by Bill Doughty
Robert A. Heinlein, whose Starship Troopers is a surprising fiction title on the mostly nonfiction Navy Professional Reading Program list, owes much to Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs (ERB). But, unlike most of the fantasy and science fiction that preceded him, Heinlein’s literary fiction opened doors to a future history through human eyes, concentrating more on the heart and hands heading to Mars than on the tools those hands operated.
If former Lt. Cmdr. Heinlein represented the WWII and Korean War period SF of his generation, then Joe Haldeman is a Vietnam-era and Post-Vietnam counterpoint starting in the early-mid 70s, especially with his masterpiece The Forever War. Both writers established powerful characters of both genders and moved away from earlier genre fantasy and SF that tended to objectify women or stereotype people of other backgrounds or cultures.
|Sir Ridley Scott|
Haldeman, praised by Heinlein and vice versa, served as a combat engineer in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Purple Heart. His combat experience shapes his writing and gives credibility to his military SF. The Forever War concepts show up in the films Avatar and Aliens. It will be fascinating to see how Ridley Scott brings Haldeman to the big screen if/when it happens. Scott, who created Blade Runner, Alien and now Prometheus, has the rights to make The Forever War.
Haldeman’s skill in writing about war, space and time led Stephen King to endorse him: “If there was a Fort Knox for the science fiction writers who really matter, we’d have to lock Haldeman up there.”
Haldeman’s latest work is a trilogy beginning with 2008’s Marsbound, which shows a Heinlein-like commitment to characters and heart but with a warped look into what can happen after first contact with a “Martian” race and “Others.” Interestingly, Haldeman writes in the first person as a female protagonist.
Marsbound gives a distinct nod to Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of the Barsoom series -- A Princess of Mars, The Gods of Mars, John Carter of Mars, etc. The spaceship that carries characters to and from Mars is named the John Carter. The aliens are red, green and yellow, like the characters created by ERB, but unlike ERB’s swashbuckling swordplay, Haldeman employs psychology, sex and Sun-Tzu.
Mars, named after the Roman god of war, has long been a destination for science fiction writers.
Giovanni Schiaparelli, Italian scientist, discovered what he thought were continents, seas and “channels” on Mars. American astronomer Percival Lowell hypothesized that the channels, interpreted as “canals,” showed signs of water and vegetation. His views were part of a worldwide meme imagining life on Mars.
In the final years of the 19th Century, H.G. Wells captivated human imagination with the The Crystal Egg and War of the Worlds, where Martians who had depleted the resources on their planet came as predators to stake their claim on Earth.
Discoveries and conjecture about Mars inspired the young Edgar Rice Burroughs, who was educated at Michigan Military Academy and then served in the Army with the 7th U.S. Cavalry before devoting most of the rest of his life to writing.
Like Heinlein, ERB and Haldeman, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Lester del Rey, Philip José Farmer, Philip K. Dick and Frederik Pohl all had great works revolving around the red planet.
Heinlein created a mindbending look at Mars and spirituality with his Stranger in a Strange Land. In The Number of the Beast Heinlein pays tribute to ERB with characters named Zebedia John Carter and Jacob Burroughs traveling to Barsoom and Oz.
As we’ve seen in earlier posts, ERB as a staple reading choice of Sailors who fought in World War II. Pearl Harbor Survivors enjoyed SF, westerns and other adventure books. Like the Greatest Generation service members who inspire Sailors today, Golden Age SF writers and imagineers like Haldeman inspire the writers and filmmakers of today.