"The first science fiction novel I sold was The Goddess of Ganymede, an Edgar Rice Burroughs pastiche that came out back in 1967, and which shows up every now and then to humiliate me at autograph sessions. I should have listened to the first dozen editors who turned it down. You can view my career since 1980 as a public penance for my career prior to 1980." ~ Mike Resnick's Interview in Strange Horizons
GODDESS OF GANYMEDE, SYNOPSIS
Let's be honest here. These books are hard to find. Published in 1967 and 1968 and apparently never reprinted, they’re only available through second hand bookstores, and let’s just say that there's been a lot of paper and ink flowing under the bridge since then.
My policy is that when the Books are relatively easy to find, as in Lin Carter’s oevre, I generally don't spend a lot of time recapping. Where it’s pretty obscure, then rather than force the reader to stalk through endless bookstores or shell out cash over the internet, I’ll run a synopsis.
So here’s the story. It's the 1960s, probably circa 1966 or 1967. The Soviets and the Americans are in the space race, and buster, it's up in the air. Both the russkies and the yanks are going for the moon, and no one is quite sure who's going to get there first.
So the perfidious yankees (they get from Albion) have come up with a back up scheme. Unbeknownst to the general public, they’ve got a couple of back up space projects, just in case the Russians get to the moon first. There's a Mars Mission, and get this, a Jupiter Mission, just in case the Mars mission pans out. The idea is that if the Russians triumphantly land a man on the Moon, then we’ll just cut into their television feed, beaming direct from Mars or Jupiter and go "Boo-Yah!!!"
Okay, now wait a second. Jupiter is twelve times the distance from the sun that the Earth is. So we’re talking about traveling a minimum eleven times the distance from earth to the sun to get to Jupiter. Even if Mars was on the other side of the sun from the Earth, it would still be a quarter of the trip. And what about Venus? Venus is closer than Mars, and its just whizzing around the sun. Compared to going to Jupiter, its like a trip to the seven eleven. And let’s not even mention Mercury.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, out of the starting gate, in order to make his Ganymede novels work, Resnick has to conveniently overlook two whole planets! No wonder it never got reprinted. It’s only a little genre called SCIENCE FICTION. Just a thought but maybe SCIENCE should make a tiny appearance?
But anyway, this is the plan. Oh, and it turns out, this is the third attempt. The first two having vanished without a trace. Apparently this version of NASA is full of rocket scientists.
Interestingly, when Adam Thane (our hero) gets there, he learns why the first two expeditions failed. Caught in Jupiter's gravity well. Apparently nobody at NASA accounted for that. To make matters worse, they’d been hoping once he got there he might land on it to see what its like... It’s a gas giant, there is no surface to land on.
You know what I think? I think in Resnick’s universe here, they had all these retired space apes, from the early space program when they’d sit around thinking "Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to fling a chimpanzee into orbit, that’ll teach the bastards," and to keep them busy, they just gave them their own project at NASA. . .
Adam Thane never wondered why his superiors insisted on communicating in Ameslan, or talked obsessively about bananas.
Adam Thane, for the record, doesn’t come across as the sharpest knife in the drawer. He’s not an official part of the NASA astronaut roster. We don’t actually get to find out anything about his prior life. Does he have a Mom and Dad? Did he like chocolate? Was he a serial rapist? He seems to be some athletic young soldier of fortune, special forces type of guy. Not that he gives any indication of thinking like a highly trained soldier. Nor does he think or act like a scientist of any sort. Nope, he seems to be just an average athletic young American guy.... Oh, and as we find out later on, he’s a relentless killing machine. Not that it shows up in his personality much, but he racks up a body count of dead humans and deader wildlife that’s just astonishing.
But all this is by way of prelude. Adam Thane, undercover astronaut on a covert mission of propaganda, going for bragging rights where no man has gone before, sort of accidentally lands his spaceship on Ganymede. Much to his and our surprise, apparently because all Earth’s astronomers haven’t noticed because they are also retired NASA chimpanzees, Ganymede has a breathable atmosphere.
Anyway, so there he is, and you know how these things go. First day on the new planet, there he is in a tree, and of course, some predator is climbing up after him. The critter is called a Kerix, and Resnick never ever bothers in the course of two books, to describe it, apart from a few references to grizzly bear size, funny eyes, and sucker/claw feet. This would be an excuseable lapse, except that its one of the most feared predators on the planet and he's constantly killing the damned things.
How does he defeat it, first time out? He throws his space-shoes at it. No, seriously. Not played for laughs, this is straightforward derring do. We can only be thankful that he didn’t work his way down to his space-jock strap.
However, his act of ‘heroism’ is observed by another occupant of the tree:"As I turned I was greeted by a startling sight. There, not three feet away, stood a man. A most unusual man, I will admit, but a man nonetheless. He stood eight feet tall, and his skin was bright red. His body was not unlike an earthman’s as he faced me, but when he turned, I noted that a set of large wings sprung out of his back, just below the shoulder blades. .... And his head! It seemed human, but was not quite so. He was bald, and the top of his head was covered with a rough callus, his eyes were bright yellow and sunken well into the sockets; and two tiny openings constituted his ears. His mouth was scarcely able to conceal twin rows of razor-sharp fangs. ... I felt his taloned hand dig deeply into my shoulder."What an occupant! What a coincidence! Yeah, perfectly manlike, except for being eight feet tall, tomato red, fanged, winged, taloned, bald, yellow eyed and earless. Stick him in a suit, and no one would notice him on the subway.
Who'd have thought there’d be a critter like that, just sitting in the tree, waiting for him to come along.
Anyway, he quickly demonstrates his homicidal urges, but the bird men capture him and take him to their city, where in a major lapse of judgment, they assign him an apartment and a tutor. This allows him to learn the local language and customs. Essentially, he's on a world of basically iron age city states (we're talking Greeks and Phoenicians here). The city states make occasional war on each other, and they’re all ruled over by 'Living Gods' who everyone hates but no one stands up to. Kroth is the city of the bird men, as it turns out, it's the only city of the bird men, everyone else that we’ll meet in the novels is basically standard human with no curveballs.
Interesting that Adam, by complete coincidence, winds up getting adopted by the one non-human population on the planet. It’s pretty much a direct steal from Princess of Mars, in that respect, later copied by Jandar of Callisto. The difference was that in these other series, the Green Men and Yathoon were fairly widespread, and Burroughs at least was clever enough to keep the exotic coming. But there you go, apart from some desultory nods to winged men to lend a lingering exoticism, there’s nothing too remarkable about Ganymede, Resnick might as well have set it in ancient Greece. By the way, apart from the fact that they’re eight foot tall, razor-toothed, men with wings, there’s nothing particularly exotic about them. They’re thoroughly enculturated, so they think and act just like everyone else on Ganymede.
Once he can speak, they basically say, ‘roast beef ain’t free, earn your keep!’ So he signs up for the army. They’re about to go to war with the neighboring city state, Rombus. The king says its probably going to be a hard and bloody war. Does Adam have second thoughts? Not a one.
Seriously, not a one. He’s just signed up with the wing people, to make war on regular humans just like himself. It’s going to be one of those bloody ‘hack people into body parts’ sorts of affairs, and even the regular rank and file aren’t looking forward to it. Does this bother Adam? Nope. Not a bit. Here we are, in 1967, the Vietnam war is in the middle of its ugly phases, there’s mutilated corpses on the evening news, kids are burning their draft cards, people are demonstrating in the streets... And Resnick’s character entertains nary a doubt. Come on, even John Carter had second thoughts.
Oh, and did I say Adam gets adopted? And how! By killing the neighborhood bully, he winds up getting adopted by the king of the city. Turns out that the bully was sexually harassing the King’s daughter and no one thought to do anything about it. Talk about gratitude! Talk about paper thin plotting! So, three chapters in, its ‘Prince Adam.’ John Carter had to shlep through three whole books before he got a title of his own. Kids these days.
Anyway, the plot starts up. Adam and the Bird Man army make their way to Rombus, where Adam somehow infiltrates the city palace, an especially good trick since he’s white skinned and the native Ganymedan humans are golden hued.
While in the palace, three things happen. First, he overhears some conspirators conveniently cackling about how the whole Kroth-Rombus war was just a put up job, to put the usurper Savus Vir on the throne. Then he rescues a beautiful maiden from Taz, one of these ‘Living Gods’, killing the jerk and taking a knife in his shoulder at the same time. And then, it turns out that the girl he rescued is the Princess Delisse, and perhaps the most surreal conversation in the book occurs.
Look, here’s the thing. He’s standing there, bleeding from a stab wound in the shoulder, and they’re just talking. First she tells him that since he’s killed a Living God, he’s moved to the front of the list for excruciating and horrible deaths. But then she says ‘wow, this is kind of depressing to talk about, let’s change the subject. How’s the weather?’
Number one, I’m not going to stand around having conversations while bleeding from combat injuries. Or if I do, its going to be ‘Got a band-aid’? Number two, if I was going to have such a conversation, I don’t think I’d be happy with the switch from ‘my horrible death’ to the latest gossip. I’d be more like, ‘uhh, could we back up the conversation a little bit, you psychotic bitch?’
But Adam just does it. And frankly, its one of those things that bug the hell out of me. Not just the surreal nature of the encounter, but mostly because this brief five or ten minute conversation forms the foundation, hell, it forms the entire architecture for the hero’s romantic infatuation with the heroine which is going to carry us through two entire books.
Look, here’s the thing that Burroughs understood... It’s a romance. It’s all romances. In its own way, its just like Harlequin novels, nurse novels, bodice rippers, chick-lit. At the heart of almost all of Burroughs stories, there’s a romance. And Burroughs develops the romance. His male and female characters spend time together, they get to know each other. It’s not a first contact situation, the characters are actually shown to be thrown together or hooking up for long enough that they can actually have a believable relationship.
“Hi, I’m John Carter.”
“Oh hey, Deja Thoris here.”
“Cool. Hey, nice rack.”
“Want to shag?”
“Cool. So anyway, I figure I’ll spend the next eleven books killing people for you.”
“Okay, I’ll wait till you’re done. Bye.”
See what I mean? John and Dejah, they hang out. They get to know each other. They have quarrels, they share dreams, they seek each other’s company out. The hero believably falls for the chick. The entire novel then becomes the saga of his efforts to triumph over the odds so that he can live happily ever after with her. Think ‘When Harry Met Sally’ but with genocide and mass murder, burning cities, fearsome duels and monsters.
Now, I’m singling Resnick out here, but really, this is the biggest single weakness of the genre. Most of the subsequent writers, including Mike Resnick and Lin Carter, just didn’t get that. Instead, the heroine gets introduced, often in a perfunctory fashion, romance is declared not shown, and it gets on with the blood and guts.
All very well and good, but frankly, there’s a reason we remember Burroughs and we’re not paying much attention to the imitators. The romance plot was not just some thing to get out of the way, it’s the heart of the story.
This mistake is still being made today. There’s any number of action hero movies where the women’s role is merely to show up and apply a certificate of heterosexuality... Because if she didn’t say ‘hi,’ there’d be no women at all in the movie and we’d have to wonder if Jean Claude Norris Van Shwarzenegger-Segal was gay, rather than merely being an emotionally rootless murdering psychopath.
But anyway, so Resnick blows the romance angle, what happens next? Well, as it turns out, nothing much. Adam’s managed to get the word out to his people that the war is all a put on, so they take their army and go home. Adam spends the next several months in the dungeon next to a deposed Prince, Talon Gar. It seems his rival, Savus Vir has assassinated his dad and seized the throne after all. And that’s it.
Just joking. No, we’ve got several months of what should have been homoerotic bonding... think about it, two healthy virile young men, semi-naked, in chains, sweating in the dungeon, sharing their food and drink, telling each other their life stories, their dreams and ambitions, their fantasies, moments of curiousity, gazes lingering on hard muscles and smooth skin, accidental touches growing bolder.... Okay, no Brokeback Mountain in outer space, that’s never even hinted at. I’m obviously a fountain of corruption. But come on, the Personal Time and Relationship Building that Burroughs invested in John Carter and Dejah Thoris is here devoted to Adam and Prince Talon Gar, with poor Delisse carted off after a brief appearance.
Okay, this is 1960s science fiction, so its got to be sexless boys-own-stories, with girl cooties strictly limited, and best pals friendships at a premium. But I dunno. This was also the era that William S. Burroughs and Philip K. Dick were writing. And for god’s sakes, Burroughs had the nerve to make his stories full-fledged romances 50 years before, and the same teenage boys that Ganymede was directed at were still eating it up.
But here? There’s all sorts of unacknowledged homoerotic bonding which is heavily developed, while the heterosexual romance is so thinly presented that not even the hero acknowledges it directly for well over half the novel.
Anyway, finally Adam (being the hero) comes up with a plan so foolish and poorly thought out that even Prince Talon Gar laughs at it. But it works and they’re out of there.
So what do they do? Well, the sensible thing might be to high tail it to the City of Kroth, use his Princely authority to put together a force. Or they might go underground and overthrow Savus Vir, the evil leader of Rombus.
Of course not. With no supplies, no plan and only a slender knowledge of geography, they set out on a journey through hostile jungle, desert and city-states to infiltrate the Holy City of Malthor, penetrate to the heart of the sanctum of the Living Gods, and steal Delisse away, after which, they’ll just head back the way they came, this time as hunted fugitives with a woman in tow to slow them down.
Okay, reckless adventures were a part and parcel of this sort of adventure story. And often on no better premises. But with the better sorts of reckless adventures, the writers, such as Burroughs and Kline actually took time out to demonstrate that their characters didn’t have any other options. Either the clock was ticking, or all the other choices were worse, and they were just desperately improvising recklessly until they could get to the point where they’d have breathing space to make a real plan.
Not so here. This is just the best plan they could come up with. Oh well. They skirt a desert, they have some adventures fighting forest critters, and they encounter the ‘comic relief city.’
The ‘comic relief city’ is another Burroughs standard cliche. At some point along the way, the hero has to be diverted into a rest stop at a city or with a society which usually isn’t part of the main plot, and which can be used for a bit of light relief. Sometimes it’s a bit of social commentary. Sometimes its to develop the characters or motivations. Sometimes its just to kill a few chapters with a little ‘adventure within the adventure.’
In the Forgotten Sea of Mars, the ‘comic relief city’ was the strange culture of Zar worshippers on the Island of the Dead. In this case it’s the city of Vorthis, with the weasely king Rollo, and his army composed of Amazon femdom babes. Sadly, nothing special is done with it. It’s a shame, the book is just full of these lovely potential homoerotic or sado-fetishistic possibilities that Resnick is simply too normal and well balanced to exploit.
Sometimes with these pulps, what you’d get is some writer who is a latent or overt ‘mo, or fetishist, and you know, once they got to a section like this that offered real possibilities, then consciously or unconsciously, they’d crank it up a notch and things would get livelier. Still totally PG of course, but there’d be some real sizzle. Generally, I find that obsession, real obsession, can do a lot to make work interesting or fascinating, and can overcome all sorts of limitations of the medium, of the technology and even of talent -- just look at William S. Burroughs, or Russ Meyer, or even Ed Wood. Ed Wood may not have known what the hell he was doing, but he was passionate about it. As for Meyers, he parlayed breast-obsession into a lifelong career and a ranking position in American cinematic history.
Sadly, Resnick is simply too sensible and devoted to really go over the top with his own interests. Instead, he devotes himself like an earnest student, to playing the masters passages without fully grasping the flair that made them interesting to him. To be fair to Resnick, in his later books, he found his own passions and wrote to the themes and obsessions that fascinated him... Dwarves, and three breasted strippers and unbeatable gunmen obsessed with their own mortality.
Where was I? Oh yeah, ‘comic relief city.’ Pretty perfunctory. Next thing you know, they’re in Malthor, city of the living Gods. What happens there? Oh the usual. The heroes wind up splitting up. Adam makes contact with the resistance. He penetrates to the sanctum of the living gods, witnesses unholy rights, makes a mortal enemy of the chief of the living gods, Tarafulga, and eventually rescues the girl. I don’t want to get into the details, this is after all, the fun action and excitement part of the book.
Anyway, it follows up with a return to Kroth and Rombus, political intrigue, defeat of the secondary villain and an assault of the combined cities upon Malthor. But of course, the bad guys manage a narrow escape, stealing away the princess Delisse with them, which leads us to the second book...
PURSUIT ON GANYMEDE, SYNOPSIS
This actually works a bit better than the first. Adam Thane is pursuing his enemies, Savus Vir and the false god Tarafulga who have stolen his girlfriend, Delisse.
For no particularly good reason, he’s decided to go it alone, although he has the resources and manpower of two, even three city states at his disposal. Go figure.
And, I should mention, that he’s not just out to rescue Delisse. Tarafulga has the secret of immortality, or at least millennia long life, which Adam wants to get his hands on. And of course, Tarafulga has the announced that he’s going to go over to the Eastern hemisphere, conquer the place and come back with an unstoppable army.
I’m pretty dubious about that second proposition. We see no evidence that Tarafulga has any more idea about what’s in the Eastern hemisphere than anyone else. Y’see, the Eastern Hemisphere is terra incognita. A few millenia ago there were two nation in the Eastern hemisphere that blew themselves to pieces with an atomic war. Since then, no one ever goes to that side of the planet. No one knows what’s over there, or if any cities survived, or if its all just mutants or radioactive wasteland, bounded on one side by a mountain range, and on the other by a desert.
It’s possible that Tarafulga has inside information, of course, since he makes a beeline straight for one city after another. But that’s never actually spelled out. Of course, if Tarafulga’s cult was reaching the other side, wouldn’t they have sent missionairies, established agents, set up some outposts?
But never mind. Adam Thane is chasing Tarafulga and company, and this leads him into a series of ‘adventurettes.’ They’re all relatively discrete encounters, without continuing characters. For the most part, if you dropped one out, you’d hardly notice.
That said, they’re fun, engaging and quite readable. This kind of adventure story is often highly formulaic. No big deal, almost all literary works ultimately come down to formula of one sort or another, underlying architectures of plot, ideas and character that just reoccurr over and over. So I can’t fault Resnick for being formulaic, the key is what you do with the formula.
Here Resnick seems on firmer ground in this book. It’s formulaic, sometimes irritatingly so, but he rings some changes, gives us moments of real strangeness, and makes it exciting.
You want the basics: Okay, first he goes into the Mountains and encounters the Mountain people. They are black-skinned people whose holy mission is to let no one pass between east and west. They’re remarkably civilized and courteous. Eventually they let Adam through when he proves himself in a contest.
Next he wanders around the jungle, falling into quicksand, swinging through trees like Tarzan, and encountering strange beasties. I liked his penchant for taking to the trees, its sort of a relic of the days when he was borrowing Tarzan on Mars as his template for Ganymede. We see all sorts of traces of Barsoom in Resnick’s Ganymede, and its interesting to find a bit of Tarzan in Resnick’s Thane.
Then he encounters strange amulet-wearing Targaths (gold furred, eight foot tall, four armed, biped ape-like creatures), and primitive tribesmen. After hanging out with the tribesmen for a while, he discovers that they’re cannibals and he’s on the menu. He escapes, but not before being covered with barbecue sauce, apparently an irresistable lure to all sorts of predators.
Eventually, he chases Tarafulga to the city of Luros. It’s an ancient city, crumbling, but still inhabited. Adam is captured and sold into slavery, but winds up with a good master, who is plotting a revolt. He makes friends with another slave, who turns out to be the prince of Rabol. He was just down scouting for his dad’s army when he got captured and sold. Eventually, he finds Tarafulga and Delisse. This results in him being sentenced to death in the Arena, but after some heroic fights, his Master’s group revolts and the army from Rabol shows up. Adam kills his enemy Savus Vir by crushing his head with a burning log, ouch!
Tarafulga flees, with Adam Thane after him. Next stop, Rabol. There Tarafulga starts an underground movement to take over the city, and Adam is enlisted to go undercover to stop him. Yes, we’ve segued into ‘spy vs spy.’ Adam foils the revolutionary movement by eloquently explaining that Tarafulga is a really bad guy. At this point, Vescalia is rescued, but Adam is still after Tarafulga.
Next stop is the strange domed city of Vescalia, where the inhabitants are just about as superhuman as Adam himself. Unfortunately, the eloquence he had in Rabal talking to kings and low lifes alike deserts him, and he trash talks the king of Vescalia as if he was a retarded McDonald’s fry cook. That doesn’t go over well, and he’s sentenced to yet another ordeal.
I have to say, what’s up with that? In some areas, he’s got the gift of gab, in others he’s a blustering ass. Thane’s personality is a bit inconsistent. Basically, apart from being nigh superhuman, he seems as tough or as weak, as brilliant or as dumb as the plot demands at a particular moment. And don’t get me started on his penchant for going off on solo missions when other courses are both more obvious and sensible.
But never mind: He makes it through yet another elaborate deathtrap, drags Tarafulga out of there, and tortures him into divulging the secret of immortality. Then he goes back to Rombus to live happily ever after....
Or maybe not. A new coalition of nations has arisen to threaten Rombus and, his friend Prince Talon Gar has taken the royal airship into the Eastern hemisphere looking for a superweapon.
Through the course of the novel, Adam’s been hearing remarkable tales of a strange Rombusite wandering around having adventures, and wondering who it could be. Mystery solved, its his pal!
It’s all set for a third book.
Which, sadly enough, never happened. I dunno, I suppose the first two hadn’t sold enough copies, perhaps. Fans didn’t like it. Or maybe the publisher had just decided to go in a different direction. The kindest thing we can say about this is that it was basically warmed over Burroughs. Edgar Rice had done it first, had done it better...
Or perhaps despite laying the groundwork, Resnick just didn’t feel like writing it. Perhaps it had simply done its job of helping him break into publishing, and after that doing derivative Burroughs pastiches just didn’t appeal to him. Or perhaps he just saw better money elsewhere.
Still, despite my at times harsh assessments, the Ganymede novels are actually not all that bad. They're not up there with Burroughs or Kline, not by any stretch. But they could sit comfortably in the same ball park as Lin Carter’s Callisto series or Michael Moorcock’s Martian trilogy. Or with much of the other adventures being published around that time. Beats the pants off of Doc Savage. Resnick’s faults and limitations are flaws and limits that seemed typical for the time and acceptable to the readers and publishers of that period.
Overall, the origins of the series are quite transparent. Adam Thane is a pretty generic character, and quite often the world that he moves through is not described nearly as colourfully as it could be. There’s too little shrift given to romance, too much emphasis on coincidence. All told, it plays like a photocopy of Burroughs, with the strengths faded and the flaws magnified.
On the other hand, the dialogue is often fun. There’s often a Zelazny-esque quality where the characters simply talk to each other in a friendly polite manner, notwithstanding that at other points they may be fiercely at each other’s throats. Burroughs would do this too, and for me, its some of the neatest touches. The action moves along at a brisk pace, the adventure is quite satisfactory, the battles are generally rousing and there are many passages which have a real sense of the strange. There’s a lot of nice touches.
I can’t say I wasted my money buying it, or I wasted a few hours of my life reading it.
On the other hand, it does lay out the strengths and weaknesses of the whole "Swords and Planets" genre as it evolved during its original heyday in the 1930s and 40s, and in the 60s and 70s.
The trouble was that as a whole, it had only a limited number of tropes, and it really made no effort to push itself. Any genre, of course, evolves a limiting series of conventions and formulas. That’s just the nature of the beast. The survival and prosperity of a genre, however, depends on its ability to rework beloved old formulas, to turn the cliches on their head, to challenge and create something new.
The truth is that there isn’t anything in Resnick’s Ganymede novels or Carter’s Callisto novels that could not have been written in 1932.
In an age when Michael Moorcock was literally reinventing the Conan barbarian fantasy genre with Elric, when MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman was reinventing historical adventure, when science fiction was delving into its new wave, when it was fracturing into hard and soft sf, military sf, etc, it seems remarkable that Resnick and Carter, two of the more talented young writers of their era were simply churning out same old, same old. A formula disparaged by detractors as ‘thud and blunder’ and not wrongly so.
And it's disappointing in its retreat from the promise and colour of the inspiring works. Burroughs never shied away from his romantic plots. Indeed, he was as risque as he could be for his age, and arguably even more risque than his age should have allowed. His Barsoom was a society of nudists in an age where people were putting covers on piano legs. And yet, the romance angle withered and often became peripheral.
Read Princess of Mars, or in fact, any of the Barsoomian books, and you are struck by the near anthropological quality of detail that went into his Martian societies. It’s as if it was Napolean Chagnon on Mars. The Green Men were richly, richly described, both alien and frightening, yet personable and sympathetic. Yet, in the Ganymede and Callisto books, both aliens and city states are barely sketched in. We don’t encounter the inner life of the Yathoon until some eight books in, when the series has run its course and used up every possible cliche. We never get a glimpse into the reality of the Kroth.
Rather, the genre plays out increasingly as photocopies of photocopies, with only superficial and imperfect understandings the very strengths and weaknesses of the genre. Often these photocopies minimized strengths and magnified weaknesses. The writers of the genre showed so little insight that they simply lacked the ability to ring changes.
Indeed, of all of the revivals of the Swords and Planets genre in the 60s and 70s, only the Gor series, managed to escape the deadening formula, and this was only be bringing the author’s latent misogyny and pathology to the fore until it became literally toxic.
It is not a contradiction to say that like Russ Meyer's, John Norman's personal obsession and fixation brought an energy and life to his work that would have otherwise been lacking. Certainly it made the Gor series unique and transcendent in a genre that was otherwise utterly stale. Of course, arguably by becoming the single leading and representative example of the sword and planet genre, the Gor series own toxic misogyny more or less helped to kill the genre dead.
But it was already dying. Having gotten a second lease on life in the Burroughs revival, it botched its chances.
THE REAL GANYMEDE
Ganymede in our universe is basically a big ball of slush, somewhat like Callisto. It’s density is 1.93. The density of water is 1.0. The Moon, which is essentially dry silicate rock is 3.3. Earth’s density is 5.6, basically rock and a large heavy iron core.
What this means is that Ganymede isn’t quite twice as dense as water, and less than 2/3 as dense as rock. Which in turn means that a lot of its makeup must be a mixture of ice and rock, or basically a giant ball of slush. Because its density is so low, despite being as large as Mercury, Ganymede’s gravity is actually slightly less than the Moon’s, which means it doesn’t have much of a chance to hold a real atmosphere.
It does have a whispy thin atmosphere though, making it one of the few moons to possess one. There’s just not much to it. Interestingly, it's an oxygen atmosphere. What’s happening is that as surface water/ice on Ganymede sublimates away, solar radiation breaks the molecules apart. The lighter hydrogen atoms are quickly lost. The heavier component, paired oxygen atoms, wind up sticking around for a while. Peculiar and interesting, but far too thin to breath. Ganymede doesn’t even have clouds, and its ‘atmosphere’ is probably intolerably thin and faint, even by modern Martian standards.
Still Ganymede, as a mixed ball of rock and ice, is still an interesting place. For one thing it has an active and significant magnetic field. Which tells us that it has a hot core. It’s believed that Ganymede is unlike Callisto, which seems to be pretty much the same all the way through. Ganymede is more like earth, with a clearly distinct iron inner core, a rocky outer core, a mantle of slush ice, and a thin crust of rocky/ice.
Why in such a small light planet, is the core still hot enough to generate a magnetic field? The theory is that the tidal forces from Jupiter keep the core spinning and hot. Tidal forces also drive significant geological activity. It’s thought, for instance, that the mantle may be warmer than the crust and may even have a layer of liquid water in there.
Meanwhile, the crust shows evidence of volcanic activity, lava flows, lifting and folding and even plate tectonics or tectonic activity. What this means is that in terms of the geography of the surface, Ganymede might well be one of the more Earthlike worlds in the solar system.
This makes for some interesting things. Perhaps because the surface is comparatively active, Ganymede doesn’t seem to have the same sorts of titanic impact basins that we see on Mercury in Caloris, on Mars with Hellas or Argyre, or on Callisto with Valhalla and Agard. All of these are gut busting, planet cracking impacts. Does this mean that Ganymede was lucky? Possibly, but more likely, Ganymede took the same sort of giant hits that everyone else did, but its more geologically active surface, with its ongoing tectonics, simply erased most of the evidence.
Ganymede’s surface is a currently a mixed bag. About 40% seems to consist of large dark areas, which represent the older territory on the planet. It is heavily cratered, with complex, jagged landscape.
The other 60% of the territory appears to be newer material, laid over the older. It’s much lighter, with fewer craters, and more mountains, grooves and volcanoes, suggesting lava outflow and tectonic lifting and shaping.
We can assume that the 40% is lowland, the 60% is highlands, or basically, the seas and lands of Ganymede. Of course, Ganymede has no open waters or oceans and barely an atmosphere, so the highlands and lowlands are simply relative concepts. But the geography of this satellite helps us to flesh out Resnick’s world....
Resnick's Ganymede bears a loose passing resemblance to the real moon. Let’s be honest. Resnick cracked open an Astronomy textbook somewhere along the way and jotted down a few notes - size, location, orbital period. To be fair, that’s practically all that the texts of the sixties had to offer. The rest, rightly or wrongly, he filled in himself.
Apart from that, it gets hit and miss. Adam Thane calculates (he has to do it himself when he arrives, what the hell were the NASA scientists doing back home? He really must have been working for chimpanzees.) that Ganymede has about one fifth (20%) of Earth’s gravity. Close, actually, Ganymede’s surface gravity is really about 15% (0.146 Earth gravity, for comparison, the Moon’s gravity is 0.165.)
Ganymede in our universe orbits Jupiter roughly every seven days, and is tidal locked, so its day is as long as its week. In Resnick’s Ganymede, a day is about 32 hours, so obviously, it’s spinning a bit faster.
This is sort of mysterious, since normally, a larger body exerts tidal drag. Basically, the side of the satellite closest to its primary feels more gravity than the side farthest. This slows the rotation bit by bit, until finally, its always turning the same face to the primary, like Earth’s moon. In our Universe the same thing happens with Ganymede and we used to think it happened with Mercury. It turns out though, that with Mercury, Venus’ gravity throws that off, so its day is still shorter than its month. It may be that in Resnick’s universe, one of Jupiter’s other satellites, probably Callisto must be much more massive and its gravity keeps Ganymede spinning.
Our Ganymede has a very thin, very tenuous oxygen atmosphere. Resnick’s Ganymede has a much thicker atmosphere, starting somewhere between 400 and 80 miles above the world and thickening to breathable levels on the surface.
In either universe, Ganymede is not very big in Earth terms. It’s diameter is 3270 miles, compared to Earth’s 8000, or Mars 4200. On the other hand, its bigger than the moon’s 2000, or Mercury’s 3000.
The surface area would be about 33.6 million square miles. Puny compared to Earth’s 200 million, but most of Earth’s surface is water. Only about 50 million square miles is land. So Ganymede has the about two thirds Earth’s land area. Allowing for the ocean in the western hemisphere, a few bodies of water in the eastern hemisphere, polar caps... perhaps 60% to 75% of Resnick’s Ganymede is land. Circumference, or the distance to make a complete circle around the equator and return to your starting point is 6335.5 miles, which means that the furthest distance you could get from any point on the planet to the most opposite point is about 3167.75 miles, after that you start getting closer again. The distance from the pole to the equator, or is only 1584 miles.
All of this is only to give you some idea of the scales and distances of Resnick’s adventuring.
1. Tarzan On Mars
2. Forgotten Sea of Mars
3. Mike Resnick's Ganymede
4. Ganymede: Two Universes
5. Resnick's Ganymede II
Den Valdron's Fantasy Worlds of ERB
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