Saturday, February 26, 2011

1970's SF novel: The Gods of Xuma or Barsoom Revisited by David J. Lake

The Gods of Xuma or Barsoom Revisited (1978), a novel by Indian-born Australian science fiction writer, poet, and literary critic David J. Lake.

Pictured below: Paperback original (New York: DAW Books, 1978), #UE1360, No. 279, 189 p., $1.50. Cover art by Don Maitz. Here’s the blurb from the back cover:

Barsoom revisisted?

If the universe is infinite, it follows that there may be somewhere real physical worlds that duplicate those of the imagination. And when Tom Carson caught sight of the third planet of 82 Eridani he recognized at once its resemblance to that imaginary Mars called “Barsoom” of the ancient novelist Burroughs.

Of course there were differences, but even so this planet was ruddy, crisscrossed with canals, and its inhabitants were redskinned, fought with swords, and had many things superficially in common with the fantasy Mars of the John Carter adventures.

But there were indeed vital variations that would eventually trip up the self-deceived-science-fiction-reading travellers from 24th Century Earth. Therein hangs a tale that will delight and surprise everyone who enjoys the thrill of exploring a new world, especially one that seems peculiarly familiar.

The Gods of Xuma was followed by a sequel, Warlords of Xuma (1983). According to Strange Constellations: A History of Australian Science Fiction (1999), by Russell Blackford, Van Ikin, and Sean McMullen:

In the two Xuma books, Lake is able in one stroke to turn a potentially banal SF standby – the discovery of a civilization millions of years old – into a philosophical enabling device. […]

When the first book’s protagonist arrives on Xuma, his first significant act is to disintegrate 120 mounted warriors with his laser pistol. Thus, human technology performs spectacular feats, but also horrifyingly murderous ones, and the Xumans have deliberately renounced the path to such dangerous gadgets. The beauty of their way of life is that it is sustainable, adapted to last without depleting their planet over millions of years. It might be added that their non-technological learning – linguistics, philosophy – is sublime.

One of the intriguing elements in Lake’s books, is the complex attitude to violence that we have mentioned above. Planetary adventure is, of course, traditionally violent, but early in The Gods of Xuma the main character is told, “Evil too has its rights,” and this refrain echoes through the novel and its sequel. Nobody flinches at wars that have been going on for 1 million years, and it seems that Xuman society is presented sympathetically rather than otherwise when it is shown as incorporating highly regulated, indecisive warfare. […]

Violence is presented with repugnance only when it is not regularized by a larger context or when it can be carried out with the effect of mass destruction at a distance. Any concept of total war, such as destroyed human civilization (according to Lake’s essential premise), is rejected, and it is best to kill your enemy face to face so that you at least appreciate what you are doing.

In 2007, Australian SF mega-fan Blue Tyson rated The Gods of Xuma 3.5 stars out of 5.

If you're an ERB fan and are looking for something new (or old) to read that's in the same vein, then The Gods of Xuma and its sequel, Warlords of Xuma, are for you!

No comments:

Post a Comment