Thereís not a lot of information on ďTarzan at Marsí Core.Ē The writer, Edward Hirschman doesnít seem to have a lot, or any, professional credits that show up on a google search. Perhaps Hirschman is a pseudonym, or the rest of his writing is under pseudonyms. I donít know.
The book was published in 1977, so pretty much at the tale end of the Burroughs boom. Under normal circumstances, it might have simply faded away without so much as a ripple. Itís a fanfic, and fanfics, even crossover Tarzan/Barsoom fanfics, have been around for a long time.
So why does this one have any claim to fame? I think, basically, because it was published by ĎDeLethein Pressí which gives it a veneer of respectability, and two thousand spiral bound copies were printed and distributed.
You've got to remember the history here. Back before computers and the Internet, fanzines were a labour of love. They had to be typed out, page by page, with no room for errors. Then theyíd be copied on primitive mimeograph machines, and distributed at personal cost by mail. Most fanzines, most fanfics had pretty limited circulation. Fifty or a hundred copies, that was big.
Unless you were on someoneís mailing list, your only other opportunity to get access to this stuff was at Conventions where some dealers actually specialized in stocking and selling fanfics and fanzines. If a piece of work was really popular, it might get passed around, copies might be mimeographed and those copies mimeographed until the reproduction quality was simply unreadable. At best, youíd get a circulation of a few hundred copies passed literally hand to hand.
Because channels of distribution were so constrained, between limited technology and the costs of post offices or the difficulties of attending conventions, there was more or less a fairly steady demand for fanfiction and fanzines, and the nature of the field was often intimate and personal. Odds are you personally knew or would get to know the creator of a fanzine or fanfic, that youíd be one of a very few who would see that particular fanfic, and that you would be a ready and sympathetic market to read those particular fanfics or to write your own. Indeed, the small scale of publication and distribution made it a unique experience. It made for small communities, and a kind of osmotic spread. It encouraged a lot of tolerance, obviously because no one expected professionalism, and the people who were writing it were a lot like you and me. Indeed, they might be you and me, and certainly, you knew if you tore into something, well.... someoneís feelings would get hurt and youíd have to deal with that.
Remarkably, it was actually a lot more professional than you might assume. The people who wrote fanfics were dedicated. They put time and effort into it, and they worked to the outer limit of their talents and of the available technology. Already predisposed to writing and gifted with a work ethic to get it done, many fanfic or fan writers showed genuine talent. Mike Resnick, as weíve seen, started off writing a fanfic. But so did a great many other writers, Jean Lorrah, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Pat Elrod. There was no particular shame of it, it was just part of being a member of the community of fans. And sometimes it helped to make that jump into the pro world where you could get paid for it... At which point, most pros ceased writing fanfic, at least, not under their own name.
What changed? It was the Internet. Computers too. But mainly, it was the Internet that changed everything.
Technology completely rewrote the rules. Computers moved everyone from laborious typing to word processing. No more messing about with keystrokes, white out, liquid paper, etc. Instead, files could be saved and easily manipulated, errors could be corrected with a tap at a keyboard. A rewrite that might have amounted to a month of work might be reduced to a few days of cutting and pasting, adding and deleting. Computers changed things dramatically for writers.
But there was more to it than that. Photocopiers and printers made for dramatic changes in production techniques and reproduction quality. Old fashioned mimeographs and gestetners were pretty specialized equipment, not universally available, a pain in the ass to use and often messy to boot. The new technology was clean, easy to use, good looking and most of all accessible. Price was a factor, but as photocopiers and copy shops became omnipresent, even that dropped quite a bit.
But the Internet was truly revolutionary, because all of a sudden, all of this stuff became accessible. I canít minimize the significance of that. In the old days, a fanfic might have a distribution of fifty copies. Half to your personal network of friends and fans, the rest sold in dribbles at conventions here or there, or by mail order and word of mouth. Production was time consuming, distribution was slow and often expensive, it was a genuine labour.
But suddenly, with the Internet, all you had to do was press a button, upload a file, and distribution was infinite. It was no longer just your circle of friends and fans, no longer word of mouth and mail order. Anyone from Japan to South Africa, millions or hundreds of millions of people, could read your fanfic. Not that they were actually going to, but conceivably they could, it might happen. Perhaps a few dozen or a few hundred people read it. They could be anywhere from Tierra del Fuego to Alaska, strangers in every sense of the word.
And of course, because it was so easy, a lot went up. An average fan, if they were into collecting fanfics, might accumulate thirty or forty fanfics over the course of their interest. Thatís not bad, that would fill a decent sized box or two. Thatís how it used to be.
I just googled Barsoom fanfics and I got 763 hits. There might be some redundancy, but then again, a lot of these hits host multiple fanfics. So potentially, thereís about 5000 Barsoom fanfics out there, give or take a thousand, available for free at the stroke of a few keys, no waiting required. Easily, this amounts to a hundred times the dedicated old style collecting. Barsoom is a fairly obscure branch of fantasy or science fiction these days, so if you look to more popular stuff - Star Wars, Stargate, Darkover, Superheroes, D&D itís quite amazing.
Not only did it change everything in terms of availability. It also changed things in terms of the way these things were written and read. Suddenly, it was a lot easier for anyone to write. Computers reduced the amount of sheer effort and dedication needed to get something done, and the internet removed the labour from distribution. At the same time, the fact that there was so much of it out there encouraged people to really start assessing quality more stringently. Indeed, people focused a lot more on quality. And because the intimacy of the community was gone, because what you were reading was the work of strangers whose feelings you didnít have to deal with, often there wasnít that sympathy or sense of community that made for tolerance and acceptance. Volume increased, quality was all over the map, and patience decreased.
Of course, this amounts to less than you would think. The trouble with the Internet is that thereís such a vast amount of stuff out there, and fanfic and fanzines are such a tiny and obscure niche, that itís barely noticed. I think that fans and fanzines are still struggling with how to rebuild or recreate their sense of community in this brave new electronic world.
So, where does Tarzan at Marsí Core fit into all this? Well, simply put, itís the product of that earlier age, when there was a lot more patience and tolerance, and the simple act of actually writing a fanfic would get you a warm reception. The dedication of writing an entire fanfic novel got you a certain amount of respect. And an age when most fanfics had circulations of no more than fifty copies or so.
Well this sucker printed of TWO THOUSAND COPIES, and given that they were through some sort of actual Ďformal publisher or publishing house,' and spiral bound, these were probably pretty professional and pristine by the standards of the day. Top of the line stuff here, Ma. There was no way that was not going to make a huge splash. Itís like dropping an iceberg into a swimming pool. Big wave guaranteed.
Who was DeLeuthin Press? Was it really a legitimate outfit? Or was it just Edward Hirschman, tarting up with a credible sounding publication name? Did he pay for those two thousand copies himself? Did he lose his shirt? Was it a labour of love? I can answer that last question. Every novel is a labour of love, if it wasnít, thereíd be no point in writing it. For those professionals who write for the paycheque, thatís well and good, but if its only for the paycheque, then it's hackwork. At some level, youíve got to love your baby.
So Tarzan at Marsí Core was Edward Hirschmanís labour of love, at least in the writing of it. And he may well have put a lot time and energy, and a lot more of his own money into getting it out there and into the community. Through sheer dedication, he managed to carve off a little tiny slice of immortality. Itís not much as immortality go. But hey, Iíve never met him, youíve never met him, but here we are talking and reading about him. Thatís something.
So, Tarzan at Marsí Core.... What do we have?
One hundred and fifty one typewritten pages, about forty thousand words, not a full-fledged novel. Novels run 60,000 to 120,000 words and up. Just about any novel in current print in bookstores goes 90,000 words minimum. Thereís not much market for the shorter ones. At 40,000 words, you are looking at a novella or novellette.
Hereís the story: Tarzan is out in the jungle, just relaxing and being himself. Heís about to go to sleep when a UFO shows up and zaps the place with a ray. He hits his head.. When he wakes up, something strange has happened. Heís still in his little patch of jungle, but that little patch seems to be somewhere else. Itís in a place where the sun is perpetually overhead, the horizon curves ever upwards, and his bit of jungle is surrounded by desert.
Tarzanís no fool. Heís seen this kind of thing before. Heís smart enough to figure out that heís in Pellucidar. He sees a city hugging the seashore in the distance, but decides to leave it alone. He knows Pellucidar, he figures heíll just walk out of the desert and into the omnipresent jungle and then heíll get it all sorted out. He starts for the hills, at one point an airship passes overhead, but he avoids detection.
Okay, fair enough. Good start. Not overdone, very matter of fact, subtle even. Decently played. With some genuine hints of mystery and strangeness. Letís keep going...
Unfortunately for Tarzan, and for us, there doesnít seem to be an end to this empty desert. Instead he comes to a shore. He kills and eats a big muskrat-type critter. He meets a cave man named Za. Za is human, called a Raksa in here, the less dominant of two intelligent species in this strange land. The other is a bird-derived feathered and clawed race called the Emerin. The city belongs to the Emerin, weíll meet them later.
Za, it turns out, is not a bad sort. Not bright, sort of friendly, he takes Tarzan in and teaches him the language and lifestyle. We get to learn a bit more about where Tarzan is.
Itís not Pellucidar, or not the Pellucidar we know. The eternal sun is slowly burning out, and thereís not enough light to sustain most vegetation. So, in part due to the dying sun, in part due to overuse by the intelligent species, this inner world is dying. Most of it is desert, most plants and most animals are extinct. The remnant of the ecology consists of one variety of plant - a kind of blue green leafy shoreline seaweed; one animal - the thirty pound pseudo-muskrat weíve seen earlier; plus the two intelligent species, the Raksa and Emerins, and whatever the Emerin have managed to preserve in their gardens or zoos.
I got to say, this is just ... dull. Itís a deathly dull and barren landscape with very little going for it. Hirschfield doesnít spend a lot of time describing it or trying to give it any kind of exotic beauty. Ironically, this enhances the bleakness.
Anyway, Za teaches him the language, and lets him in on the state of human civilization: Not much, basically, its barely stone age. There are only a handful of wild humans living around the shoreline or in the mountains, sometimes as individuals or pairs, but even the few groups still floating around number no more than seven or eight. Apart from the barrenness of the environment, the other problem that theyíve got is overhunting by the Emerin, which reduces them to permanent hiding. Most recently, Zaís mate Tingor has been captured by the Emerin.
There are perhaps a thousand Raksa in the city, maybe that number in the wild. There are 2500 Emerin, we later find. The whole of Mars Interior contains perhaps 5000 intelligent beings.
The scene shifts to Tingor, who is with the Emerin. In captivity, she gets to wear woven cloth, gets to sleep in a real bed, and is generally luxuriating in creature comforts. But thereís a downside. The Emerin are trying to compensate for the slowly dwindling numbers of Raksa by breeding their slaves, and Tingor as a fertile young female, is destined for either reproduction or the dinner table. Unfortunately, Tingor is true to her mate Za and refuses all attempts at reproduction. The results are unfortunate.
Okay, so far so good. Things are low key, but weíve got most of the standard Burroughsian tropes. We have the two competing societies (though one of them barely qualifies as a society). Weíve got the romantic plot (though Za and Tingor are less two star crossed youths in love than an old married couple pining away for each other). And weíve got the basic dramatic tensions - Tarzan wants to go home, Tingor needs rescuing, the Emerin have the secret, and the Raksa need a champion. You can see where this is going.
Tarzan gets captured by the Emerin, and first chance he gets, he breaks one of their necks. Frankly, I dunno about that. Everything we know about Tarzan suggests that heís pretty cunning. When overwhelmed by superior force, heís likely to go limp, play nice and wait for his chance, because doing something pointlessly reckless and heroic can get him sentenced to death and killed. Unsurprisingly, he gets sentenced to the pits.
There he meets Tingor who has also been sentenced to death for not putting out. In the Arena of death, Tarzan faces two of last remnants of this empty landís life forms. A pair of big cats. Thatís right, big cats, just like lions except with about 2/3rds the size and the poor muscle tone and slothful approach of a lifetime in captivity.
Thatís it? Lions? Weíve gone all the way to another planet and all we get are a pair of lousy runt lions? Iím disappointed. I was sort of expecting some more exotic beasty.
Tarzanís handled lions before, and the gravity is pretty light, so he just tosses the big kitty into the Royal box, and the critter rips up the king of the Emerin. Then he deals with the other. Scratch two lions, and quite possibly the entire species.
Now, normally, for this sort of prank, Tarzan would be a shishkabob, but it seems that the Emerin have figured out heís from another world. Apart from a bit of exposition, nothing much comes out of it, Tarzan isnít cooperative. But at least theyíve got a reason for not killing him right away.
Meanwhile, thereís trouble among the Emerin. Yísee, when the Emerin king dies, his wife gets put to death too. Her name is Sar and sheís not thrilled with the idea. Luckily, heís in a coma and not dead yet, but sheís thinking she doesnít really want to be around when he kicks the bucket. She and Tarzan form an escape plan. Za gets captured, reuniting him with Tingor, and the four of them get together to steal a flier.
At this point, the novel really starts to lose its momentum. The romantic subplot of Za and Tingor, pretty low key to begin with, is basically resolved. Thereafter they remain together, and while there are some nice Ďold married coupleí bits, this angle comes to a dead halt.
Meanwhile, having escaped from the city, theyíve basically run out of things to do. In other circumstances they might go to the rival city. But there isnít a rival city, merely a tiny and widely scattered aboriginal population of no great shakes, who are never even seen. The only wild Raksa that Tarzan ever encounters are Za and Tingor. There are no sea monsters to confront, no land monsters to defeat, the flying boat has no mechanical difficulties. Sar, having escaped her fate, has nowhere to actually go to. Tarzan for his part has painted himself into a corner. Sure, heís escaped the city, but the city represents his only chance to go home.
So basically, they just kind of drift around. The story is in such doldrums that we actually get a few pages of Tarzan giving swimming lessons to Za and Tingor. Man, the excitement never stops. Iím not sure whether itís a sign of Hirschman infusing a bit of pleasure into a subject that he knows about, or whether itís a sign of how slow the novel has become that these passages actually read well.
Tarzan learns of the power source of the Emerin, a sort of atomically unstable rock, and decides to experiment with it in order to create bombs. This too is long and tedious. Itís also fairly uncharacteristic of Tarzan. Letís face it, Tarzan isnít McGuyver, his MO is not to create ingenious contraptions out of everyday object to get him out of jams, and he hasnít really established the skill sets. This is the sort of thing I might be more inclined to accept from Doc Savage, or Batman, or even Captain Kirk.
Eventually, the Emerin get around to sending a ship after them. But this opportunity for drama and conflict end when they get blown up pretty quickly.
Of course, back in the city, things are heating up. The old Emerin king slips from his coma into death. Because thereís no obvious successor, a palace guard gets elevated to the post. He begins a wave of terror and oppression, putting Raska slaves to death left and right in horrible ways, in order to intimidate and discourage the slaves from thinking of revolt. It works in that theyíre terrified and cowed, but at the same time, they build up a real hate-on and they cling to the memory of the strange Rasksa, Tarzan, who came, took numbers and kicked ass.
Eventually, Tarzan puts his plan, such as it is, into action. He drops a bomb or two on the city. Then he and Sar show up to negotiate. All he really wants is to go home, and all she really wants is not to be killed. Thatís not unreasonable. Unfortunately, the Emerin are not feeling reasonable. Sar is tortured to death while Tarzan watches, and then Tarzan is slated for a similar fate.
Letís face it, itís not really a good plan. Tarzanís first encounter with the Emerin has him uncharacteristically and recklessly belligerent and murderous. This time, heís stupid and naive. The apparent cunning and intelligence involved in inventing his arsenal of bombs doesnít carry over into opening negotiations while protecting his butt. Frankly, I see it as a failure to be true to the character and a failure of the writing.
More bombs drop. The Emerin decide to cut off Tarzanís arms and legs and hang him up somewhere visible to discourage Za and Tingor from dropping them. Just as the cutting is about to start, a mob bursts in and kills the evil scientist and his guards and proceeds to wreck the lab. Tarzan is tied up watching his ticket home get trashed. Eventually, someone notices him and sets him free.
But it doesnít make much difference. Tarzan is an oddly passive character in this novel, becoming more and more passive as the story proceeds. By the climactic end, as the slaves rise up to destroy their masters, Tarzan is literally a bystander, wandering through the carnage. He saves no lives, kills no enemies, makes no difference. Both the evil scientist and the tyrant are killed by the mob. An Emerin begs Tarzan to save him, but Tarzan is unable or unmotivated to do so. The Emerin are exterminated to the last individual.
Presumably this also spells doom for the Raskas of the city, since in destroying the infrastructure of their oppressors, theyíre destroying the infrastructure and technology that sustains their own lives. On its own, the local ecology canít sustain more than a tiny fraction of the population, so in a few weeks or months we can expect them all to starve to death. Hirschman doesnít go into this explicitly, but it seems pretty obvious, and its in keeping with his overall theme of entropy and fatalism.
On this world, even the patch of jungle that was transported from Earth has withered and died. The vegetation expiring from the lack of light. The jungle trees have fallen over or turned into barren skeletons. Itís a nice touch.
The city falls apart around Tarzan, which annoys him because that destroys his ticket home. But this merely makes him mopey and he goes off to sulk.
I donít know why, but I have the impression that a lot of fanfic has that gloomy passivity as a running theme, and not just Tarzan or Barsoom. A lot of action heroes or sci fi adventurers in fanfic often seem to be dourly resigned to fate, or hapless victims of circumstance. As Iíve said, Iím not sure whatís going on here, particularly since this is such a clash with these characters established natures, possibly itís a reflection of some feeling of helpless fatalism in the writerís lives, or perhaps this doomed gloom has a romantic cachet if you happen to be writing it. Personally, I have to say that itís not as much fun to read.
The novel ends with Tarzan glumly sitting in the dead, dried wastes of his former patch of jungle, glumly contemplating living the rest of his life living on the inside of Mars, eating blue leaves and killing the occasional muskrat, permanently cut off from the life he once knew.
Like I said, bit of a downer.
Or maybe Hirschman was setting up for a sequel where Tarzan would figure out a way to go home, or at least get out onto the surface of Mars. Who knows. But so far as I know, either Hirschman never wrote a sequel or it didnít get published or distributed to any great length. Certainly Iíve found no mention of it. So, the story, such as it is, ends here.
I guess my big problem with this, and my worst criticism, is that this novella is presented as a Tarzan/Barsoom crossover. Itís not. Or at least, it isnít in the sense that there is absolutely nothing in here that is evocative of Burroughs Barsoom... No Green Men, White Apes, Kaldanes, Rykors, Banths, Ulsios, Dead Cities, etc. None of that.
Indeed, Hirschman seems to go out of his way to avoid any overtone of Barsoom. The animals resemble earth animals far more than Barsoomian fauna. The muskrat creature is basically a muskrat, the cats are catlike. The Emerin have no counterpart on the surface.
The only allusion to Barsoom is the fact that this is the interior of Mars, and in one passage, thereís a mention that the sea of the interior connects to a sea on the surface, and that the Emerin scientist has been there and even observed a human on the surface just like the ones underneath.
But realistically, this could be anywhere. It could be Pellucidar itself, a hundred million years from now. So, I confess to being a bit disappointed and annoyed. Truth in advertising, people.
Apart from that possibly unfair quibble, there are two big problems. The major one is that the story literally coasts to a stop and falls apart. Having set out with all of the classic elements of a Burroughsian adventure - an exotic landscape, a mission, a romance plot, dueling societies, Hirschman gradually loses his momentum on each of these. Instead of coming together and building to a climax, they each unravel and go limp. Awkward.
The other thing, as Iíve previously noted, is that the character of Tarzan isnít particularly well sketched. There are times that Hirschman gets him right, the near-animalistic pragmatism, the fearlessness, the infra-human qualities. But he has his Tarzan act inconsistently, reckless when he should be cautious, naive when he should be cunning, clever in some things but not in others, and ultimately morose and fatalistic.
Thereís also a general lack of description. Consider the Emerin. Apparently, theyíre bird people. Theyíre seven feet tall, have feathers, and their wings have re-evolved to clawed hands and arms. But what exactly do they look like? Are they pigeons with fists? Ostriches with a reacharound? Or do they just look like regular people, but with feathers? Do they have plumage? Is it just down feathers or do they retain the long flight feathers on their former wings? Do they come in different colours, different patterns? Do they have bills? The steady gaze of the owl, or the glancing vision of the pigeon? We donít know, Hirschman never bothers to describe Tarzanís antagonists. Nor do we learn anything much about the Emerins and their society, apart from a handful of customs - they lay eggs, they keep slaves, they eat humans, they have a very traditional society. I dunno, when introducing a lost civilization or an alien race, Burroughs usually went out of his way to sketch them in some detail. Not so here.
Does that mean that there are no redeeming qualities. Not at all. The dialogue is usually pretty nice, unaffected, very natural. That can be hard to pull off. The conversations between Tingor and Za, the Emerins, and others all read very well.
And there are nice touches here and there, the scenes between Za and Tingor have an engaging warmth, a couple closely bonded and secure in their love. If he occasionally misses Tarzanís mark, he also gets him right now and then. Some scenes, such as the Ďlearning to swimí sequence, simply work. Theyíre small, theyíre low key, apparently unambitious, and theyíre carried off quite well. As Iíve said, thatís a lot harder to pull off than it looks.
For all the lack of description and colour, Hirschman does a good job of giving us the vibe of a slowly dying, colourless and entropic world. A place drifting slowly into the abyss, winding down to oblivion. Itís quite affecting at times, and it sneaks up on you. The throwaway of the fate of Tarzanís transported patch of jungle is genuinely poignant.
Admittedly, Hirschman falls short of a typical Burroughs adventure. But then again, perhaps that was intentional, and what weíre looking at is a fatalistic deconstruction of the typical story. Whatever the case is it is what it is.
Itís easy to be a bastard about these things. And frankly, Iím all too often a bastard in real life. I think Iíve said some fairly hard things, but I think theyíve been fair. Itís possible to be cruel and scathing, but whatís the point? This was written in an environment and an era where there was a lot more tolerance for these efforts.
Whatever else we might think of Tarzan at Marsí Core, I think we should remember it as the work of a gentler age and a gentler community, where devotion and dedication was respected and flaws were tolerated. It is a personal work, it is a labour of love, and it is sincere. I think that makes up for a lot.
Tarzan by Frank Frazetta
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