Gino D’Anchille, A Princess of Mars
On March 3, 1866, 150 years ago today, John Carter began his journey from the Arizona hills to the planet Mars.
[ Amazon // Kindle // Gutenberg // Librivox ]
The book itself was first serialized in 1912. The adventure took decades for Captain Carter to wind up back on Earth, and then for his nephew to get the story.
The movies (one big budget, and one knockoff) didn’t do them justice. The big one tried but turned Carter from a warrior with “Virginian fighting blood” into a discouraged vet — the only kind that Hollywood thinks it knows about.
The knockoff blew a huge opportunity to have the better version.
It’s book number 62 on Gutenberg. That should tell you something of its worth.
Michael Whelan, A Princess of Mars
Many of us started reading this series with covers by Gino D’Achille (above) or Michael Whelan (right). These links go to pages on Scott Dutton’s website showing their original full wraparound cover paintings without the text.
Dutton also has a page for earlier covers by Robert K. Abbett. This also includes some virgin art as well.
These pages also have links to Dutton’s own Barsoom sequel, Return to Barsoom.
Happy birthday to Roy Batty!
Blade Runner (1982)
You know Roy Batty even if you don’t know the name. He was the replicant played by Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner. His inception date is today, January 8th, 2016.
The other three main bad replicants were Daryl Hannah’s “Pris” (February 14, 2016), Joanna Cassidy’s “Zhora” (June 12, 2016) and Brion James’ “Leon” (April 10, 2017).
The movie itself takes place in November 2019, so you still have time to move out of L.A.
It’s too late for the book (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). That takes place in 1992, although it was quietly revised to 2021 by the publisher, probably out of concern that the reader would snicker. I hate when they do that.
There’s a story in Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles called “The Third Expedition” with astronauts landing on Mars. One nice thing about the stories in this book is that they all have dates listed. The first story in the book happens in 1999. This one takes place in April 2000.
(Yes, you might have noticed that I do keep track of dates.)
When the book was republished in 1997, they changed all the dates to thirty years later — as though that would fool anyone.
But it’s not the first time the dates were changed. That story was originally published in 1948 as “Mars Is Heaven!.”
A funny thing about this 1948 version is that Bradbury originally had men landing on Mars, not in 2000, but in 1960.
Where am I going with this?
It’s easy to laugh at thinking we’d be on Mars by 1960 (while weeping that we’re not there yet in 2015). You need to think about what made people so optimistic. When Bradbury wrote that, the U.S. Army was testing V-2s in New Mexico. They also had the Me-163 Komet rocket plane. It must have seemed simple back then to just imagine making them bigger and adding more fuel.
But it wasn’t so simple after all. This is a lot like how military historians say amateurs talk tactics, and professionals study logistics. (Well, amateurs now say that, too.)
Getting into orbit requires an awful lot more fuel. And even that’s not the biggest issue. Multi-stage rockets could get us into space. The biggest issue was cost. It was bad enough that they cost millions of dollars. None of the early SF writers ever imagined that rockets would be single-use vehicles. That makes the cost utterly enormous.
But that’s ending. Monday night’s launch and landing puts us a little bit closer to the possibilities that Bradbury imagined, and that’s a wonderful thing. Elon Musk thinks he’ll get there by the 2030s. I think he’s got a shot.
USS Reuben James (DD-245)
On this day in 1941, the USS Reuben James (DD-245) was sunk by the German submarine U-552 while escorting a convoy bound for the U.K. As the U.S. was not yet at war, this is an example of how history is messy. The U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard typically escorted convoys up to Iceland, which President Roosevelt had declared to be the extent of U.S. territorial waters (it’s 12 nautical miles today).
For its part, the U-552 was aiming for a merchant ship, which was certainly a lawful target in a war, and all the more so if carrying arms.
A few months later, on December 11, Germany’s declaration of war mentions the Reuben James incident as a provocation, as well as earlier battles with destroyers USS Greer (DD-145) and USS Kearny (DD-432). (The war with Japan was not mentioned.) This wasn’t America’s first engagement in the war. It’s simply the first where we lost a ship. 115 hands were lost. Only 44 survived.
Woody Guthrie wrote a song to show outrage over the sinking. Both he and Pete Seeger had been vehemently anti-war until earlier that June when Germany attacked the Soviet Union, forcing Stalin (and Guthrie and Seeger) to change sides. Prior to that, they were recording anti-war songs like “‘C’ For Conscription.” (It’s probably generally assumed that song was written to oppose the draft during the Vietnam War, but it was earlier sung to oppose entry into WWII.)
Reuben James was a sailor who fought in 1804 in the First Barbary War, serving under (and saving the life of) Lt. Stephen Decatur himself. Those were the days of swords and hand-to-hand combat. Two other ships had his name: USS Reuben James (DE-153), in service 1943 to 1947, and USS Reuben James (FFG-57), in service 1986 to 2013. I hope there will be more.