So hereís the story. I was mainly interested in Barsoom and Burroughs. Over time, I broadened out from Barsoom to Burroughs Moon, Mars and Venus, and his lost worlds. And as a companion to Burroughs, I got into Kline and Farley, who were contemporaries and imitators.
Then I came across an essay by Lin Carter about his Thanator (Callisto) series where he explained that he was basically emulating Burroughs Barsoom. But since he didnít want to set it on Mars, he had to look elsewhere.
The Moon and Venus were obviously out. Mars and Venus had also been thoroughly done by Otis Adelbert Kline, and Ralph Milne Farley had done Venus and Pellucidar. Ray Cummings had done a Barsoom-Type adventure with Tama, Of the Light Country. Meanwhile Mike Resnick had set his Burroughsian stories on Ganymede and Manly Wade Wellman had done Sojarr of Titan.
Well, on the strength of that, I started looking at more modern writers - Lin Carter and Leigh Brackett, Mike Resnick. I also wound up looking at Ray Cummings Tama novels.
So basically, that took me to Manly Wade Wellman's Sojarr of Titan....
Itís the future. Man has reached Mars, Venus, hop and skipped through the Asteroids to the Jovian moons, encountering human or humanlike races all the way. But Saturn is simply too vast a void to cross. Manís journey into space has halted.
A fellow with the unlikely name of Pitt Rapidian decides to go for broke, and pilots his ship, carrying his infant son, to Saturnís moon Titan.
He almost makes it. His ship crashes in a valley or crater. Heís killed. His three year old son survives.
Now, I ask you, what kind of ass takes his three year old son on a risky uncertain interplanetary voyage.
Anyway, his three year old son, Stuart, called Soldier, and mispronounced Sojarr, survives and promptly starves to death.
Well, thatís what ought to happen.
What really happens is that his three year old son, Stuart, called Soldier and mispronounced Sojarr, survives and is adopted by a passing group of subhuman Truags, where they raise him as one of their own, and he grows into a primal superman untainted by the influence of civilization.
Nah, that doesnít happen either, although it might have been satisfying if it did.
What actually does happen is that his three year old son, Stuart, called Soldier and mispronounced Sojarr, survives and manages to grow up into a strapping primal superman, on his own, untainted by any influence whatsoever. Take that, Tarzan, you mommaís boy!
Of course, Sojarr discovering the glories of masturbation wouldnít make for an exciting story, so it turns out that Titan is inhabited by two competing races, and sports a unique, if somewhat goofy culture.
One race, of course, are humans. The other race are the Truaggs. And what are Truaggs. Well, they're yet another race of four armed, two legged, warriors, or yet another analog for John Carterís Tharks. The Truaggís this time, are more insectlike or spiderlike than the usual run. They have eight spiderlike eyes, and gripping claws rather than actual hands (though they seem to do okay with manual dexterity). They have round barrel shaped chests, and their heads and bodies are covered with thick black hair. The Truaggs appear to be the original inhabitants of Titan, and adopted language, weapons, technology and culture from the humans who invaded their world. So, of course theyíre the villains of the piece and must be wiped out, or at least conclusively defeated. There isnít any particular sympathy or insight that Wellman allows for the Truagg. Theyíre just the bad guys.
As for the humans. It turns out that they came from Atlantis, which turns out to be in another star system. They travelled here, stopped off and dropped a colony on Titan, before heading to Earth to found the Greek civilization. Unfortunately, they couldnít keep their own civilization intact on Titan...
It hurts to say.
Titan is covered over its entire surface by a rolling, roiling impenetrable jungle that chokes any effort at cities or agriculture. Instead the Titanians are nomads, travelling in caravan trains of wooden cars, powered by a miracle fuel called Tuva. They spend their time moving in small nomadic caravan groups of 50 to 100, hacking or salting their way through the jungle on traditional paths or roads. Occasionally they come to clearings and trade. Occasionally some wandering nomadic caravan will come across another and make war. This is the lifestyle of both the humans and the Truagg, basically hard bitten, tribal, and illiterate. These are hardscrabble hillbilly tribes in outer space.
Youíre probably thinking: What the hell is this crap?
Well, what it is, is Manly Wade Wellman. Wellman was born in 1903, and grew up in the deep south in the appalachian region, and spent most of his life in North Carolina. He had long personal experience with appalachian hillbillies and having endured the depression, he'd seen quite a lot of nomadic caravans traveling from place to place as dirt poor families and communities went looking for work.
As a writer, he was best known for stories which reflected this appalachian hillbilly sensibility. His best known stories featured Hillbilly John, aka John the Balladeer, aka Silver John, an itinerant appalachian magician who wound up travelling around defeating Satan and evil witches and spirits in inbred country. A lot of his stories, fantasy, horror and science fiction tended to dwell in the American hill country region, featuring honest salt o the earth hillbillies and dishonest city slickers.
Not to slag Wellman. By all accounts he was an okay guy. His prose had kind of silver, lyrical quality which was quite distinctive, and which earned him quite a following.
On the other hand, both his prose style and his subjects and themes left me utterly cold. And if Sojarr of Titan is anything to go by, while he was very polished in normal or preferred subject matter, he also didnít have much range to go beyond this. So, here we go, having set a story in outer space on a strange planet, what does he do? He just transplants his hillbilly caravans into outer space. This is as exotic and imaginative as he could get apparently. Iíll give him marks, itís unique.
It gets worse. The impenetrable jungle that the humans and Truaggs must hack their way through? Wellman coyly reveals, through the course of the novel, or novella, that these are garden plants. Seriously. Garden moss, pitcher plants, barley, ferns, geraniums, what have you. The sort of plants that any back country Appalachian garden would have. Except that due to strange properties of Titanian sunlight and soil, theyíve grown with incredible rapidity to thousands of times their normal size, overrunning the planet and crowding out all native life in an ecological holocaust, laying a thick jungle over perhaps the whole of Titan.
What utter crap.
Wellman dresses it up a little bit and does his best to ease the information out, dribbling out clues and hints here and there about the real nature of Titanís jungles and history. But his efforts at drama just donít work, because at the end of the day, youíre stuck with just how trite and unimaginative the conception is.
So Titanís jungles are just a gigantic version of the plants in his backyard. I bet an eight year old boy coming up with the notion would find it wildly exotic. But eight year old boys have an excuse, they donít know any better. Wellman is a forty-year-old man with considerable writing experience...
Who is apparently completely out of his writing depths. Heís doing a Tarzan shtick, but heís forgotten to include the apes (or anything similar). Heís presenting an alien world, but its his back yard writ large. Heís providing alien societies, but both groups, the humans and the genuine aliens are just nomadic hillbillies. The actual aliens arenít even all that aliens, physically theyíre borrowed Green Men, crossed with a bit of spider to throw us off the scent -- mentally, theyíre just meaner nastier hillbillies.
Anyway, to get the plot moving, Sojarr eventually runs across one of the human tribes - or they run across him. They adopt him, he learns the language, and by dint of earth born muscle and superior strategic skills (learned from where?), he eventually becomes leader of the band, inflicting defeats on the villainous Truagg.
He even rescues a warrior princess from the Truaggs, who will eventually become his girlfriend. Unfortunately, thereís not a hint of romance from the time of her introduction halfway through the novel, until a sudden clinch on the last page.
Meanwhile, in true John Carter fashion, he puts together a mighty army of caravan tribes, ostensibly to defeat their enemy the Truaggs.
Essentially, Wellman is doing a version of Princess of Mars. But heís doing it with hamhanded incompetence, an appalling stiffness, and not a drop of imagination.
Indeed, Wellman knows heís running on empty. Having assembled all the bits and pieces of Princess of Mars, he doesnít know what to do with them.
So he has a spaceship from Earth arrive, carrying a villainous rival to his dad, named Kaiser, a crew of convicted criminals and Kaiserís red-headed perky niece, Ursula. The first person they encounter on Titan is Sojarr. Kaiser figures things out pretty quickly, but Sojarr never quite clues in. Heís too busy playing the noble savage.
Eventually, relations break down, Sojarr leads his forces against the Earthmen, and discovers that knives and swords versus rayguns and armour plating donít work so well. Kaiser almost gets the defeated Sojarr overthrown by his own people, but the Earthborn leader saves his skin in the nick of time.
But this plot angle doesnít seem to be working out for Wellman. So he throws in a couple more:
Ursula gets kidnapped by the Truagg, requiring Sojarr to come to the rescue and have his titanic confrontation with the leader of the Truagg, his running nemesis. Obviously, Wellman is doing his best to salvage earlier derailed plot threads with that whole Truagg/Human conflict. Oh, and he manages to work in a trite little deathtrap that isnít very exciting, but shows heís trying to hit all the cliches.
The other plot thread owes something to Wellman's background as a mystery writer. It seems that someone or something is mysteriously picking off Kaiserís men. It's not much of a mystery. Kaiser is doing it himself, because they know too much, and he's blaming it on the natives.
Anyway, Ursula is rescued, the Truagg are defeated, Kaiser is exposed in a dramatic drawing room confrontation (not), and then later killed by a third party (so that Sojarr's hands are clean). Ursula learns valuable lessons and returns to Earth as Ambassador for Titan (or something), and Sojarr finally has a clinch with his Titanian Princess.
Yes, it really is that bad.
What can I say?
This is A Princess of Mars with a little dollop of 'Tarzan', and all the cliches and plot twists attendant, executed without a dollop of imagination or perception. The vividness that made Mars a living world, the commitment that made an interplanetary romance compelling, the insight that made the Green Men sympathetic characters, all of this is missing.
Wellman makes the effort, and he fumbles it practically out of the starting gate. He doesnít understand his own subject material. He doesn't understand what works or why it works. So he offers whatever trite nonsense is within arms length and tarts it up as best he can. Then, when he loses any idea of what to do with his material, he chucks in one external plot complication after another, before he finally throws in the towel.
I have to say, reading the efforts of Robert Moore Williams in the Jongor novels, or of Manly Wade Wellman in a Barsoomian type story, you develop an all new appreciation for just how talented and insightful Burroughs really was. Tarzan, Princess of Mars, really were masterpieces in their own right, and it takes inferior or unskilled efforts at duplication to make you really see how polished these works were.
To be fair, Williams Jongor novels are much better 'Jungle Lord' novels, than Wellman's Sojarr is a Barsoomiad. It really is crap.
Again, this shouldn't be taken as a blanket condemnation of Wellman. Itís true that I don't care for his prose style or his regular subject matter. But I don't deny his clear talent within his metier. He's simply wandered far afield, and it kind of reeks.
PLANET Stories: Summer 1942, Love Romances, NY; Vol. I, No. 11.
Cover by Saunders for "Venus Enslaved" (novelette) by Manly Wade Wellman.
Includes "Task to Lahri" (novelette) by Ross Rocklynne; "The Star-Master" (novelette) by Ray Cummings; "The Cosmic Derelict" by John Broome;
"Asteroid of the Damned" by Dirk Wylie ); "Out of This World" by Henry Hasse; "Captain Chaos" by Nelson S. Bond; "As It Was" by Carlton Smith.
Feature: "The Ringer Family" by Guy Gifford. Illustrated by Leydenfrost, Paul, Leo Morey, D.Lynch, and Winfield Scott Hoskins. Letters from Henry Hasse, Guy Gifford, Milt Lesser, Nelson S. Bond, Manly Wade Wellman, and others.
AMAZING Stories Dec. 1939 - Ziff-Davis, NY; Vol. 13, No. 12.
Edited by Raymond A. Palmer. Cover by Julian S. Krupa for "Liners of Space" by Henry Gade (Raymond A. Palmer);
"Hok Goes to Atlantis" by Manly Wade Wellman
Includes "Fugitives from Earth" by Nelson S. Bond; "Ben Gleed, King of Speed" by Don Wilcox; "Gulpers Versus Earthmen" by Frances Garfield; "The Hidden Universe" (pt. 2 of 2) by Ralph Milne Farley. Feautres: "The Observatory"; "Mighty Jellyfish!"; "Riddles of Science"; "Fantastic Adventures"; "Ice Powders"; "If the Sun Turned Green"; "Science Quiz"; "The New Adam"; "Meet the Authors" (author notes by Wellman, Wilcox, and Garfield); "Questions & Answers"; "Discussions"; "Coorespondence Corner"; "Monthly Merit Award". Illustrated by Julian S. Krupa, Robert Fuqua, and H. R. Hammond. ;Rear cover by Stanley Ryter for "Future War Tank" by Henry Julian.Letters from Bob Tucker and others
Manly Wade Wellman: Bio & Biblio
Manly Wade Wellman: Wikipedia Entry
Den Valdron's Fantasy Worlds of ERB
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