By Eric Brown (PS Publishing; 2009)
These days it’s become chic to feature the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft as protagonists of yarns that could have sprung from those writers’ own imaginations–see LOVECRAFT’S BOOK, NEVERMORE, THE LIST OF 7, THE ARCANUM, etc, etc, etc. GILBERT AND EDGAR ON MARS is the first such account headlined by G.K. Chesterton, the early 20th Century English literary legend (of the FATHER BROWN detective series and THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY). As in the above-mentioned faux-historical novels, the implication is that the adventures detailed in this slight but enjoyable novella inspired G.K. Chesterton’s fiction, and also that of Edgar Rice Burroughs, who co-stars.
It begins with Chesterton leaving a meeting with his colleagues George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells, and running into an odd little man he takes for a leprechaun. The latter mistakes Chesterton for Wells, and invites him back to his abode, allegedly to inscribe some books. What the man actually leads Chesterton into is a portal that deposits him on the planet Mars.
Specifically, Chesterton is transported to a dungeon on the outskirts of a vast, nightmarish city located on Mars. He’s quickly rescued by a burly American named Edgar–Edgar Rice Burroughs to be exact, creator of Tarzan and John Carter of Mars. The latter makes an appearance herein as “a famed and feared warlord” Edgar is looking to track down and enlist in the fight against the “Six Philosophers.”
The so-called Six Philosophers, or Jabbak Kathro, are nefarious Martian natives responsible for kidnapping Chesterton and Edgar. The Philosophers have very definite plans for their captives, who, it transpires, aren’t the first famous writers snatched from the green planet. We eventually learn the Philosophers’ true aims, but not before Chesterton and Edgar confront the horrors of the “Indeterminate Zone,” a spectral region surrounding the city where the laws of reality are suspended and dinosaurs reign…
GILBERT AND EDGAR ON MARS is a spirited romp, opulently written and full of old world charm. It references Mars-friendly writers like Ray Bradbury and Philip K. Dick as well as the fiction of its reality-based protagonists, and does so without sacrificing the sense of fun and adventure that’s part and parcel to all good pulp fiction. Of course, also in common with most such books, it’s a mite forgettable–fun, but forgettable.