wombat_socho (wombat_socho) wrote,

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They don't write them like that any more

For which we should all be duly thankful. I was fortunate enough to inherit some of my father's books, and spent quite a bit of time with the High School Boys, Mark Tidd, and even some of the original Tom Swift and Horatio Alger books when I was growing up. So I thought Garrett P. Serviss' Edison's Conquest of Mars wouldn't be any worse than those pre-Great War juveniles.

Oh, man, was I ever wrong. This was a truly horrible example of pre-Campbell SF, and to criticize Serviss as a pulp fiction hack would be to slight a lot of solid writers who churned out quite readable fiction for Amazing and Astounding at the dawn of SF's Golden Age. The plot is fairly simple: after the Martian invasion described in H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds1, Thomas Edison invents a form of anti-gravity and a disintegrator, and convinces the world's leaders to build a fleet of one hundred ships to attack Mars. The Wikipedia article notes that Serviss' novel may be the first space opera, with its epic battles between Edison's fleet and Martian airships as well as the fleet and Martian ground forts. I'd buy that for a quarter. Unfortunately, while the plot is interesting, the exposition is suffocating, the characters (even historical figures such as Edison and Lord Kelvin!) are crafted from the cheapest cardboard, and the dialogue is not only infrequent but awful when it does occur. My heart goes out to the selfless folks at Project Gutenberg who proofed the tale and converted it to e-book format; you could not have paid me to do that.

All that having been said...there's the seed of a fantastic steampunk serial in here just waiting for somebody to mix Edwardian super-science with modern action/adventure story-telling techniques. To say nothing of Tesla - the idea of one of that era's most inventive electrical scientists sitting on the sidelines of an adventure like this is just ridiculous. I'd go so far as to say that a modern rewrite of Serviss' tale would be quite the epic technothriller, something I wouldn't mind watching.

1. Actually, Serviss' novel is a sequel to Fighters From Mars, an unauthorized and heavily revised version of Wells' tale.
Tags: books, history
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