Flag of Barsoom
Series: Barsoom fan fiction
Reviewed date: 2009 Oct 27
Flag of Barsoom is a Burroughs pastiche written to show a more realistic, less romanticized version of Barsoom. It's well written tale, but the real heart of the story is less about exploring Barsoom and more about remaking Barsoom into a grittier and more brutal world. The protagonist--it would be a stretch to call him a hero--is Jean Pennant, or Jack Flag. Born behind the Iron Curtain, he ends up a soldier in the Czech Army deployed to Iraq in 1992. A mortar shell makes a direct hit on his position. He floats away to Barsoom, where he discovers that the magical Victorian world described by Burroughs is a fiction. Barsoom is a far different place than described in A Princess of Mars.
Apparently, Burroughs got so many details about Barsoom wrong because his only source was John Carter's messages delivered via the Gridley Wave. John Carter, being a Virginia gentleman, is too prudish to admit any realistic details about Barsoom. The result is a whitewashed Victorian view of Barsoom. The real Barsoom is more savage, more depraved, more human.
That whole thing about honor among the Barsoomian red men? Poppycock. The red men are as fleshly as men on earth. The enlisted soldiers are rude, crude, disrespectful, lazy, dishonorable, and are poor soldiers to boot. The officers are marginally better: they fare from connected families and join for a five-year term. They are cravens with no sense of strategy or tactics.
Women on Barsoom get pregnant and give live birth. The notion that they lay eggs is an invention of Burroughs, who relied on John Carter's eyewitness testimony. Carter, being so uptight about sex, left that part completely out of his story. Burroughs extrapolated the egg-laying idea from Carter's description of the green Barsoomian race, who do indeed lay eggs.
Nothing makes Barsoom more exciting than some red men vs. yellow men racism. Honor and saving the heroine is passe.
The meat of the story begins when Val Paxt, the daughter of Ulysses Paxton, is kidnapped. She disappears with her servant, a yellow slave girl named Arife. The fleet is sent looking for her, but it is our hero, Jack Flag, who finds her. She hasn't been kidnapped at all--she ran away. And her servant girl is actually a princess among the yellow race.
Arife is not just a slave girl and a yellow princess. She's Val Paxt's lesbian lover. Oh boy. When Val Paxt's betrothed finds out, he's surprised and disappointed. But wait! Lucky for him, Val Paxt and Arife decide they like Reef Tak, and so the marriage will go ahead as planned. It'll be a happy threesome.
Personally I like Edgar Rice Burroughs just the way he is. His stories don't need any added realism. I'm not sure Barsoom need whores, racism, and lesbian lovers. But if you like that stuff, Flag of Barsoom is an outstanding take, well written in a style that makes it feel like a genuine Barsoom story.
Flag of Barsoom is published online at Tangor's Pastiche and Fan Fiction.