Thursday, June 6, 2013

We NEED to teach our astronauts to sword fight!

Read/Watch 'em in Order #35

Otis Adelbert Kline wrote five science fiction novels set within the same continuity: two set on ancient Mars and three on ancient Venus, when those planets supported human civilizations.

The Venus stories were published first, but we're looking at the series according to its internal continuity. The Mars stories take place first.

In the first Mars book--The Swordsman of Mars--Earth-man Harry Thorne was sent across space and time in a mental transfer, arriving on Mars in the body of a Martian--while the Martian (who was his physical and mental twin) takes over Thorne's body on modern Earth.

The sequel is The Outlaws of Mars, first serialized in Argosy magazine in 1933 and 1934. In this book, the Earth scientist who perfected travel by mind-transfer now has a more straightforward method of getting someone from Earth to ancient Mars. He's slapped together a time/space craft. Ex-army officer Jerry Morgan has just resigned from the military in disgrace after being falsely accused of a crime, so he's got nothing left to live for on Earth. When the scientist (Jerry's uncle) gives him a chance for a one-way trip to Mars, he jumps at the chance.

In fact, he jumps a little too quickly. Oddly, Jerry doesn't ask for or receive any sort of briefing about the culture, flora or fauna of Mars before he takes off on his journey, despite the bucket-loads of such information that his uncle had collected. It kind of makes you wonder if Jerry would have had a successful career in the army anyways. Heck, one of several Martians living on Earth in Earth-human bodies could have at least taught him how to say "Where's the bathroom?"

When Jerry gets to the Red Planet, the Martian scientist who was supposed to meet him and teach him the language is running late. Soon, Jerry gets himself in trouble when he sees a beautiful woman apparently being attacked by a monster. He shoots and kills the creature before finding out the woman is the daughter of the Vil (the ruler of the local kingdom) AND that the monster was actually her beloved pet.

Well, Jerry and the girl (Junia) soon make up and fall in love. The tardy scientist shows up as well, giving Jerry a chance to learn the langauge. But a villain (a guy with designs on the throne) the frames Jerry for the murder of Junia's brother. Jerry escapes from the city, but ends up the prisoner of Sarkis the Torturer, a rebel who has raised a large army and who has the nasty habit of burning prisoners to death with sunlight focused through giant magnifying glasses.

Well, maybe Jerry would have done okay in the U.S. Army, because he pulls off another escape and soon raises an army of his own, consisting of desert warriors, deserters from Sarkis' army and outlaws.  But that leaves him with two enemies--the king (Junia's dad) and Sarkis. It's actually a three-way war, because the king and Sarkis want to kill each other as well as kill Jerry.

It's all cool stuff--Kline does a better job this time around of providing exposition without slowing down the plot and he packed the story with a lot of well-described action. I especially like Jerry's introduction of aerial bombing and hand grenades into Martian warfare at the climatic battle. Jerry also gets a couple of awesome fighting companions: Yewd is a seven-foot tall warrior who is an expert with spear and javelin, while Koha is a drawf who wields a wicked mace. In fact, if I were to find fault with the story, it was that these two guys are underused. Never introduce a mismatched pair of awesome soldiers into a story without allowing them to do a lot of awesome

Jerry has another advantage in a fight while on Mars. Unlike Harry Thorne from the first novel, Jerry is still in his original Earth body. So he can do the John Carter trick of jumping incredible distances in the lower Martian gravity. Yes, Kline is rather overtly swiping this from Edgar Rice Burroughs, but he has fun with it and it does make sense.

But these two Martian novels have gotten me thinking. NASA is always talking about someday sending astronauts to Mars. And this is well and good--we should be exploring space.

But its obvious from reading both Burroughs and Kline that any astronaut going to Mars needs to be an expert swordsman. Heck, if Jerry Morgan or John Carter hadn't already been trained with these weapons, they wouldn't have lasted a day.

But does NASA provide fencing training for their astronauts? No, they do not. It's scandalous and all of you should write your Congressmen about this immediately.

Well, we'll return to Kline's History of Ancient Extraplanetary Civilizations soon when we leave Mars behind and visit the equally dangerous planet of Venus.


  1. I thought it was interesting in these two books that Kline used different heroes for each. That's rather unusual

    1. That's true. And he used two different protagonists over the course of his three Venus novels as well.


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