The Pulp Swordsmen: Darak

Sunday , 28, June 2015 1 Comment

fantadv_3905Sword and planet fiction is a form generally associated with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom/John Carter, Amtor/Carson Napier, Moon Maid/Moon Men series. In the pulp era there were imitations, the most famous probably Otis Adelbert Kline.

The form did exist through the 1940s evolving into a more hard boiled fiction in the hands of Leigh Brackett. Jack Vance created an excellent modernization with his Tschai sequence of novels in the late 1960s. Jerry Pournelle’s Janissaries novels from the 1980s can be described as sword and planet fiction.

Sword and planet stories have more often been novels with lots of info dump as part of the world building. Novelettes and novellas are not as common. One novelette that really catches the spirit is Ross Rocklynne’s “Empress of Mars” from the first issue of Fantastic Adventures (May 1939).

Fantastic Adventures is a pulp magazine that receives little respect. It was the companion magazine to the Ray Palmer edited Amazing Stories. Both magazines had a blue collar orientation. If the engineers and architects were buying Astounding Science Fiction, the bricklayers were buying Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures. There are some good stories contained within issues of Fantastic Adventures though you would never know it reading histories of science fiction.

Ross Rocklynne (actual name Ross Rocklin, 1913-1988) had a few stories in the F. Orlin Tremaine edited Astounding Stories and continued into the John W. Campbell era. His appearance and type of story with “Empress of Mars” was a new direction. He had science puzzle stories previous to this. He became a very fine practitioner of action adventure fantastic fiction.

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“The Empress of Mars” is set on a Mars inhabited by descendents of Earth colonists reduced to a pre-industrial state due to an interplanetary war. A few scrapes of technology survive in the form of a few radium powered flyers and flame pistols left over from more technologically advanced times.

Darak of Werg has been sent to rescue the Princess Thilna of Werg who has been carried off by the Empire of Crill. He also has to retrieve the Hinusian bracelet that has jewels that restore health (if used within Werg).

Darak is a mighty swordsman. Warriors of this far future Mars like to say “Die!” a lot when fighting. Darak finds an ally in the palace who aids an escape out of the palace. There is more sword fighting until the resolution of the story. All in all, this was a pocket epic that managed to entertain. A shame Rocklynne did not write any more stories with this setting but it was wrapped up.

Brian Aldiss reprinted “The Empress of Mars” in the anthology Space Odysseys, which is the easiest place to find it.

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