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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.

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( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
huladavid
Mar. 27th, 2011 09:25 pm (UTC)
I've read that (all part of researching my "steam western"), and rather enjoyed the overblown style. There was a passage I especially like (in a non overblown way) where Serviss describes the flotillas from Germany, England,France, etc steaming on their way to the U.S.

Not very related, have you seen the Call of Cathulu movie done by the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society*? It's done as a correct to the period silent , and is pretty cool.

_____
*I listen regularly to their podcast.
wombat_socho
Mar. 27th, 2011 11:42 pm (UTC)
It's funny, I don't mind the same writing technique when Lovecraft uses it, but in this case it just drove me nuts, and I think it had a lot to do with the fact that it made the action scenes just draaaaaag.

I think I have seen that movie, now that you mention it. I've also been subjected to their musical, Shoggoth On The Roof, which at first I mistook for Fiddler On The Roof. I was distracted by conversation at the time...that's my story, and I'm sticking to it. Anyway, the HPLHS has another short movie coming out soon, which you're probably already aware of.
pingback_bot
Mar. 27th, 2011 11:37 pm (UTC)
Wombat Rampant - They don't write them like that any more
(Anonymous)
Mar. 28th, 2011 02:52 am (UTC)
You mean to tell me you've never heard of The Prestige?
wombat_socho
Mar. 28th, 2011 04:00 am (UTC)
I've heard of it, anonymouse, but I'm not familiar with it.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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