Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Jack McDevitt on John Carter, Pulp Artwork, and NASA

The copy on Jack McDevitt ‘s paperbacks proclaim him to be “the logical heir to Asimov and Clarke.” I couldn’t tell you yet if that’s true or not, but the “journals” that he posts on his website are consistently thought provoking and interesting to read. Here’s a few examples:

On John CarterMy first SF novel was A Princess of Mars, which I loved. Except that I had a problem with his mode of transportation. I went on to read all the John Carter books, and continued with Carson Napier. I never would have believed that the day would come when a John Carter movie would show up and I wouldn’t bother.

On Classic Pulp IllustrationsYears later, when I was home on leave after a tour in Japan, I discovered that one of my uncles had also been an avid reader of the pulps. He’d died, and had passed along his collection of Amazing, Thrilling Wonder, and Startling Stories to an aunt, who was to give them to me. But the aunt was horrified by the artwork, which she dutifully used a pair of scissors to remove.

On NASAIn any case, the country watched as the early test rockets went up, threw abrupt u-turns, and came crashing back down. But Kennedy said we’d put a man on the Moon, and we did. The problem is that we did it for the wrong reason. It was an act of incredible courage and ingenuity. But its sole purpose was to beat the Soviets to the Moon. We stamped it Mission Accomplished and walked away. If you read the SF stories written by Bradbury and Heinlein and the others writing during the ‘40s and ‘50s, you can’t help noticing that Moonbase is up and running during the later decades of the twentieth century. Ditto the flights to Mars and Venus. And the mining operations in the asteroid belt. I don’t think any of us, back in 1969, when we walked on the Moon, thought that we’d seen the high point of the space effort.

On Venus and MarsIf one listens to the old radio science fiction shows, or reads Golden Age SF, everyone seemed to assume that we’d be wheeling through the solar system by the 1980’s at the latest. Of course, in that remote time we also assumed we’d find Martians. And I remember dismissing the notion that Venus might be too hot beneath its layer of clouds for anything to be alive. It was going to be steaming jungles and giant lizards and who knew what else? If you doubted that, just consult Edgar Rice Burroughs. In those years, it was a more intriguing solar system than the one we have now. There was life everywhere. There was still talk of canals on Mars. The idea had been pretty much discredited by the 1950’s, but some of us still hoped the skeptics would be proven wrong. Then 1965 arrived, and Mariner 4. I can still remember watching news the photos of the Martian surface. Barren. Cold. Lifeless. No canals. No water.

I’m really glad I got to meet him at Madicon. If anyone can suggest a good Jack McDevitt novel to start with, please drop a comment here. (I’d like something with spaceships, galactic civilizations, and ancient alien enigmas, but I’m afraid to dig through the web for fear of stumbling upon spoilers.)

6 responses to “Jack McDevitt on John Carter, Pulp Artwork, and NASA

  1. RogerBW April 6, 2012 at 8:00 am

    I’ve very much enjoyed all the McDevitt I’ve read – he gets a little samey sometimes, but it’s still good fun. Check the Wikipedia page for series details and don’t start in the middle of one. A Talent for War stands on its own, and is basically an engineer-with-a-wrench novel about historians rather than engineers; the series starting with The Engines of God is about archaeologists in space. I think I’d suggest either of those two as an ideal starting point. As for the stand-alones that I’ve read, without spoilers:

    Ancient Shores – modern-ish day, discovery of an artefact that really shouldn’t be there.
    Eternity Road – post-apocalyptic exploration of Old America.
    Moonfall – relatively “straight” technothriller, though it’s in a setting with an active moonbase and space infrastructure, dealing with the destruction of the Moon.
    Infinity Beach vt Slow Lightning – finding out what really happened to the last SETI expedition.

  2. jeffro April 6, 2012 at 10:35 am

    Perfect! Thanks, Roger. It seems that you not only game master twenty times as much as I do, but you’re better read as well.

  3. Charlie Warren April 6, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    Great post and very informative. I have heard the name and seen his books on the store shelves over the years but have never bothered. After reading this post I WILL pick up one of his book and read it very soon.

  4. raysonofclaw April 6, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    On: “In those years, it was a more intriguing solar system than the one we have now. There was life everywhere.”
    Maybe it is harder to write fantastical pulp material within the context of our knowledge of the known universe, but one can always use what we know to push the fiction even further.
    We know that Venus (as is) cannot be teeming with life, but what if a large comet smacked into such said noxious and inhospitable environment and resulted in a prehistoric potpourri of life to be explored, pillaged, and otherwise exploited for it’s resources (by those willing to risk life and limb of course). Just dismiss the notion that life takes eons to develop on a planet, and one has a semi-cool place to start a fantastical savage adventurous world that would be plenty intriguing.
    Maybe I am missing the spirit of the aforementioned statement, but I find this solar system of ours even more intriguing, with all sorts of amazing possibilities given the stuff we know now. Not to mention the views of our universe we’ve been privy to, thanks to the Hubble telescope.
    Just mi2cents.

  5. Pingback: RETROSPECTIVE: The Eyes of the Overworld by Jack Vance –

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