Interview: Genevieve Valentine

How did you first come to discover the Barsoom books by Edgar Rice Burroughs?

I read A Princess of Mars a few years back, during a bout of reading where I tried desperately to catch up on the backlog of sci-fi classics I skipped over in my youth, but it wasn’t until I read more of the books in the series that I really came to appreciate their pulpy glory.

What do you find appealing about the characters and milieu?

I love the infinitely populated Mars, with all its petty peoples caught in political standoffs, the gods that are revealed as merely men, the occasional surreal worldbuilding detail, the friendships, and the old-fashioned high adventure lurking around every corner.

What sort of an influence do you think the Barsoom books have had on the development of fantasy & science fiction?

I definitely think Barsoom’s combination of far-off planets, weird and wonderful aliens, advanced tech, and gold old-fashioned swashbuckling is the ancestor of a particular family of science fantasy to which Star Wars and similar can trace a pretty direct line.

Who is your favorite character in the Barsoom canon? (And why?)

It’s hard not to love Dejah Thoris throughout the series, both because everyone else does, and because even though she’s suspiciously prone to peril, she seems to keep it together and remain calm and controlled even during the strangest of hostage situations.

Tell us a bit about your story in the anthology. What’s it about?

Dejah Thoris and John Carter’s daughter, Tara, becomes a living chess piece in the deadly game of Jetan in The Chessmen of Mars. My story picks up shortly after the end of that book; she’s newly married, but there are old ghosts at home – a brother she misses, and an ex-fiance (Djor Kantos) with whom she may or may not be reconciled. When she comes to visit her mother (who is also welcoming a visit from Djor Kantos), she gets news that her brother’s been taken hostage by the Kaldanes of Manator, and that he will be forced to play Jetan. Desperate to rescue her brother, and one of the few Martians to have survived that field of battle, she and Djor Kantos have to work together to reach Manator, and then to stay alive long enough for Tara to get them into the game – and then get them out.

What’s was the genesis of the story–where did the initial seed for the story come from?

I’ll admit, a lot of the impetus for the story was reading The Chessmen of Mars and thinking it was a little sausagefesty, and that someone with Tara’s level of weapons training would probably want a little more opportunity to fight for her own freedom than the chance that was given to her the first time she was played in Jetan. I welcomed the chance to revisit the character in “A Game of Mars,” when she knows the field of battle and is more than up to the challenge.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

I think the biggest challenge of this story was making sure to preserve Tara as a character even as I put her in a more decisive role than she took in her own story initially, and to make the most of her experience in The Chessman of Mars. Luckily, she’s great – loyal to her family, proud, but also very young, very impulsive, and has a definite daredevil streak, which makes her a near-perfect Martian royal, as it turns out!

The other big challenge was working out how, exactly, one fights their way out of Jetan.

What kind of research–other than, perhaps, rereading the Barsoom novels–did you have to do for the story?

I did some research into Jetan to make sure I could structure the game play correctly. There was also some harrowing personal investigation into the living Chess Club that fights to the death every Tuesday at the rec center, but since I won, we’re all set.

Any new work of yours just out or forthcoming you’d like to mention, or anything else you’d like to add?

I have YA short stories available in the anthologies Teeth and After (edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling), and available online at Clarkesworld Magazine and Subterranean. My first novel, Mechanique, is out now from Prime Books. And as always, I have a slightly-abashed love of bad movies, which I talk about often on my blog, www.genevievevalentine.com.