East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Stars so close you can touch them

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1aa4d461-d737-4eeb-acc8-3fd1dbc672e4My father used to say that the nights are so clear and silent here in the countryside, you can sit in the courtyard at night and feel like you are floating in space, and you can stretch your hands, and touch the stars.

Last night I was in the courtyard.
At 11 pm we had 26°C and 83% humidity.
Like being at the bottom of the Tethys sea, that used to be here a few million years ago, but with none of the perks, and mosquitoes too.
The local festival was going full tilt, and a cheap band was playing on the town square, doing poor covers of novelty songs from the ‘60s. All the dogs in the neighborhood felt the need to vent their disapproval, howling their hearts out.
It was a good approximation of hell.

But then it all stopped, and by one pm it was all quiet and still like my father used to say, and there was even a faint breath of cool air. I was in the courtyard, and looked up at the sky, and saw Mars, burning red above the roofs of the houses.
And I lifted my arms, like I was heeding to its call.
And I felt silly, and went in and drank an ice cold tea to the health of John Carter.

Screenshot from 2018-07-29 23-40-32I first met John Carter when I was 15.
An Italian publisher had just reprinted a single-volume collection featuring the first three Martian novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs: A Princess of Mars (1912), The Gods of Mars (1913) and The Warlord of Mars (1914). I was hooked, and in a few months I tracked down the whole series and read it through.
In retrospect, by the end of every novel it was painfully obvious Burroughs had suckered me again, basically telling me the same story all over again. But it did not matter. It was the way it felt while I was reading it, that counted.
Burroughs was a master storyteller. He could put so much conviction and passion in his stories, that he would drag you along no matter how stale the plot. And he was at the same time so serious about his stories and his characters, and so tongue-in-cheek, that everything else became secondary. There was just the adventure, and the fun of it.
I like the first three Martian novels, and John Carter, but my favourite Martian book by ERB remains The Master Mind of Mars, published in 1927. I like Ulysses Paxton as much as John Carter, if not more, and I like the science-fictional ideas in the novels.


I did not fly to Mars in my astral body last night.
I remained stuck in the humid, oppressive atmosphere of this God-forsaken village.
But I still live, like John Carter used to say.
Things are going to get better.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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