One of the subgenres of science fiction that seems to be enjoying a bit of a resurgence is that of sword and planet. A blend of sword and sorcery and space opera, sword and planet stories tend to feature a mix of swachbuckling and super science. Probably the most well known example are the Martian tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs.
A couple of years ago, a group of writers decided to put together a sword and planet anthology. The setting was after the fall of an Earth-based empire. Terraforming had transformed many of the planets in the solar system, and genetic engineering had equipped people with bodies that could survive in hostile environments. The name of the setting was to be The Lost Empire of Sol.
Each writer chose a particular planet proceeded to write. As these things too often do, circumstances prevented the anthology from being completed. Two of the writers involved in the project have published their stories. We’ll look at them this week.
“The Pirates of Themos”
I’m not sure on which planet this one is set. Doolan doesn’t say. It’s clearly a terraformed planet because there’s not one presently like it in our solar system. I’m guessing it might be Venus, but that’s just a guess.
The story opens with a battle between two flying ships. One is crewed by men and captained by the narrator, Lisnor Daglus. The other is crewed by a group of amazons under command of Atalatia. The amazons are slavers, seeking to capture the men.
Atalatia is the youngest princess of the kingdom (queendom?) of Parthea. She’s tall, blond, and green eyed. She threatens Daglus with spending the rest of his life in her seraglio. (I can think of worse fates.)
Before the battle is decided, both ships are attacked by a third. These are the T’karians. They’re a humanoid, but nonhuman, race. And they’re hungry. They’ve been known to eat their victims alive. The men and the women join forces and escape in Atalatia’s ship. All but Atalatia and Daglus. They aren’t able to reach the ship but do managed to escape in his skiff.
Unfortunately, they are shot down over a jungle and have to make their way out.
I’ll not give away any more plot details. This is a short story, after all. It’s fast paced, with several battles, multiple chases, exotic locales, and more than one alien race. The character development isn’t as deep as it is in some of Doolan’s other works, but that’s okay. This one is pure fun. It’s very much a homage to an earlier era. I want to see more of these characters.
“The Machineries of Mars”
Charles Allen Gramlich
This one is clearly an homage to Burroughs, with a nod to Ray Bradbury. I looked at Gramlich’s space opera earlier in the year. This is a simpler story, but no less enjoyable for that reason.
In this one, Mars was once a pleasure planet before the Empire collapsed. Now the androids are at war with the humans. Our narrator, Iohn, (no, that’s not a typo; his name does start with “I”) is flying across an ocean when he sees a woman and her daughter being attacked. They are accompanied by guards and are losing the battle.
Iohn intervenes, saving them. The woman, who at some point was badly burned, is named Jashmun, and her daughter is Ren. They are in the process of escaping from the Shadokeen, androids with an intense hatred of humanity.
Iohn decides to help Jashmun and Ren make it home. Along the way he becomes more involved in their lives. He also has amnesia, and as he spends more time with them, his memory starts to return.
The plot of this one is more straightforward than in the previous story, but there’s a twist at the end. For that reason, I’ll end my synopsis here.
Gramlich has a deep love for the works of Burroughs, and it shows. It would be easy to dismiss “The Machineries of Mars” as imitation. That would not be fair. This is very much a tribute to those works, as a careful reading of the entire story will show.
Both of these tales are good, solid adventure stories with appealing characters. Gramlich and Doolan both have highly readable styles. The Empire of Sol looks like an interesting place, and I’d like to visit it again. I’m hoping some of the other stories will find homes. Or barring that, their authors will publish their works themselves.
If you enjoy sword and planet, these are two fines additions to the genre.