Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Planetary Romance: 100 Years Later (Diversicon Panel)

These are my prep notes for Saturday's panel:

Cover by Jon Foster

Panel: The Planetary  Romance, 100 Years Later: How is Mars Holding up These Days?  2012 saw the release of the movie John Carter, close to a century after the publication of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars. Let’s talk about the film and the novels on which it was based, and about the genre—the planetary romance—unto which it helped to give birth.  John Everett Till, mod.; Eleanor Arnason, Edward E. Rom, Mark Tersteeg    

Planetary Romance - John Clute's definition from the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction:  

"Any sf tale whose primary venue (excluding contemporary or near future versions of Earth) is a planet, and whose plot turns to a significant degree upon the nature of that venue... it cannot simply be set upon a world...cannot be used for a tale set upon a planet whose mysteries are solvable in hard sf terms... In the true planetary romance, the world itself encompasses - and generally survives - the tale which fitfully illuminates it."

Gary K. Wolfe in Critical Terms for Science Fiction and Fantasy: "broadly, an adventure tale set on another, usually primitive planet."     

'"Swords and Planets" has also been used to describe this kind of fiction.   


Clute cites Clark Ashton Smith as one of the earliest authors to write in this vein. Others include Edgar Rice Burroughs and Otis Adelbert Kline. C.L. Moore (Nortwest Smith), Jack Vance (Big Planet, Planet of Adventure), Leigh Brackett (Mars and Skaith), Bradley (Darkover), Moorcock's "Kane of Mars", Farmer's World of Tiers, Silverberg (Lord Valentine's Castle), and even (at least partially) Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun provide other examples. I suppose even Niven's Ringworld owes a big debt to the planetary romance.

Game publisher Paizo Publishing has reprinted a number of the early examples (Kline, Brackett, Moore) as part of its Planet Stories imprint.

A recent example of the planetary romance is  Chris Roberson's Paragaea (2006).      

Tabletop RPGs:

From the lips of the exquisite Dejah Thoris:

To the Tharks: 

"Why, oh why, will you not learn to live in amity with your fellows, must you ever go on down the ages to your final extinction but little above the plane of the dumb brutes that serve you [i.e., the thoats, the Green Martian's mounts]! A people without language, without art, without homes, without love; the victim of eons of the horrible community idea. Owning everything in common, even to your women and children, has resulted in you owning nothing in common."
-A Princess of Mars, The Library of America edition (2012), p. 92.       

So, Dejah rather neatly recapitulates the entirety of 19th Century White racist discourse about the native peoples of North America, while adding in a decidedly early 20th C. fear of communism.  

At the same time, Burroughs repeatedly describes the Green Martians as "human," so what gives?  And he wrote them to be a LOT more interesting (if less sexy) than the Red Martians.

Notable New Publication:

Under the Moons of Mars: New Adventures on Barsoom, ed. John Joseph Adams (2012).

Cover by Mark Zug

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