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Volume 1785
Den Valdron's Fantastic Words of ERB Series


Den Valdron

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches
Rainbow Mars
Robert Heinlein's Number of the Beast
The Martian War

Otis Adelbert KlineLin CarterLeigh Brackett
All the Barsoom stories were written by Edgar Rice Burroughs between 1912 and 1940.   But Barsoom had a powerful hold on the imagination.   Writers beginning with Ralph Milne Farley and Otis Adelbert Kline, continuing through with guys like Lin Carter and Mike Resnick felt compelled to do their own Barsoomian tales, usually relocating them to different planets - Venus, Ganymede, Callisto.   But there were also tales that were a thinly disguised Barsoom, as with Kline's, Brackett's and Carter's Martian books.

Barsoom proved to be a powerful lure in its own right however.   There was something deeply rooted in Burroughs Mars.  Perhaps it was the breakneck writing, perhaps the sheer volume of the series and its consistent quality, perhaps a by-blow of Tarzan's popularity...  Perhaps it was the simple historical fact that it was a seminal and groundbreaking series.  Or perhaps there was something compelling about the setting.  Barsoom is the old Mars of wonder and mystery, it speaks to a series of tropes or assumptions, a sort of landscape that, like the Wild West, hasn't quite died away for many of us.

A couple of generations later, other writers were returning to Barsoom and mixing and melding it with other fictional Mars.   Barsoom irresistible for many writers, particularly those doing ‘omniversal’ pastiches.   Thus, Effinger's dimension travelling Maureen Birnbaum, Barbarian Swordsperson, winds up visiting Barsoom.   L. Sprague Camp's Harold Shea visited Barsoom as well.

Maureen Birnbaum, Barbarian SwordspersonL. Sprague Camp's Harold SheaSecond War of the Worlds

Of course it wasn't just Barsoom that writers were returning to.  Wells Martians proved, like cats, to have a few spare lives of their own, either creatures inspired by them, or simple out and out re-uses of his tentacled baddies.   Notable among these was Guy N. Smith's Second War of the Worlds.  Notable for its badness. 

But the interesting thing is that there were more than a few examples of Barsoom mixing and matching, of writers asserting that Barsoom was also the home of Wells’ Martians, or those of C.S. Lewis, or others.

In writing my notes on Greater Barsoom, I've acknowledged authors repeatedly, whose modern works cross the different versions of Mars together.   Allow me to present to you Post-Modern Barsoom:


C. Bertram ChandlerC. Bertram Chandler wrote the first Crossover Barsoom that I know of.   It's possible that there were others.

In Chandler's rendition, the Mars of H.G. Wells invaders, and the Mars of Burroughs are the same world.   The red martians and the green men share their world with tentacled horrors.  Or at least, they do for a while.

Here's what happened.   Apparently, in this Universe, the Wells Martians invaded earth right on schedule.   But instead of dying from Earthly bacteria, they survived (or some of them did) and brought the bacteria back to Mars....   And that was it for the human or humanoid species on Mars.  They were all wiped out.

Now, okay, Wells in his War of the Worlds had a humanoid species of Martians.  We don't actually meet them, but the tentacle guys brought some along to suck on during the trip.  At the end of the book, Wells narrator mentions they've found the bodies.

But it's tempting, given Chandler's set up, to assume that these now extinct Martians were Burroughs' red race.  Certainly the cities that have been left behind seem redolent of Barsoom. 

John Carter would have arrived in 1865 and he would have had his critical adventures in the first three or four novels before the invasion of Wells Martians between 1898 and 1903.   The invaders would have come back bringing lethal invaders with them, and the undying John Carter would have watched helplessly as his adopted people died all around him.  Dejah Thoris would have passed away in his arms.   Imagine the grief of a bereft John Carter, wandering empty cities, mourning an entire world, the last representative of the red civilization.   It gives a shiver to think about.

Anyway, with the Red Race gone, the tentacled Sarmaks were left to dominate the planet, pushing aside the nomadic green men.  It's not clearly spelled out in the novel, its possible that the Sarmaks have always ruled, but this seems unlikely.   In the novel, most everything we see seems built and designed for humans or humanoids.  The Sarmaks have inherited their world, not built it.  O'Brien, the human henchman of the overlords notes that they have already grown helpless and decadent, so clearly, they are on a fast trajectory.

But with the passing of the red race, they needed new slaves to populate their world.   So, the Sarmaks took them from England.   Thus, Mars is now populated by Cockneys and genteel Londoners.   It's sort of a weird thought.

The cockneys have proven to be pretty poor slaves, and so tribes of them have split off into the wilderness.  This is where we meet Bill Carter, a tribal chieftain, and his princess, Dela Doris.  They're a far cry from John Carter and Dejah Thoris.  Bill has a cockney accent you could cut cheese with, he's a good swordsman, tough and nasty, but not what we think of as a hero.  Dela Doris is a bit of a shrew, a bit of a fishwife, she's not the cultured scion of an urban civilization, but rather, the product of a hardscrabble nomadic existence.   Still, she's a Princess, and Bill Carter's become leader of his tribe by marrying her.

Tars Tarkas also appears, and this may well be the very same Tars Tarkas of Princess of Mars.  He speaks cockney, but he's also mastered the well-spoken English of John Carter and the high class Brits.   Tars Tarkas is hanging out with Bill Carter and Dela Doris because the nomadic Green Men are unwilling to challenge the dominance of the Sarmaks.  It makes you wonder, is it nostalgic sentiment that brings him close to a Carter?

Of course, introducing bacteria to Mars has done more than simply wipe out the red men.  There's evidence that Mars has gone through another wholesale extinction.  Early in the novel, the visitors discover their first Martian animal: A Rabbit.   It seems that the Sarmaks have had to introduce new species to replace the ones that have been lost. 

MorlocksHumans are not just slaves but the new foodstuffs.  The Sarmaks have built an elaborate British culture and caste system based on breeding people as foodstuffs.   Because there's a shortage of edible Martian meat, the class system has turned to cannibalism with higher class Brits eating those beneath them.  There are overtones here of the cannibalistic Morlocks of Wells' Time Machine

The whole result is a very warped, sometimes dark, sometimes comic take on Burroughs Barsoom.  Unfortunately, it doesn't quite come off.   The comic bits don't quite click.  Chandler seems to think that having Bill Carter speak with a thick cockney accent is just funny in and of itself.   And some of the Burroughs tribute doesn't work. Our hero is pitched into a nudist society of slaves (the tunnels are warm and nudity keeps them from being armed), performs feats of Earthborn strength and derring do, and there's even a sword fight.  But it all feels contrived, as if Chandler has to really jimmy the plot around to make the situation happen, where in Burroughs it all just came as natural as breathing. 

As for the plot itself.   Our heroes are from another universe and accidentally cross over into an adjacent reality which is imperfectly recorded in their fiction.  In their world, Burroughs and Wells are writers and "Princess of Mars" and "War of the Worlds" are novels.   The explanation is that information from alternate universes bleeds over into the minds of writers, helping them to write their novels.   The information is often distorted, so instead of the noble John Carter, we get cockney Bill Carter.  But given Chandler's logic, it's clear that Bill Carter is centuries too late to be Burroughs' hero.  John Carter may actually have existed in this reality.

Once they get to Barsoom, Burroughs-type things happen.  The explorers get separated, they fall in with different groups, encounter Bill Carter, Dela Doris and Tars Tarkas.  They wind up captured by the slave lords, they have a sword fight, start a rebellion....   And then just as things get underway, they go back to their own universe...  Which is disappointing.  It's a very slim novel, and Chandler barely, barely gets us invested in his adventure before he pulls us out of it.  What a tease!

The promotional descriptions and back of the book descriptions claimed that the novel was a mixture of Wells, Burroughs and Otis Adelbert Kline's Mars.   To be honest, reading it, I didn't spot anything that might be a direct reference to any of Kline's works.  Perhaps I missed something.  Or perhaps the copy editors were a bit cagey.  Kline's Mars is pretty much interchangeable with Burroughs, and it may be that claiming borrowing from Kline was a bit of a protective move to keep the Burroughs estate from breathing too heavily down the publishers' necks.   After all, the only thing that they could really take from Wells are the Sarmaks and a few of their machines.  The setting of the rest of the planet was pretty obviously Barsoom, unless you could find a bit of extra cover, lawyers might become involved.


John Carter and Gulliver Jones appear in the opening pages of the second volume of Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Moore's League is a remarkable series of comics.   Basically, it's a pastiche.   Alan Quartermain and the Invisible Man join forces with Captain Nemo, Jekyl and Hyde and Mina Harker.  Literally every page and every panel features a visual or verbal reference, sometimes many, to some character or situation from the era of Victorian fiction.

In the first series, in a literary feature at the end of each comic, Allan Quartermain, having imbibed some dimension spanning drug, trips across Wells' Time Traveller, Burroughs' John Carter (just before he arrives on Mars), and H.P.Lovecraft's Howard Carter (who turns out to be John's nephew!).

John Carter and Gulliver Jones in League of Extraordinary GentlemenBut Carter doesn't burst into full four-colour life at the opening volume.  Instead, he has to wait for the first issue of the second volume.   It is only a slim comic but it tells quite a story.   The situation is dire: John Carter and Gulliver Jones are leading a crusade of Martians against Wells invaders, the Sarmaks, here described as Mollusks.  The campaign has been brutal, something terrible has happened to Dejah Thoris, referred to but not spelled out.   The war is almost at an end, the Mollusks are pushed to their final fortress.   Carter and Jones are bent on extermination.

The 'mollusks' are implied to be not from Mars, but invaders to that world as well.  I don't know how well that holds up when we think about it though.  For one thing, in both Wells novel and in Moore's pastiche, the Sarmak's technology just isn't that great.   In Chandler's novel, The Alternative Martians, his characters note that with their lasers, precision guided weaponry, spaceships and computers, they'd make roadkill of a Sarmak invasion.  They can barely manage interplanetary shots. Their tripods, while impressive in the 1890s, might not be much of a match for modern technology.  They just don't seem to be sophisticated enough to be interstellar travellers, and there isn't any other good candidate in the Solar System (that we know of) for them to come from.  So perhaps they are an indigenous Martian race.

There are all sorts of references, we see Thoats and Green Men, Gulliver's flying carpet and his Hither people, C.S. Lewis' Sorns make an appearance, there's a reference to Moorcock's Michael Kane and Varnal. Wells' Crystal Eggs show up.  Moore loves doing these things.

The adventure ends with Carter and Jones victorious, pawing through the wonders left behind, and realizing too late that the cursed mollusks have launched their damnable ships towards Earth.

Sadly, after this, all the action takes place on Earth and neither John Carter nor Gulliver Jones make any further appearances.   However, the Sarmak Martians are on Earth, and there's all sorts of plots and Victorian in-jokes to keep things going.

As to how the portrayals work, it is fairly hit and miss.   The portrayals seem unmistakably British.  Gulliver Jones comes across as a bit wan and indecisive, a sort of Laurence of Arabia, a bit prone to whining.  He doesn't seem at all like the casual drunken lout and petty thief of the novel.  In the comic, he is seen riding on his carpet Arabian nights style, while in the novel it wraps around him like a cocoon.  His wardrobe is obviously patterned on the desert Bedouin.

Meanwhile John Carter has no hint of the southern gentleman or gold prospecting cowboy.  Rather, in look or dress, he resembles and acts like an old British East India Company warlord, and dresses like one of those British Rajahs.  There are little difference, the thoats have clawed feet, stuff like that.   Moore's tributes are not slavish, but give the whole thing a distinctly British taste.

But heck, Moore is just about the finest comic writer who ever lived, so this is cool and worth picking up.


This is a modern collection of stories about H.G. Wells' war of the worlds told by a group of modern writers, some of them adopting historical styles.   There is, for instance, a story about H.P. Lovecraft meeting the Martian invaders, another about Jack London, yet another focuses on the Imperial Court of the Chinese Dowager as the Martians invade China (you don't actually see many Martians in that one, they're basically offstage).   It's a real mixed bag, with some real names.

It's got the strengths and weaknesses of such a collection, which, sadly tend to be mostly weaknesses.   What usually happens is this.   Some Editor, or bright young (or middle aged) thing, in this specific case, Kevin J. Anderson, gets a smashing idea for an anthology, something fun and funky.  Alternate Robin Hoods, Horror Stories About Satanic Metal Bands, Alternate Universe Elvises, etc.  The idea is that it's a catchy notion that you can wrap a bunch of stories around and it will just jump off the shelf.

For the most part, the generic or broadly focused anthology, which simply goes out and looks for a bunch of really good stories is pretty much dead.   Nowadays, it's all got to have a gimmick.   Martin Greenberg is or was pretty big with these gimmick anthologies.  I assume it's publisher driven, or perhaps pitch driven, with guys like Greenberg selling the idea for these anthologies the way other writers sell novels.  It's cool, they usually have contacts, reputations, the publishers can usually rely on a reasonable product delivered on deadline.

The big gimmick here, of course, is that War of the Worlds is in public domain, it's a famous novel, so it's kind of a free for all.

Then the Editor goes around, usually to one of the major conventions, and knocks on his favourite writers, or rounds up his friends to fill it.  A lot of these anthologies get filled up late night over drinks.  It's often invitation only, the Editor may even pursue a favoured writer.  If it's opened to submissions, it's only after key spaces have been filled with friends or names, and then it's pretty much cutthroat, particularly if you're not a name.

The result is a gimmick driven commercial product, no more, no less.    For the most part, you won't get something really satisfying.   A shared universe anthology sets enough ground rules to really have a chance at momentum, a single author anthology has a consistent voice, a good general anthology with a loose theme can select among the best to reprint.   This?   This is just something to put on the shelves for six weeks or however long and make a buck.   If this pisses someone in the industry off, well, I'm sorry, but get over it.

So, the War of the Worlds anthology?   Pretty hit and miss, more miss than hit.  Particularly, it can be annoying where writers pretentiously try to ape a really distinctive voice.   (I'm thinking of you, Jack London and H.P. Lovecraft guys).   That's simply honestly hard to carry off well.   On the other hand there are some worthwhile stories, and there are plenty of Sarmak Martians.

Most notable in the anthology (placed generically in the middle, illustrating the relative grab bag incoherence of the anthology), is a short story by George Alec Effinger actually set on Mars itself.  The only story set on Mars.   In it, we discover that this Mars is inhabited not only by tentacled monstrosities, but by John Carter, Dejah Thoris, Helium, Gathol and the whole nine yards.   It's Barsoom, ladies and gentlemen!  Dejah Thoris is mysteriously kidnapped, John Carter is hot on the trail, and he makes a shattering discovery....  The tentacled Martians are an obscure but evil race, plotting to conquer not just Earth, but their own native Barsoom as well.   Effinger finally gives us a name for these critters:   Sarmaks.   Sadly, it's only a short story, so it tries to play like the first few chapters of a Burroughs adventure and then it leaves us trapped with a cliffhanger.

It's tempting, my god but it's tempting, to try and read Effinger's short story and Alan Moore's comic together.   Effinger's is the beginning, and Moore gives us the end, leaving only a detailed middle for us to imagine.   Indeed, if you want to read it like that, there's nothing stopping you at all.

On the downside, Effinger is trying to ape Burroughs' style, and he doesn't quite pull it off.  Oh the language, the tropes are all there, but it lacks the verve and sizzle of the real Burroughs.


Rainbow Mars is perhaps the most thoroughgoing fun of the set.   The premise is simple.  Time travel is scientifically impossible.  It's fantasy, so being fantasy, his time travellers go back, not to real history, but to myth and folklore.   Niven in the '70s or '80s produced a whole series of short stories about a time traveller called Svetz.  Svetz was a hapless fellow in a barren future where the only animals left were dogs, the air was so polluted as to be unbreathable, and the Secretary General of the United Nations had evolved not only into an absolute monarch, but into a dynasty of utterly childish incompetents.

Svetz' job was to go back in time and retrieve animals for the Secretary General's menagerie.  Only, it turns out that the pictures in the old records are terribly inaccurate.   The horse has a single ferocious horn protruding from its forehead and can only stand to be around virgins, the gila monster turned out to be forty feet long and fire breathing, you get the idea.

This time out, Svetz gets to star in a whole novel.  He's sent off to Mars in the remote past for some reason.  When he arrives, he finds a world tree, a tree so tall that its upper level is actually in geosynchronous orbit.  It's a living sky hook.   Unfortunately, it turns out that it's also a predator.   The tree's purpose is to suck all the water out of a planet and then take off to the next water bearing planet, and eventually to interstellar space and the next solar system.  Bad luck for whoever's living on a world that's left a dry husk.    The world tree is busily turning Mars into the dead moonscape world that the pioneer probes find.   And there's a problem:   When it finishes Mars, the tree starts heading to Earth...

In the meantime, Svetz gets to take a tour of Mars.   Once again, we meet the Sarmaks, who Niven calls Softfingers.   Not only do they stomp around on tripods, but they also fly those wicked flying saucers.   In Niven's pocket universe, they tried for two invasions of Earth, back around 1900 and then again in 1950 (the time of the movie version of War of the Worlds, though the movie Martians were clearly a different species).   They don't talk much, but they're happy little campers.  It turns out it wasn't bacteria that killed them, but gravity...  Earth's gravity eventually caused their internal membranes to break and so they died from respiratory failure or internal bleeding.

There are also a nice assortment of other Martians.  Stanley Weinbaum's hopping birds and pyramid monster from A Martian Odyssey pass through.  C.S. Lewis' Sorns and Pfiltriggi also make an appearance, and the Pfiltriggi (along with other species, including the Sarmaks) have the gumption to ride the world tree to Earth.  Heinlein's Martian elders are referred to, but not seen.  There's a tip of the hat to Moorcock's Martian series so subtle I almost missed it when a character refers to an ancient Dead City in the Desert identified by a green cross.   Svetz walks through dead or abandoned Martian cities and dwellings, including perhaps, some from Bradbury.

But when it hits Burroughs, Niven really goes to town.   A robot probe visits one of the cities of the Red Martians, astonished by turns that (a) they look completely human, (b) they're nudists, (c) they're egg layers judging by an egg in a perambulator, and (d) they're armed to the teeth, violent and not inclined to allow their eggs to be touched.

In a chilling, but thoroughly Nivenesque touch, another of the probes trudging along in the waters of the canal discovers that the canal bottom is filled with corpses and skeletons, most of whom bear the marks of violent death.   It's a really nice touch, because it brings home to us how truly murderous John Carter's beloved Martian society is by our own standards.   Niven keeps a cool distance from his Red Martians.

Later on of course, Svetz is captured by the Red Martians and gets a window into their feudal world view while they and their airship fight a running battle with a Sarmak ship.   The only quibble I have is that his Martian is named Matthias, which is thoroughly un-Barsoomian.  But who knows, maybe it's a reference.  The Red Martians ride to Earth as well, on the murderous world tree.

At other points, Svetz spots strange creatures, humanoid but with large detachable heads.  Obviously Kaldanes and Rykors.   They too ride the world tree, but are only seen from a distance.   On the other hand, the Green Men of Mars make an appearance, and one of them even has a significant supporting role.  In Niven's conception, the Green Men are evolved giant insects, and they even have a few remnants of their exoskeletal plates (though they're mostly endoskeletal these days).  Apart from a few little decorative vestigial plates, the only wrinkle is that they breath through spiracles in their chest.   These two ride the world tree.

Finally, while wandering around in the desert, Svetz finds himself attacked by not one, but two sets of ferocious multi-legged predators.   They're fierce, to see is to attack.  They're obviously Calots or perhaps Banths by the sounds of them.   Niven has a great explanation for all the legs...  Lower gravity, in low gravity, lots of shorter legs allows you to go faster than a few long legs.

Niven's Mars is a heterogeneous world, with every single Martian he can get his hands on crammed into there.  I'm astonished he didn't find a place for Bugs Bunny’s Marvin.   But Barsoom is well represented there, with three races, cities and multi-legged critters.

Fortunately, Niven doesn't make the mistake of Anderson or Effinger, rather, he follows Chandler and Moore.  He's not trying to be Wells or Burroughs, he's Niven writing his characters as Niven, while remaining faithful and respectful of the works of other writers.   And he's got the wit and imagination to throw in his own story.   It's a fun, engaging, lighthearted piece of work.

And as a final reference, the Rainbow Mars title is a tribute to Kim Stanley Robinson's ponderous Green Mars series.


This features three characters who are named Captain Zebediah John Carter and Dejah Thoris Burroughs, and her dad Jacob Burroughs.   They bounce off to alternate Mars in a dimension hopping spaceship/sports car called the Gay Deceiver.   About ten alternate Earths over, they encounter a Mars colonized by 19th century Brits and Russians.  After they leave, they realize this might have been Barsoom, and that they were tricked by the telepathic Barsoomians who fed them a false landscape.   Oh, and there are apparently Sarmak Martians somewhere, either on some other Mars or on this one.

Look, I'm going to be level with you.   A human life is long enough to read the first ten pages of this book, just to see how its going.   But life is just too short to read the whole goddamned thing.


The Martian War by Kevin Anderson (writing as Gabriel Moesta) gets an honourable mention.    This is a crossover adventure, but it does not introduce the Sarmaks to Barsoom.   Rather, it's confined to H.G. Wells and his creations.

Anderson's conceit is that Percival Lowell (real character) and Doctor Moreau (from Wells' Island of Doctor Moreau) wind up together and capture a live Sarmak Martian (together with corpses of another tentacled Martian and dozens of strange humanoids), which they try to communicate with.   Moreau reports his experiences in a journal.

Occurring later on, H.G. Wells and his old university Professor Huxley, zip off in Professor Cavour's anti-gravity sphere, visiting the Moon and then Mars.   It seems that Huxley's been organizing a kind of Victorian super-weapons project.   Among the scientists, in addition to Cavour and Huxley are Griffin, who becomes the invisible man (and is secretly a deranged Russian agent) and those guys from Food of the Gods (although they're just comic relief who barely appear).

Wells’ story takes place well after Moreau's, and in fact, as his storyline is going along, he's reading Moreau's journal, but the two stories are told in parallel.  It's just one of the many problems with the work.   Although there's no sign of any of Burroughs characters or settings, for some reason, Anderson tries to stitch a Burroughs-style adventure onto the stilted dialogue and a kind of bloodless formalism that he seems to feel is a reasonable facsimile of Wells' style.   You can see the tissue rejection setting in as you watch.

The humanoid Martians turn out to be Lunarians, who have been kidnapped en masse by the Sarmaks in order to have an effective work force.  I suppose we could speculate that if the Martians needed to go out and kidnap Lunarians to do their work, they may have had a prior race of humanlike slaves, but frankly, there's little or nothing to support that.

It's clever in spots, and there's bits of good, even evocative description.   But having got all dressed up, Anderson really has no place to go, and drifts slowly into cheap hackneyed cliché and even more hackneyed plot.

His story owes less to Wells than to writers like George Griffiths or Garret P. Serviss, who were Wells contemporaries.  Don't remember them?  There's a reason for that.   Wells saw his stories as a way to be subversive, a way to comment upon life, to criticize, to reflect.   There was a deeper level to Wells, or to Burroughs that simply isn't found here.

Like Griffiths or Serviss, there is no questioning, there is no reflection.   There's no pondering the meaning of the Martians, they're just bad.  The Lunarians, they're good.  Wells is good.  Huxley is good. Wells' girlfriend is good.   Lowell is good, but a bit foolish.   Griffin is not only bad, but he's obnoxiously bad.... he runs around thinking he's invisible when he's not (a gag borrowed from Amazon Women on The Moon).   The whole thing is a mile wide and an inch deep. 

Basically, it's a nice idea, but trite handling kills it dead.   In some ways, it reminded me of George H. Smith's Second War of the Worlds in terms of the whole 'just not getting the point' vibe.   Anderson compounds his mistake by trying to write in Wells' style.   Well, sorry, Wells style is antique and doesn't play well nowadays, we don't read Wells for his prose, but for the fact that he was actually saying something. 

As I've pointed out, it's hard to work in another writer's style.   It's even harder to do it successfully.   Anderson doesn't make the grade.

I dunno, it's sort of a manual for how not to do this sort of thing.   If you're interested in these sorts of crossover pastiches, and they can be a lot of fun, I'd recommend Kim Newman or Allan Moore.

~ Den Valdron
4,800 words

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