Interview: Tobias S. Buckell

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

I don’t remember where I stumbled across ERB. Probably in a book exchange. Where I grew up in the Caribbean we didn’t have the large libraries the US has with quite the selection. But a lot of stores or marinas had a few shelves with the signs ‘take a book, leave a book.’ People on yachts passing through the harbors would leave a few and take a few, and my own eclectic reading habits grew out of the random selections I found on those shelves.

What do you find appealing about the characters and milieu?

I have this love hate relationship with ERB. Obviously as someone growing up in the non-Western world you can see the colonialist themes pervading the work. On the other hand, ERB is the master of pulp, and he’s quite dead and frozen in time, and he still brought some enjoyment and escapism to a kid in a tough place (me). But the idea of going to another world, where you are endowed with superhuman facilities, and participate in adventure, is so appealing to a kid stuck in a hard spot that I was swept away.

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

It had a big impact on planetary adventure SF, I think, but I’m far from a scholar on the history of the field.

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

You have to wonder what’s going on in Tars Tarkas’s head a lot, you know?

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

It’s the story of what someone in Barsoom who likes machines, and science, and curiosity, is faced with when living in a society that values war more than thought. How does a tinkerer, a budding scientist, navigate this society?

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

As fun as Princess of Mars is, I found the end a bit rushed and some aspects of the world building a bit unexamined. In particular, why is that an atmosphere plant, the one thing that keeps civilization literally breathing, in a position where it could fail and take everyone down with it? I thought the intellectual incuriosity of a fallen world that could lead to that situation interesting, and decided to run with it.

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

Trying to fit everything into the existing world of Barsoom was tricky. Lots of details, many of which I’d forgotten, many which I just never picked up on or still missed after rereading the book to get ready for the story.

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

I reread A Princess of Mars, basically, to get reacquainted with everything. I did read a couple of summaries of the followup books to jog my memory and see if I wanted to write anything set later on.

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

My latest novel, Arctic Rising, a near future thriller set in the melted Arctic North, should be out sometime in February.