The World Needs Another Frontier, Badly

– By Gitabushi

It is a common refrain among conservatives and science fiction fans that we need a new frontier.  I’m not above advocating what is already popular, but I think I can add some depth to the argument.

Science fiction fans want a new frontier because we were attracted to speculative fiction for the exploration of new ideas, new societies, and new worlds.  The Earth’s surface has been extensively explored. I would never claim we understand everything about the Earth, but there are few places that haven’t been thoroughly explored, categorized, and claimed.  But consider colonizing the moon!  Or terra-forming and settling Mars!  Or learning to live safely and profitably underneath the ocean’s surface!

For the Science Fiction fan, exploration, claiming, and settling new frontiers is a no-brainer: it’s what we do. We do it because it’s there. No other reason is needed.

For the conservative, however, and particularly for the libertarian, the idea of a new frontier is attractive because of the lure of liberty and freedom.  When man sets foot in new territory, civilized society, with all its laws and restrictions and control, can exert only a weak influence at best.  The Statists are constantly seeking to extend their control over ever-more-minute details of the everyday lives of citizenry: surveillance, taxes, restrictions, more taxes, nudges, property taxes, Sanitized by the Government for Your Protection, stealth taxes, corruption, etc.  Civilization is wonderful, but where civilization goes, Statism follows, and the infringements on liberty are incessant and pervasive.

I think there are additional reasons we need a new frontier, and we need it badly, and we need it as soon as possible.

I mentioned previously that where civilization goes, Statism follows.  But it is more than that. Systems and structure grow organically.  Interests and assets become entrenched.  The Left is decrying the collection of  wealth in the hands of the few, and always complaining how difficult it is for the unskilled and poorly educated to earn a living wage.

This is exactly why we need a new frontier.

Think for a moment, if you will, of the individuals who have an IQ of 80-90.  Just saying “that person has an IQ of 90” sounds like you are calling them stupid, doesn’t it?  How can someone with an IQ of 90 succeed in a world that is increasingly information- and knowledge-based?  And a person with an IQ of 80 is even more constrained by their limited intelligence.

But those with an IQ of 90 are just as numerous as individuals with an IQ of 110.

Sure, in the United States, it is still possible to work hard with diligent attention to detail and succeed.  Even more so if you can acquire a strong grasp of human nature and cultivate good judgment of character.

But those opportunities are dwindling.

The Elite protect their own.  With greater wealth, they are able to give their children more experiences. With greater status, they are able to give their children more opportunities.  That doesn’t guarantee any success, of course, any more than the lack of wealthy experiences and opportunities damns a child to failure.  A child’s future success still depends mostly on the child themselves, as they learn and grow and seek knowledge and ability. Parents can teach their values, schools can teach information, but it is always up to the individual to accept, grasp, mull, and apply the values and information into knowledge, life skills, and success.

However, I think no one has much heart to argue that the paths for lower-IQ individuals who start with a lower economic class base are fewer than just a few decades ago, and will continue to disappear in the future.

A new frontier multiplies those paths and opportunities.

First, wealth flows to those who risk and work hard.  Leaving civilization is a risk. Leaving, you risk death itself, but also encounters with the lawless that are beyond the reach of civilized law. Being a pioneer means investing yourself into risk, and the returns from exploring new frontiers are correspondingly rich.  You can actually *own* your territory without property taxes. With zero or minimal taxation, you can actually *own* the fruits of your labor.

Second, frontiers require labor.  Intelligence is absolutely required, as well…but a strong back and willing hands go farther in a frontier.  Remember, your earnings are not based on the value you provide (although the value you provide to your employer caps your earnings), but are based on how much it would take to replace you with someone equally skilled. Earnings for trades and other manual labor stagnate and sag in a civilized, established, knowledge-based economy because there are so many other people that can replace you.  There’s always someone else willing to work for just a little bit less, and the learning curve for the job isn’t that high.

But in a frontier, the risks reduce the ranks of those willing. Labor is always at a premium in a frontier.

Opening a new frontier should appeal to all people, regardless of political affiliation, ideology, or societal view.  If you want new worlds to explore, you want a new frontier. If you crave liberty, you want a new frontier. And if you care about the poor, the poorly-educated, the less-intelligent, the ones who did not do well in the genetic lottery, the downtrodden, those left behind, etc., then you should be clamoring the loudest for a new frontier, because it is the best way to provide new opportunity and new wealth to those currently experiencing extensive obstacles in our stratified, calcifying society.


Wending My Way Through ERB: The Mucker, A Review

  • by Gitabushi

I just finished reading The Mucker, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, last week.

This is, by far, my favorite book that I’ve read by ERB.


It has sword fighting!  Pirates!  True Love! Gun Battles! Banditos! Head Hunters! Drunken brawls!

Quick synopsis: A guy has a pretty bad start in life. A series of events cause him to reconsider everything he valued, and through time, effort, exposure to good and bad people, and a series of events, he builds his character into something to be admired.

To be honest, I’m a little perplexed, because as I was reading it, I thought: okay, this is so good because it is late in his writing career. He had done all the Barsoom stories, the Tarzan stories, the crappy Land that Time Forgot stories (Caspak series), and wanted to do something with a little more moral and literary heft.


He wrote in 1914.  At that point, he had only completed 2 or 3 Tarzan novels, and only 2 or 3 Barsoom novels.  The crappy was still four years in the future.

But I liked this book because it has character development in spades, and it was actually mostly believable.

Its plot was okay.  It is long and winding, but that doesn’t necessarily make it good. It doesn’t have a deep or complex plot, it just winds its way through various locales and sub-goals.  It does wrap up nicely at the end, which is nice.  But it is linear, rather than a web of plots and subplots to be resolved.  That’s okay, that isn’t a criticism.  In contrast, Chessmen of Mars has a few subplots that work together and get resolved by the end.  And Princess of Mars is another linear plot, with nothing really existing or unresolved out of the main action that is happening to John Carter at any given moment.  This isn’t good or bad, because it is what the story calls for.  A more complex web of plotting requires better writing, but good writers can also have simple plots.  I think that is the case here.

For that matter, if you read my review (and also read the book) on “Monster Men”, I think that novel has a much more complex plot than this one.  It is necessary for that story, it isn’t for this one, so both are great for what they are.

Descriptions are mostly pretty good.  He doesn’t get into lush details like Robert E. Howard does, but you should always have a clear image in your head of the stage the characters are on and what they are doing.

There are several very enjoyable characters, but my favorite character of all is Barbara Harding.  My, what a woman!  She shows strength, grit, intelligence, courage, skill, grace, wisdom…you name an admirable trait, she has it.  Anyone who wants to blather on about misogyny in old pulp novels, or the lack of Strong Female Characters in older fiction needs to take a big glass of Shut Up Juice and read this book.

I haven’t read the later books in this series.  I think I need to.

In any case, I highly recommend this book. If you like John Carter books, I think you’ll find many of the same elements here, plus extras. If you don’t like John Carter books, I think you’ll find enough other qualities of good writing that you’ll enjoy this book.

If you read/read it (first: short e, past tense; second: long e, future tense) and didn’t/don’t like it, let me know, and why.  I’d like to improve my grasp of objective criticism.

If you need more to make you want to read the novel, let me know. I’d like to improve my skill at recommending books without giving away spoilers.

Ironically, when I got in an argument over “A Princess of Mars”, one of the things I said is I wanted some more complexity to the main character regarding love.  I was told that ERB doesn’t need any of that soap opera, mushy, emotional angst stuff.  Apparently that person was wrong, because the romantic conflict is all through this book.  But it is done well.  I think ERB really understands the motivations and thought processes of his main characters, and shows it well.

The Mucker

Go read it!


Dimmer Switch, Revised

  • by Gitabushi

The original “Dimmer Switch” was written, first draft, on twitter.  Later, I wished I had ended the story differently. After talking with my kids about it, I decided to rewrite the story with the new ending, and cleaned up and expanded the rest of the text to match the new ending.

I think I may stop trying to write novels for a year or two, and just write as many short stories as I can, just to build the habit of writing.  We’ll see. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this short story.

Be sure and let me know what you think, good or bad. And let me know which version you like better.

It’s the little things that strike you at the strangest times.
You’d think awareness of the Event would have permeated to my core, but when driving at night, I am still poised to click off my brights, should I see other headlights approaching.
No other headlights will approach.
Well, okay, I don’t *know* that for sure. I’m here. That at least implies the potential existence of others.
I think. I think, therefore I am?
Were none of the other inhabitants of the Earth thinking when it happened?
I dunno, I was never a philosopher.
Except now I think I am.
What do I have to do now except think, now that mankind killed itself off?
I love the feel of night air rushing over me when I leave the top down. It reminds me of simpler days, when I had a family, of trips to the beach…or even just going shopping.
There have been so many changes.
I’m amazed how quickly infrastructure crumbles when there isn’t constant human maintenance.
But perhaps the biggest change is me.
I’m many magnitudes smarter than I was before.
Things I simply couldn’t conceive of before are now clear and sensible.
Things that once perplexed me now seem obvious.
Details that seemed random now fit together to form unified wholes.
I can predict the weather accurately out to several weeks almost as soon as I enter a new region, just from the little clues of light, stirred grasses, and cloud volume.
Along with intelligence has come an unexpected mechanical talent.
My attempt to convert the Mazda Miata run on biomass worked perfectly after some minor modifications. The autopilot I rigged worked on the first try.
But I still drive the car myself. It feels more…mundane.
I have an idea what might have happened.  Bear with me, this may seem like a digression.
There was a theory on a time-wasting website that had tried to codify all the various tropes in fiction. The theory I’m thinking of was the “Conservation of Ninja.”
The idea was that in the climax of first movie/book/book section, the hero would fight a single ninja, and would struggle, but would eventually win.
Later in the same story/series, however, the hero would fight multiple ninjas, and defeat them with relative ease.
The website takes this sudden incompetence of Ninja ability to posit there was merely one unified whole of ninja ability.
When concentrated in one individual, that person was nigh-invulnerable.
When the numbers of ninja multiplied, however, they became laughingstocks, nearly Keystone Cops in incompetence.
A zero-sum of Ninja competence. The more Ninjas, the more diffuse the skill became.
Is this true for human intelligence?
Could there be a zero sum total of human intelligence, divided among each human being?
The movie Idiocracy posited that we were breeding for stupidity.
What if population *is* stupidity?
When virtually everyone died, intelligence concentrated in me.
Imagine the computing power of 7 billion humans, all in one mind. The intelligence would be superhuman.
And, in fact, I’m improvising technology that was beyond the reach of human science at the time of the Event. Imagine what I could do with a supercomputer, or a fully-equipped fabrication laboratory.
Is it possible that I am now God?
In the beginning, there was God.
He knew all, and was All Powerful.
Did He, in creating Man, divide His intelligence, part out His omniscience, divide His ability?  Did God disappear when His intelligence was divided among too many people? Was there a tipping point at some moment in the previous century when humanity became numerous enough that God died?
If so, did the Event bring God back into existence in me?
Or are there others who still share Humanity’s Intelligence with me?
I must find them.
Or perhaps it’s just the combined mental power of 3.5 billion humans.  Or 1.7 billion.
It depends on if I have the whole, or merely a fraction, and how many fractions we are.
As intelligent as I am now, how would I know, considering where I started?
There is a way to know, of course.
It has only been a few short months since the Event. That’s not enough time to be sure.
But if I suddenly find my intellectual ability taking another leap, then someone sharing humanity’s intelligence died. Conversely, if I suddenly find my intelligence dropping by a significant amount, it means a new mind was born.
But I can’t wait. I’m lonely. So I search.
What I wouldn’t give to have someone throw me a ball again, or even a stick. I yearn for someone to call me a Good Boy again.
Unbidden, my tail thumps against the seat. And my paw is on the dimmer switch.

Dimmer Switch

– by Gitabushi
It’s the little things that strike you at the strangest times.
You’d think awareness of the Event would have permeated to my core, but when driving at night, I still have my hand poised to click off my brights, should I see other headlights approaching.
No other headlights will approach.
Photo courtesy of Getty Stock Images
Well, okay, I don’t *know* that. I’m here. That at least implies the potential existence of others.
I think. I think, therefore I am.
Were none of the other 7 billion-plus thinking when it happened?
I dunno, I was never a philosopher.
Except now I think I am.
What do I have to do now, except think?
I think back to when she once said, “I love you!”
It took months, years even, until I realized that what she meant by it was, “I depend on you!”
When I said it, I meant “I want to keep having fun with you forever!”
Same words.
Totally different meanings.
Both assuming the other felt and meant the same as their own.
And probably smug of me to think I had stumbled on some unique insight.
No wonder mankind killed itself off.
My attempt at rigging an autopilot worked fine, as did the conversion that let my Mazda 929 run on biomass.
I don’t really know how I came up with them. I seem to be thinking more clearly, and several magnitudes faster since everyone died.
But I still drive the car myself. It feels more…mundane.
Things that once puzzled me now seem obvious.
Details that seemed random now fit together to form unified wholes.
I can predict the weather accurately out to several weeks almost as soon as I enter a new region, just from the little clues of light, stirred grasses, and cloud volume.
There was a jocular theory on a website that had tried to codify all the various tropes in fiction: Conservation of Ninja
The idea was that in the climax of first movie/book/book section, the hero would fight a single ninja, and would struggle, but would eventually win.
Later in the same story/series, the hero would fight multiple, and defeat them with relative ease.
This led to the conclusion that there was merely one unified whole of ninja ability.
When concentrated in one individual, that person was nigh-invulnerable.
When the numbers of ninja multiplied, however, they became laughingstocks, nearly Keystone Cops in incompetence.
Is this true for human intelligence?
The movie Idiocracy posited that we were breeding for stupidity.
What if population *is* stupidity?
In the beginning, there was God.
He knew all, and was All Powerful.
Did He, in creating Man, divide His intelligence, part out His omniscience, divide His ability?
Am I now God?
Or are there others who still share Humanity’s Intelligence with me?
I must find them.
We must procreate.
The burden of sharing my thoughts with only myself is simply too much.
…my hand still hovers over the dimmer switch.

MUST READ SFF: Replay, by Ken Grimwood

  • by Gitabushi

It should be no surprise by now that I like books with good stories, good characters, and ideas that challenge me.  Who doesn’t want to be entertained?  But there are so many options for entertainment, so when I read, I want my mind to get a workout.


This book does that.

To be honest, this book may be generation-locked.  The main character was born in the 1940s, and so is in college in the 1960s, and the culture of the 1960s has an impact on the plot. Growing up in the 1970s myself, I didn’t live 1960s culture…but most of the books I had available growing up were written in the 1960s or early 1970s, and set in the late 1950s and 1960s, so I was familiar with the culture.  For someone who never had to dial a rotary phone or never lived before there was cable TV or microwaves, maybe the book will lack some impact.  I don’t know. If you are one such reader, try it out and let me know.

However, Grimwood does an excellent job capturing the normality of those early times.  The protagonist goes back to his youth, but brings his adult sensibilities with him. And if you can imagine how society has changed just from the introduction of widespread use of the birth control pill, you can imagine how his mature assumptions clash with the culture and society of his youth.

The entire book is written with bedrock-solid descriptions of mainstream life in the United States. It feels real. The characters actions and reactions seem real. The author thinks of aspects I didn’t (and maybe couldn’t) and plays them to the hilt. The result is a book that makes it extremely easy to willingly suspend disbelief. It is easy to get drawn in, to care about the protagonists, what they want to do, and why.

It is also intersting to see things fall apart when the main character gets to experience one of the most common wishes of humankind: “If I knew then what I know now.”  Jeff gets several lifetimes of that wish fulfillment, and it still never turns out like he expects.

From that point of view, the book can be seen as a comfort: you are already doing pretty much the best  you can. More knowledge wouldn’t make your life better, it would just move you along to encounter new problems. Life is life. Stop pining for how things could be different, and start appreciating what you actually have.

In the end, you may get a “Groundhog Day” vibe out of this book, but rest assured: this preceded Groundhog Day by several years.

In fact, I would like to challenge all writers: Take the premise of this book, or Groundhog Day, or Flash Forward, and write your own stories. We have endless takes on zombies, vampires, young adult dystopias. Enough!  These three formats are crying out for additional exploration.

But first, you have to read this. Find it and read it. Let me know if you think I steered you wrong, but I think you’ll love it as much as I did.

Oh, and give me a review of the review. Did it make you want to read the book? If not, what else should I have included to help persuade you?

Replay Radar



MUST WATCH SFF Television Show: Flash Forward

  • by Gitabushi

An unheralded television show aired on ABC back in 2009.  It was cancelled after just one season in the spring of 2010.  I somehow managed to get a copy of the DVD without knowing anything about it, and my teenage kids and I fell in love with it when we randomly picked it out of the backlog stack and gave it a try.

Premise: The entire world falls unconscious for 137 seconds, for unknown reasons. This causes all sorts of pandemonium, like car crashes, planes falling out of the sky, and other disasters you might expect from such an event.

As the world is coping with the massive loss of life, people begin comparing notes of the dreams they had while unconscious.  In doing so, they discover coincidences that cannot be explained as anything other than visions of a moment six months in the future.  For instance, someone has a vision of being in a meeting with someone they have never met before, but there is enough identifying information from the vision that the other individual can be tracked down. When contact is established, the other individual reveals they had the exact same vision, including the same actions, conversation, etc. Enough visions include looking at a calendar, clock, etc., that the moment of the vision of the future can be established, and all visions with such time-based details all agree with each other.

This causes all sorts of crises, including visions of being intimate with someone not your spouse, dealing with the aftermath of killing someone, discovering that someone you thought was dead is actually still alive.  Worse, perhaps, is the people who do not have visions: the understand rapidly spreads that these people will be dead before the Flash Forward moment.

And as the world is dealing with this realization, the FBI discovers that the event may have been triggered deliberately by unknown, non-government entities. Moreover, closed-circuit television captures at least one person moving during the blackout: the blackout wasn’t, in fact, universal.

Then they discover that you can actually take actions to prevent your vision from coming true, in drastic fashion.

I think you can immediately think of multiple philosophical issues that arise from these various aspects and examples, and the television show doesn’t shy away from exploring them.  My children and I always had plenty to discuss for more than an hour after watching each episode. There were plot twists to discuss, of course, but also the philosophical and psychological ramifications of events and developments.  We had some discussions of fate, comparing/contrasting the actions of those who chose to prevent their future vision and how they did it with those who actually caused their vision to come about via their efforts to avoid it.

Particularly poignant was the relationship between the main protagonist (there are a lot of people you care about in the show) and his wife (also a protagonist) who had a vision of being intimate with a man she didn’t currently know.  At the point of the blackout, they had a strong relationship and were both faithful.  The knowledge of the apparent unfaithfulness did seem to both contribute to it coming about, but also seemed to supply motivation that might help prevent it. Watching the couple struggle through jealousy, guilt, and distress was extremely interesting, and it gave me several launching points for talking to my kids about marriage, love, trust, integrity, desire, dissatisfaction, and proper/improper ways of dealing with marital difficulties.

One person, an FBI agent who would be dead in six months, was engaged to be married.  How does he tell his fiancee he will be dead?  Particularly when her vision is of the wedding ceremony they planned?  How can both their visions be real?

These stories both subvert and play straight the notion of Fate: can it be stopped?  Does fighting it bring it about? The answer to both is Yes, and it seems to conclude that the future is in a box with Schroedinger’s Cat: you don’t know what happens until you get there and open it up. And the story was the better for it.

This is not a television show to binge watch.  Nor is it a show to watch alone.  This is one of the better “what would *I* do if…?” stories I’ve seen.  Watch an episode, and then take a few days to let it sink in, to discuss it with the friends and family you watched it with. Then watch the next episode and have your mind blown.  Rinse and repeat.

The show had declining viewership, and I really don’t see why.  Of course, there were some very depressing points as the season went on, and confusing aspects, and developments we didn’t like.  But we had the whole disc, so it was easy to continue watching.  From that perspective, I guess I could see looking at the next episode coming up and deciding you have better things to do with your time.  It is also true that the episodes were so dense with information that if you missed one, it would be nearly impossible to have any interest or ability to catch up with what was going on.  This was in 2010, so I don’t think there were options to watch the shows online to actually see what you missed.  So I guess I do see why, but I think a bunch of people missed out on an excellent story, and since it resulted in the series being cancelled, I think we are all the poorer for it.

The declining viewership meant the show was cancelled. The season finale was written and filmed before the cancellation, however, and this creates two problems: one, there is a cliffhanger over whether a character survives or not; two, there is a completely new set of intriguing Flash Forward visions, but this time 20 years in the future instead of just 6 months.  I would like to have seen how they handled a 20-year gap.

But the series remains watchable.  For as much love as Firefly got for its single season, I think this is better. The cast is large, and yet you actually know the characters more deeply than on Firefly. Firefly introduces a bunch of elements (particularly regarding River) that change the very nature of the series (making it really all about River); nothing like that happens in Flash Forward. In fact, the season doesn’t just stop, it concludes and wraps up almost all the stories.  It is a pause. It is the end of the first act, but good enough to let you go on with your life without burning questions.  Flash Forward ends like Star Wars: sure, you don’t know what happened to Darth Vader, and the Rebellion hasn’t won, but you get enough of the threads wrapped up that you don’t feel dissatisfied. Firefly is like what you would feel like if they never filmed The Return of the Jedi: imagine never knowing what happened to Han.

So if Firefly can get so much love and attention from just one season, Flash Forward deserves equal treatment.  Find it and watch it.  Let me know if you think I led you wrong.

But my bottom line judgment is: THIS television show is what speculative fiction is and should be: a “What If?” tale that challenges you, teaches you, and still lets you teach yourself.  I can’t imagine watching Flash Forward without growing as a person. And it is also entertaining. What more could you ask?



MUST READ SFF: The Monster Men, by Edgar Rice Burroughs

  • by Gitabushi

I have embarked on an exploration of old Pulp, with designs of writing some pulp stories myself. Where better to start than with Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs?

Having recently finished ERB’s “A Princess of Mars”, and the library term having run out on “The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian” by REH, I decided I should read some more Burroughs.  However, I didn’t want to limit myself to Barsoom stories at this time, so I picked up The Monster Men.

monster men

The Monster Men is an intriguing mix of different ideas: the hubris of science, the nature of souls, love and loyalty.  At times, it seems as if ERB was writing in response to Shelley’s “Frankenstein”; at other times, I wondered if he was trying to establish his protagonist as a Christ figure.

In the end, it is none of those, although those elements certainly do play a role.

Lately, I’ve been consumed with the notion of Willing Suspension of Disbelief: it is a prerequisite to enjoying a story. For instance, I can’t get into Star Trek because my expectations for The Next Generation were so high that when they lost me, they ruined my ability to accept any premise from that universe. Likewise, I enjoyed “Orcs!” because the verisimilitude of the GS rank battle, combined with what struck me as a precisely-correct shift of tone from farce to seriousness, convinced me to buy into the premise.

But I hadn’t seen The Two Towers film. As such, when the scenes that parodied that movie played, I wasn’t jarred from the story as anyone who had seen that other film would be.

I could delve into this more deeply with other examples, but the point is: obtaining and maintaining Willing Suspension of Disbelief isn’t something the writer should take for granted.

I very nearly choked on the premise of this story: that man could create life from scratch. Modern Science has only recently mapped the human genome; I don’t care what texts Professor Maxon had available to him, there was no way he was growing humans from scratch.  But I finally decided to swallow the premise (key word: “Willing”) and take the premise at face value.

Before I had completely accepted the premise, however, the book started getting really good.  This occurred at approximately 20% of the way in  (according to my Kindle; page numbers are meaningless when you are reading Kindle e-Book publications). At that point, multiple actors began to reveal their competing goals and techniques for reaching those goals.  What was a relatively simple story suddenly became extremely complex.

From that point on, I had to finish the book to see what would happen. My Disbelief was fully Suspended. There were points were the pacing slowed, but I was already committed to the story and to reading the fates of the various characters.

And I wasn’t disappointed.  Burroughs ends this story extremely well, with a somewhat surprise ending that, at the risk of ruining it for you, he actually fully telegraphed earlier in the book.  Fortunately, he did it in a way you will either not notice, or forget in the ensuing pages of action.  Masterfully done, in fact.

Moreover, Burroughs drops some challenging ideas into the story, particularly regarding the nature of humanity, souls, and morality.  When I say “challenging”, I don’t mean the ideas are complex, novel, or controversial.  I just mean that he raises questions and has the characters consider them; this process compels the reader to actually consider these issues in the hypothetical context. Perhaps the reader is already clear what they think, perhaps it is an entirely new idea; either way, I have to believe the reader is forced to think on the concept.

The novel doesn’t really get preachy, however.  It isn’t a Message story, although it has some Messages in it.  This is how I like my books: don’t beat me over the head with what you think is the Right Way to Think About a Moral Issue.  Just raise the issue and then show me the consequences of people’s decisions and actions.  Make your case.

ERB did, and did it well.  12 hours later, I’m still thinking, “Huh. What if this other character had followed through with that action? It would have been horrible!” To me, thinking about the ramifications of different characters doing different things is the sign of a good story: it means I’ve begun to think about the characters as people, with agency and options. It means I found their decisions and actions to be realistic.

There is some stereotyping that most Social Justice Warriors would probably now denounce as racism.  I wouldn’t, because they are stereotypes that serve the story. Burroughs needed people to act a certain way, and the setting made the racial choices obvious. But I don’t think he reduced the humanity and agency of anyone, and the choices they made were based on realistic cultural influences. Giving a Chinese character a “Your Raundly is Leddy” accent throughout the whole damn book is annoying, but the character itself is treated with the utmost respect.  I see nothing racist about this book at all, although there are indubitably racial elements.  Noticing race isn’t racist in and of itself. This more firmly establishes in my mind the opinion that charges of racism leveled at ERB are undeserved.  My mind can still be changed, but that window is closing.

However, the novel had some other problems.  Mechanically, his writing is sometimes poor: there are run-on sentences, confusing clauses, loss of clarity in who is speaking or acting.

One of the more interesting weaknesses, however, is ERB’s Show-Don’t-Tell problems.  He “tells” way too often.  This would be a much better novel if he showed the reader what he wanted to tell us.  Motivations should be revealed more in dialogue and descriptions of actions, rather than just telling us what someone wanted or meant by their words.  And yet, taking it to another level, his telling the reader about motivations and actions served as showing a deeper level of moral character and integrity of the characters in the story. So I can’t give him a failing grade in that area the way I do mechanics.

Finally, in this book, ERB’s descriptions are rather muted and plain, much like they are in “A Princess of Mars”.  I find myself comparing him to REH with ERB coming out the loser, badly. But to be fair, REH is a master at vivid description, at making you feel you are actually present in a 3D world, so anyone would pale in comparison.  ERB’s descriptions were adequate, so he barely passes here, too.

From now on, I’ll be including a chart that captures my rating of the story based on several aspects.  Here is the chart for ERB’s “The Monster Men”:

Monster Men Radar

The book is public domain and can be downloaded from various online locations. I recommend you do so.  This is a book worth reading!