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Fourth Planet from the Sun
edited by Gordon Van Gelder
Thunder's Mouth Press, 308 pages

Fourth Planet from the Sun
Gordon Van Gelder
Gordon Van Gelder began working as an editor at St. Martin's Press in 1988 right out of college. He attended Clarion West in 1987, and edited The New York Review of Science Fiction from 1988-95. In January 1997, he replaced Kristine Kathryn Rusch as editor at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and bought the magazine in 2000. He lives in Hoboken, NJ with his wife, Barbara.

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction Website
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SF Site Review: In Lands That Never Were

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

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Mars orbits the sun at an average distance of 227.9 million kilometers with a period of about 22 earth months. Its bright red, potentially menacing glow early on linked the name of the planet to the gods of blood and war in numerous civilizations. With the publication in 1898 of H.G. Wells's novel, The War of the Worlds, Mars became inextricably linked in the public imagination with aliens and invasion. Even before Wells, the astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli noted he saw canali on Mars. Faulty translation of this term into English meant there was a belief that there were artificial waterways on the planet.

With the rise of science fiction as a genre in and of itself, Mars became a natural location to posit all sorts of alien life and adventure. Many of the earliest of these used Mars as the setting for wild adventure similar to the way Africa was used. The most notable of these practitioners was Edgar Rice Burroughs who wrote nearly a dozen novels about Mars, or Barsoom, as he called it. In the years since Burroughs published "Under the Moons of Mars" in 1912, our knowledge of the red planet has grown by leaps and bounds. In Fourth Planet from the Sun, Fantasy & Science Fiction editor Gordon van Gelder reprints numerous stories which show the evolution of our knowledge of Mars and its use in fiction over the last half century.

If there is one author whose name is more associated with Mars than Edgar Rice Burroughs, it would have to be Ray Bradbury, whose series of fables set on Mars were collected as The Martian Chronicles in 1958. Van Gelder has selected Bradbury's story "The Wilderness" to open this anthology. Not set on Mars, this is a story about preparations for a journey to the red planet, which makes it clear that Mars, in this case, is a stand-in for the opening of the American West.

Other stories included, particularly those of the earlier writers like Leigh Brackett and Roger Zelazny, present a Mars with a rich and diverse culture, modeled more on the pulp fantasies of Burroughs or A. Merritt than on the scientific evidence of conditions of Mars. These escapist tales use Mars as the same sort of lost world as the pulp authors wrote about the strange regions of the Earth.

The stories, which date from the late 70s after the Viking landers began to send back details on actual conditions on Mars, demonstrate an understanding and acceptance of the realities of the planet's surface conditions. Even as authors began to base their stories on the aerology of Mars, they refused to completely abandon the idea that Mars could be the home of aliens, as shown by the Martians of Jerry Oltion's "The Great Martian Pyramid Hoax."

The stories included in Fourth Planet from the Sun show the possibilities a single venue, however varied, can provide for stories. While many of the earlier tales could have been set anywhere, since the scientific basis for their setting is non-existent, the latter tales show how science fiction can fully take advantage of the scientific discoveries to create a living breathing world on which to base stories not only of adventure, but also of philosophy.

Copyright © 2005 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a four-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings (DAW Books, January, February and March, 2003). In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.


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