Tag Archives: john carter

The Gods of Xuma

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Gods of Xuma, or Barsoom Revisited [Amazon, Abebooks, Publisher, Local Library] by David J Lake.

Lake The Gods of Xuma

The Gods of Xuma is a mildly metafictional take on Burroughs’ Barsoom, framed by a “harder” SF scenario of attempted 24th-century emigration from the solar system. Instead of being the nearest planet in our system, as Barsoom was, Xuma is in the nearest star system that has an Earth-like planet. The explorers have read the old Barsoom stories, and they are intrigued by the arid planet with a canal-based civilization. The protagonist is the crew’s linguist Tom Carson (note the shared meter and assonance with “John Carter”), who is the first to land on the planet and engage the natives.

In an interesting counter, Carson is not given low-gravity superpowers by the below-Earth gravity of Xuma, because he (like all healthy surviving humans) has actually grown up in even lower gravity among the human settlements on the Moon and Mars. What the humans do have is excessive military technology. The Xuman natives, while suspiciously advanced with respect to cultural continuity and general sciences, have no automated transport or weaponry beyond a medieval standard. But the humans barge in with beam weapons, tanks, and orbital barrages. Thus the star-faring humans are mistaken, first by the natives, and later by themselves, for “The Gods of Xuma.”

Communications between the humans and Xumans are established quickly and easily, although without any cross-species telepathy or magical translation. Although superficially quite humanoid, the Xumans have a very different developmental and sexual cycle, which produces real but not insurmountable cultural distances from the explorers. The book does not shirk from an account of the first sexual encounter between humans and Xumans, along with the subsequent developments of this possibility.

The human characters are reasonably fallible, sometimes verging on pathetic, and the Xumans are a little incredibly benevolent. On the whole, the book is a pretty effective anti-imperialist fable. It has a sequel (Warlords of Xuma), but it doesn’t cry out for one.

Darker Than You Think

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Darker Than You Think by Jack Williamson:

Jack Williamson's Darker Than You Think


According to “John Carter,” the pseudonymous author of Sex and Rockets, the Jack Williamson novel Darker Than You Think had a profound impact on O.T.O. Br. Jack Parsons IX°.

The monster-type of the novel is a sorceror-lycanthrope-vampire, representing the genetic recrudescence of a pre-human race that has interbred with and become submerged in humanity. These other-people are called “witches” in the story, which might largely account for Parsons’ affinity for the terms “witch” and “witchcraft,” despite their forceful rejection by Aleister Crowley.

The book stands in many ways as a precursor of the Anne Rice formula of “anti-horror,” in which the sympathetic protagonist is a praeterhuman monster at odds with humanity. Particularly like Rice’s Interview with a Vampire, the Williamson story indulges in an initiatory plot-line, in which there is a gradual induction into monsterhood. There is also a thematic and mechanical correspondence to certain initiations and epiphanies described in Lovecraft’s stories (e.g. “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and “Dreams in the Witch-house”), where the narrator’s horror is compounded by discovering his identity with the object of his fear.

The character of April Bell is the unequivocal scarlet initiatrix of the protagonist Will Barbee. She is the Babalon who rides him as a Beast, most conspicuously when he takes the form of a huge saber-tooth tiger and and carries her naked through the night—an image repeatedly used for illustrations in the various editions of the story. (See Sex and Rockets, pp. 59 & 210, and the current Tor edition of Darker Than You Think, pp. 135 & 143, for different versions of this “Lust Trump.”) Of course the names are interesting as well: “Will” is English for Thelema, and “April” is the month of the writing of The Book of the Law. Darker Than You Think is full of an apocalyptic tone, embodied most clearly in the imminence of the reign of a witch-king called the “Child of Night.” (C.f. Liber LXVI, v. 2)

All of these correspondences must be chalked up to inspiration, rather than study. Only after writing Darker Than You Think, Williamson met Parsons, and eventually attended an Agape Lodge O.T.O. function, where he was favorably impressed by lodgemaster Wilfred Smith. But he never pursued any formal studies, and was left with the impression that Crowley was best characterized as a “satanist.” [via]



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