ERBmania! Logo

BEYOND THE FARTHEST STAR

A Review and Publication Bibliography

Stephen Servello


"Beyond the Farthest Star" is the one small Ace book by Burroughs I never found as a standard sized mass market paperback, though Iím told it does indeed exist. I will rectify this soon! But it is definitely in my top ten by ERB, though it differs greatly from most of the other nine or really, anything else by Burroughs. Sure, the Frazetta cover is superb and features an attacking wildcat in a nice forest-like setting. But wait! Isn't there also what looks like a crashed spaceship with Tangor and Bantor Han emerging to do battle with the huge feline?

Though the reader is comforted by the Frank Frazetta cover, so common to the sixties Burroughs boom, he (she) is also made aware that this tale might (and does) lean towards true science fiction and away from Burroughs' traditional heroic fantasy.

Tangor, the Earthman who died in an aerial battle with the German Luftwaffe in 1939 and mysteriously crosses a void of 450,000 light years to a new life, is not the typical ERB hero. He is not a swordsman of repute. In fact, there are no swordsmen on Poloda—though a cunningly cast dagger might not be amiss on the planet Poloda. Guns and bombs are the weapons of choice here, with planes used as the delivery vehicles. Tangor is a "modern" hero in Burroughsian terms: a capable warrior ala (then) modern technology. Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote Beyond The Farthest Star and Tangor Returns between 1940 and 1941 in Honolulu, Hawaii. During that time—and the preceding five years—the German Luftwaffe had conducted "military exercises" in the Spanish Civil War, honing their aerial military. In 1939, the Blitzkreig over Poland and Europe inaugurated World War Two. ERB's tales of Poloda foreshadowed the devastating air war over Europe and Japan, and predicted the carnage possible, then multiplied that by five score years!

The battle for supremacy on Poloda is between the hard-pressed but liberty-loving Unisans and the dominant but fascist-like Kapars. The rest of the nations of Poloda have been subjugated by the Kapars or were too remote to warrant occupation, like Karis, which Tangor and the traitoress Morga Sagra stopped over in on their way to Kapar.

I am troubled by this war in general and by Kapar in particular. The war consists of Unis and Kapar air armadas engaging in reciprocal bombing missions, in which dog fights by the thousands occur as the bombs are dropped. To what purpose though? It appears, and Burroughs supports this with facts and figures, that both nations can sustain enormous losses (a million men a year on average), in both personnel and equipment and still maintain their populations and national integrity. ERB, I mean, Mark Gillies, does change the position on this by the beginning of "Astride the Farthest Star," as I'll later relate.

Then what is the purpose of this hundred plus year bombing/dog fighting war? It has resulted in a virtual stalemate and no land battles have been fought in recent memory. Except for occasional acts of sabotage, this is the extent of the war. It is a useless one that has either enslaved or reduced to savagery the rest of Poloda.

And what of the populace of Kapar? They are little better off than those enslaved by their government. Only the ruling class, the secret police (Zabo) and the army (in varying degrees according to rank), have any sort of life worth living. The masses are treated like slaves yet they don't or have not revolted. Surely there comes a time when a down trodden population, driven by despair and poverty, has little enough to lose and their overwhelming numbers are enough to overthrow even the best armed governments. Perhaps even the Kaparan military might plot such a stroke, considering it is they who die in enormous numbers, to no apparent benefit.

And just what is being bombed? The cities of Unis slip underground at the first sign of a Kapar bombing raid, as are those of Kapara. True, the Unisans do clean up and replant the despoiled areas so as to enjoy their jaunts to the surface and to show the Kapars that their attacks are fruitless. So why do each bomb one another? Possibly by shooting down opposing planes, the loss of life could one day turn the balance but that theory is iffy at best.

In "Beyond the Farthest Star," the first of the two novellas (long short stories of about sixty pages, actually), Tangor arrives naked on Poloda and in typical Burroughs hero fashion, earns a high place in the councils of the good guys. Make no mistake, he worked his way up and though never becomes (to my knowledge) a Prince or Warlord, he does become the hoped for savior of the Unisans. Upon returning to Unis (in the second novella 'Tangor Returns"), from a harrowing spy mission in Kapara, our hero decides, with some prompting from the Elijanhai (Prime Minister), to utilize his amplifier invention, courtesy of Horthal Wend, the deceased Kapar inventor. A journey to Tonos, the nearest planet to Poloda, is planned with Handon Gar, but not before Harkas Yamoda and Tangor share a first kiss and perhaps, an understanding?

By the end of "Beyond the Farthest Star," Burroughs has depicted in detail the sufferings of Poloda and provided many pieces of geographical data that could result in a most interesting map of Poloda but sadly, this is not to be and Mark Gillies heaps that same indignity (to this reader at least), on those otherwise fortunate enough to have read his amazing sequel. Happily, there is Burroughsí drawn map of Poloda's western hemisphere as well as the solar system it is a part of, in "The Atlas of Fantasy" compiled by J. B. Post. Even the atmosphere belts between each of the eleven planets are included. But why not map the entire planet and include it in the Ace 1964 edition? Map-lovers like myself, would be appreciative. I will note that there are (thankfully) two hemispheric maps of Poloda and its solar system in "Tales of Three Planets" (Canaveral Press 1969). All are much Ďcleanerí than those in "The Atlas of Fantasy." Added bonuses in this collection of three Burroughs novellas are the close-up of the Unisan land mass and a translation of the Polodan alphabet. The three pages that Richard A. Lupoff devotes to Poloda in his Introduction, make for informative reading and serve as a perfect lead-in to the story proper.

It was on one of the two main Burroughs lists (Erblist or Erbcof) that I learned, to my utter amazement, that a direct sequel to "Beyond the Farthest Star," had been published in 2003 by Mark Gillies under the iUniverse imprint. It was aptly titled "Astride the Farthest Star" and I immediately ordered a copy (trade paperback) and though I received it on 12-3-05, I waited for a special occasion to read it after Burroughs' original tale. Taking my wife to Florida for her upcoming fiftieth birthday seemed appropriate, so during the third week in April I read the two and will always read them in tandem during any future re-reads.

At first, I looked at the cover (artist unnamed) a bit askance. After all, there were eight octopi of various sizes dominating it, enclosed in a diamond-like jewel with the starry vastness of space in the background. Not exactly like Krenkel or Frazetta! At first I thought these octopi were a weird rendition of the one that attacked Tangor, shortly upon his arrival to Tonos. But thankfully that was not the case as I'll explain shortly.

It seems the Unisans now feel they will lose the war with Kapar, despite winning almost every battle handily. Tangor and Handon Gar journey 570,000 miles to Tonos in order to find a new homeland for the ten million Unisans. And so, despite a last second sabotage attempt, they lift off from Poloda and wing their way to neighboring Tonos. And Tangor does not even receive the courtesy of a basic farewell bopping (or perhaps some lesser form of affection) from Yamoda. This indicates trouble later...

Most of Tonos is under water and what few lands remaining are likely to follow suit eventually. The ancient human civilization of this planet self-destructed millennia before the arrival of the Polodan explorers, via environmental duplicity. There are survivors, some ape-like (Wasdor), and others civilized (Hasdor), but far below what the race had been.

For enemies, there are the octopi of the ocean, packs of ravenous wild dogs (Logas), and plant/animal mutants (Katars). Of course one must not forget the Wasdor who are both savage and vindictive and even the Hasdor offered Tangor much enmity.

For friends, there were several comrades in the Hasdor city of Gafar, a Loga (Shhaannaa) and Tangor's eventual love, Nareena. But of even more impact on me are the Akpsa, the octopi of the sky, especially Littlest One. These intelligent creatures evolved out of the sea, where their brethren still live. Each is the arch foe of the other. I found the chapters spent by Tangor with the Akspa to be my favorites of the book. Despite vast differences in language, appearance and thought process, they found not only the means to communicate but to also share knowledge and yes, love! The hard birthing of Littlest One with her brothers and sisters was the most poignant of all. But I do wonder why the Akspa initially attacked the Polodan air craft and why they attack the Wasdor. Though carnivorous, they are intelligent and should not be attacking or eating other sentient species. Also, why did the flying octopi (or octopods as Gillies refers to them as), evolve into intelligent beings while their cousins remaining in the ocean did not?

Throughout "Astride the Farthest Star," Tangor discovers more of the geography of Tonos (no map though) and more of the planets' history. Each piece of the puzzle is fed to the reader like a gourmet meal until finally the complete picture becomes visible. Well, a lot does—but not all. The fate of Handon Gar is yet to be revealed, as well as that of the Wasdor village he was staying in. Not to mention that Tangor next journeys to Antos and he has company!

Gillies dedicates this book with "Special thanks to Danton Burroughs who so kindly encouraged me to seek a publisher." Hell, I could have done that but than again, who would have cared?

While not written in the style of Burroughs (Laurence Dunnís assessment with which I agree), there are several plot elements of Burroughs utilized by Gillies in "Astride the Farthest Star." One is: hero befriends savage canine a la John Carter on Barsoom and David Innes in Pellucidar. A second one involves carnivorous plant-beasts with the Katars of Tonos resembling the Plant Men of the Valley Dor on Barsoom. Lastly, degenerative remnants (of varying degrees), representing world-spanning civilizations dot the landscape, sparingly. The Holy Therns of Barsoom and the Vepajans of Amtor are representative of the Burroughs version.

I admit there were an awful lot of spelling mistakes but the plot was compelling and the writing style equally so. Thanks to Mark Gillies for finally providing the road back to Poloda or thereabouts. I'm so grateful for "Astride the Farthest Star" and fervently hope he does write a sequel or two or three.

Penultimate, I'd like to comment on the thirteen typewritten pages of Laurence Dunn's Part 3 to the Farthest Star saga, "Tangor's Quest." Thirteen glorious pages that left me gasping for more and lamenting on what might have been. Here, Yamoda steals on board with Tangor and Handon Gar and is discovered half way to Tonos. Shortly upon arrival, the air craft is attacked by a huge bird (like in Pellucidar with Jason Gridley and on Amtor with Carson Napier), and crashes on a glacier. Damaged but not irreparably so.

Taken in by the remnants (Abajans) of a once great civilization, Tangor learns telepathy and Yamoda is kidnapped. Pursued with a vengeance by Tangor, all three are eventually captured and enslaved by the almost mythical sea-dwelling Muvians. Plotting escape, Tangor is shocked to find a girl named Sara lying before him. As to whom Sara is...

Thirteen pages. Almost like reading Burroughs. Thank you Laurence!

Frank J. Brueckel wrote "A Study of the Omos Planetary System" which deals primarily with the geography of the solar system containing Poloda and ten other planets. Twelve pages of rather dry statistics and speculation that might appeal to some. Brueckel's work on Amtor and Pellucidar are much more of an interesting read but a page or two are devoted to the authorís thoughts on the type of hero Tangor is, the kind of world Poloda is and the plans Burroughs had for his latest interplanetary adventure series. These couple of pages make the reading of Brueckelís essay worth wading through.

Timo Mantere wrote a couple of short stories called "Love and Peace on Poloda" (Parts I & II) in 1997. My copies were derived from Bill Hillmanís ERBzine, volumes 797 & 798. Not my cup of tea but they do tie in with the Unisan traitoress Morga Sagra and the struggle between Kapara and Unis. But hippies in Unis? The Prologue begins promisingly enough with Tangor relating how he had journeyed to Tonos, Antos and Katos but had returned empty ended with no relief for the hard pressed Unisans. He and Harkas Yamoda were wed upon his return from Tonos but Tangorís three sons died battling the Kapars. The marriage is strained and during this time of trouble, the hippies appear from Earth! The fomented Peace Movement grows and it seems that unless the Unisans unleash the power of the atom on Kapara, their will to resist will erode to almost nothing. In Part II, the war ends (somehow) and peace comes to Poloda. By the end of the tale, we discover that Edgar Rice Burroughs, upon his death in 1950, has been resurrected on the planet beyond the farthest star and in Kapara no less. There he is doomed to suffer a "fate worse than death."

The Brothers Bozarth have written their own sequel entitled "Beyond Poloda." It is close to complete, perhaps complete but not available for public perusal, yet. Our own Tangor (David Bruce Bozarth) does provide us with an extensive Foreword, partial first chapter, and a fairly detailed synopsis of twelve chapters at erblist.com. I believe this to be in Tangor's Pastiche and Fan Fiction and it is worth reading—but be warned, you too will yearn for more. Co-author Bruce, has been quietly working on fleshing out the original fifty thousand plus words he and James had originally written. With over seventy thousand words in twenty-eight chapters compiled by mid 2006, the Bozarth vision of Tangorís future nears completion. In true Burroughs form, an elder race has left the scene but not the fruits of their loins and labor. Both legacies are capable of great benefit to the planets of Omos or of shattering them! Maybe one day this road to Poloda will open up to us. I say maybe because Bruce has expressed keen interest in completing this sequel and he plans on running it by Danton Burroughs for his authorization to publish. It seems Mark Gillies got this support so why not our own Tangor?

Well, such are some of my thoughts on Tangor's Saga by various authors. A bit jumbled perhaps but there you are. Hopefully Iíll be able a write further essay as more of the saga emerges. An addendum of sorts to this. Time will tell.

Stephen J. Servello