Swamp Fight!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Last time I discussed how Otis Adelbert Kline, author of The Swordsman of Mars, ties into the overall idea of Planet Stories—a forgotten master in the Edgar Rice Burroughs tradition, who set precedents both through his own work and as a member of the Weird Tales editorial staff (not to mention as the literary agent for Conan creator Robert E. Howard). This week, however, I'd like to focus the spotlight on the one reason for republishing The Swordsman of Mars that we haven't talked about yet:

Because it's fun.

In order to illustrate that, I've picked one of my favorite sections and included a snippet from it here. Though there are a number of memorable scenes, one of my favorite things about Kline is the new monsters he invents, and this scene features not just one, but three of his motley creations... and that's just on one page. Let's hear it for authors who aren't stingy with their beasties!

For some time the Earth-man was too busy getting his breath to take note of his surroundings. Then he looked around for his mount, and saw it swimming directly away from him at a distance of about three hundred yards. Although the gawr was moving at a speed which he could not possibly hope to equal, he was about to set out in futile pursuit when a huge and terrible reptilian head suddenly reared itself between them, a scaly, silver neck. The monster looked first at the retreating gawr, then at the man, and evidently deciding that the latter would be the easier prey, began gliding swiftly toward him.

Thorne glanced around him. Although it seemed utterly futile for him even to attempt to make the shore, about a quarter of a mile distant, where a dense fringe of trees nodded over the water, no other avenue of escape was open to him, and he struck out desperately.

It was manifest from the start that he could not hope to outstrip his fearful aquatic enemy. As he forged ahead with long, powerful overhand strokes, he glanced back from time to time, and saw that the monster was swiftly gaining on him. Soon the terrific pace began to tell on him. His arms grew numb, and it seemed that they moved automatically, while breathing momentarily became more difficult. But the thought of those dreadful jaws, now gaping close behind him, spurred him on.

With the shore but two hundred feet distant, he felt this last ounce of strength ebbing. A backward glance showed his monstrous pursuer so near that it was arching its neck for the kill. Then just ahead of him he noticed a tiny ripple of water, and there emerged a pair of jaws like those of a crocodile, but larger than those of any crocodile he had ever seen or heard of. There followed a broad, flat head, and thick neck, both covered with glossy fur, the head black, the neck ringed with a bright yellow band.

Hemmed thus between the two aquatic monsters, he did the only thing left for him to do. Filling his lungs, he plunged beneath the surface and dived under the oncoming beast. For a moment he heard the rush and swirl of the swimming thing above him, and felt the eddying currents which it kicked downward and backward. These passed, he forged onward, remaining under water until compelled to return to the surface for air.

When he had shaken the water out of his eyes, Thorne saw a fearsome sight. The two monsters had met, and were engaged in a terrific struggle. The silver-gray scales of the one which had been following him flashed in the sun as it endeavored to shake off its small adversary which had seized it by the lower lip.

Suddenly it reared its head until the black-furred creature was drawn completely out of the water, and he saw that the latter was a web-footed animal about as large as a full-grown terrestrial lion, with short legs and a leathery, paddle-shaped tail which was edged with sharp spines. With the exception of the tail and claws, the body was covered with fur. The scaly monster shook its head, dislodging its smaller enemy and losing most of its lower lip in the process. Then, as the furry creature splashed into the water, it arched its neck and struck.

Thorne expected to see the smaller creature instantly slain. Instead he saw a startling demonstration of its superior cunning and quickness. With a speed his eye could scarcely follow, it avoided the lunge of that terrible head, and turning, seized the slender, stalklike neck of its adversary in its own relatively large jaws. One powerful crunch, and the battle was over. The severed head sank from sight, and the huge body, floundering about with reptilian tenacity to life, churned the water to a foam and sent huge waves scurrying in all directions.

So absorbed had he been in this strange battle that Thorne had momentarily forgotten his own exhaustion and the peril that menaced him. Now, as the victor turned from the carcass of its vanquished enemy and swam straight toward him, the realization of his danger redoubled. He struck out for the shore, essaying the fast overhand stroke he had previously used on the surface, but his weary muscles had reached the limit of their endurance. A few feeble efforts, and a backward glance at the swiftly moving beast, convinced him that he was doomed. Better death by drowning than in those horrible jaws. He filled his lungs and dived. At a depth of about fifteen feet he found a large water plant to which he clung with his last remaining strength.

But it seemed he was not even to be given his choice of deaths. Suddenly he became aware of the dark object in the green water above him. Then a huge jaw closed around his waist...

James Sutter
Planet Stories Editor

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Tags: Edgar Rice Burroughs Harry Thorne Mars Otis Adelbert Kline Planet Stories Swordsman of Mars
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