Monday, December 17, 2012


I was disappointed with reaction from some of the comics and sf fans' base to the film of THE HUNGER GAMES.  I couldn't believe that they wanted to know why Katniss didn't just use her forestry and bow skills to kill everybody else and win.  That she didn't was the whole point of the story.  Just killing and winning - which would have meant taking out Rue and Peeta herself - would have been giving the Capitol what they wanted, a new champion and the continuation of the Games.  She wouldn't have been a heroine at all, and I don't think the books would have sold as phenomenally well as they did.  She made the powers that be do things her way, and that's why she is a heroine.  A hero/ine doesn't just go along for the ride, she shakes up the status quo.

There is a sad trend in popular sf and fantasy to portray violence as the only means of resolving conflicts.  You can see it reflected in shooter video games and action and zombie movies to name a few.  The enemy is faceless and nonhuman so it's ok to kill them.  That's the only way to survive.  Peace is never an option.  You can't negotiate with the Flood or the Heartless or the Darkspawn or the undead.  Even the new STAR TREK movies are about blowing up supervillains; the tv series strove to resolve confrontations peacefully, but that doesn't make good action movies.  Neil Degrasse Tyson said, "If you carry around a hammer, all problems begin to look like nails."

Please note that I am not saying that violent video games or movies cause violence or hate  -  people like Osama bin Laden, Adolph Hitler and Fred Phelps did not grow up playing video games.  But it reflects and reinforces the already existing feeling that our perceived enemies are not like us, fags or ragheads or gooks or Jews or infidels or whatever hate words are being used.  It's a mental state that's been with us since prehistory but it's one that we can survive without.  A while ago the government had a leaked plan for how to survive climate change or the loss of natural fuels, land or water.  It was all about Resource Wars, fighting over them. Nothing about any sharing or cooperation between nations so that everybody lives.  Even the Klingons had a proverb: "Only a fool fights in a burning house." A lot of sf/fantasy from Trek to comic books used to be above that kind of thinking.

And now we have drone weapons that you can kill with impersonally without ever seeing your victims' faces.  Remember how outraged you feel when some sick shooter in Colorado or Connecticut kills innocent men, women and kids?  Happens all the time in places like Pakistan, and we can't understand why they hate us.

Today's heroes are a violent lot.  Superheroes used to have a personal code against killing.  They won as often as not by outsmarting the bad guys - not just by being meaner and harder.  In the scene above Green Lantern proved Sinestro (the red guy for non comics fans) wrong by sealing him in a big green bubble (hey, it's a comic book; point was, GL didn't kill him.  It's no more unbelievable than Batman dodging assault weapons fire or Wolverine carving up a hundred ninjas.) 

The idea that enemies are not like us so we have to kill them is something the human race needs to put behind us. The only ones who profit are the political hawks and religious fanatics who use it to send people to fight their wars and the rich who only want to carve up what's left.  Why, as some would have Katniss do, give them what they want?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


I first read the Mars books by Edgar Rice Burroughs in high school in the 60s. I'd been reading boys' books like Tom Swift Jr and the Hardy Boys, and the Tarzan books were stocked with those. When I found a trade paperback volume of three ERB's Mars novels I picked it up. It contained not the first but the middle three of the series, THUVIA MAID OF MARS, THE CHESSMEN OF MARS and THE MASTERMIND OF MARS - by which time Carter's offspring Carthoris and Tara, and new arrival to Mars Ulysses Paxton had taken up the action. I was carried away to ERB's Barsoom, with its dying civilizations, incomparable princesses and sword-swinging heroes. I was fortunate in that the 60s had a Burroughs boom that saw release of the whole series - and ERB's Venus, Moon Men and Pellucidar books - in affordable paperbacks, with art by greats like Frank Frazetta, Roy Krenkel and J. Allen St. John. Burroughs took the time to make his books plausible enough for their time; his Mars was as astronomers perceived it at the turn of the century: dead sea bottoms, canals and the possibility of humanoid life. He developed Barsoom with its own ecology, language, customs, mores and science, even set down the rules for the Martian version of chess, Jetan.

The movie was as true to ERB's spirit as could be expected today. It does lack some of the romance that Carter is mourning a recently dead wife and child, and as usual these days his motives had to be personal at first, war-weary and interested only in returning to Earth (Jasoom) and his cave of gold, but he does finally join Dejah Thoris and her cause. One change I did appreciate is that the women are not the "simpering wimps" of 1900s fantasy; Dejah Thoris is a scientist and warrior and we see women among the airship crews.

Also in keeping with today's filmgoers' interests there had to be a threat to Earth, so the Holy Therns are developed from coniving preists to interstellar parasites with high tech/mystical powers. I found that an interesting addition, though, and since they're still around at the end, provides a plot for sequels since the film discarded the original cliffhanger ending.

Carter arrives on Mars fully clothed instead of as stark naked as the book, and the Martians who were described as wearing only sword harnesses or ornaments are overdressed. There is a difference though between being told that without any explicit description and seeing men and women parade around naked on the screen. The same difference between being naked and seeing somebody else naked. I still think they should have worn less, though, if only because their armor and capes made them look more Roman than alien.

Still, most of the TARZAN films were departures from the original and I still enjoy them as well as the books. And the long-running Dell TARZAN comic books, which I'm now collecting in hardcover archives - a mashup of the Tarzan of the novels and the movies.

I was disappointed with the pilgrimage down the River Is, a sort of physical journey to Heaven, which in the book (it was actually in the second book, THE GODS OF MARS), the journey ended in a domain of plant-creatures who killed and fed on the pilgrims. ERB was known for mocking religious fundamentalists and the story was one of his best satires on people who live their lives in futile pursuit of eternal bliss instead of living to the fullest.

One weakness the film can't help is that since it was the seminal interplanetary adventure story, it has been copied and bypassed by later films from FLASH GORDON to STAR WARS and AVATAR. Still, I can only recommend JOHN CARTER (OF MARS as the closing credits have it) highly to Burroughs readers and non-readers alike.