a vivid imagination but needed a scientifically trained collaborator. ERB wrote (nothing but?) action-adventure fiction whereas Poul Anderson wrote that kind of fiction and a lot more. ERB's John Carter is "Sword and Science" and Anderson cleverly incorporated some sword fighting into his Dominic Flandry series.

Just as Carter died on Earth and was transported to Mars/Barsoom, Tangor dies on Earth and is transported to an extrasolar planet, Poloda, where scientists deduce that:

he has come from a planetary system beyond the range of their telescopes;

that system is probably 22,000 light years beyond an astronomical object that they call Canapa;

Canapa is identical with NGC 7006 which they say is 220,000 light years away from Earth.

How can they possibly know any of that? ERB wanted a planet at an interstellar distance from Earth so he got hold of a reference to NGC 7006 to make his point.

My challenge to a hard sf writer like Anderson would be:

rewrite ERB's Beyond The Farthest Star;
render it in better English;
deepen the characterization;
enhance the action-adventure fiction;
accept every absurdity like that stuff about NGC 7006;
devise a plausible scientific rationale for every such absurdity.

The result would be fantastic and well worth reading - like an Andersonian rationalization of Kryptonian super powers which I would also like to read.

3 comments:

  1. Kaor, Paul!

    I didn't think Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote badly in English. The language of his Barsoom books was definitely late 19th and early 20th century, not like what became the preferred style after about 1920. Lush, leisurely, rather purple prose, maybe, but not at all bad, I thought. Reminded me of how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H. Rider Haggard, or even Kipling wrote.

    Sean

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  2. ERB is actually a very good -storyteller- who gradually became a better -writer-, but lost some of the narrative drive of his earlier books. In his first books -- the first few Tarzan books, and the first three Mars stories -- the extraordinary vividness makes up for technical defects. In fact, his reputation would probably be higher if those had been the only books in those series; the later Tarzan books are admittedly formulaic. On the other hand, when he really pushed himself, ERB could be technically very impressive. THE MUCKER for example, is only the length of a short novel if you include both volumes, but he managed -- apparently just to see if he could -- virtually every pulp adventure trope common at the time, from boxing stories through Westerns to pirate tales and lost-race adventures and half a dozen others. It's a tour-de-force.

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    1. Dear Mr. Stirling,

      I agree, Edgar Rice Burroughs really did know how to write well. I remember reading a fair number of his Tarzan books as a boy, but it was his Barsoom novels which really grabbed me. And I would like to look up some of his lost race books as well.

      Sean

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