This week’s guest is editor John Joseph Adams, whose latest book is UNDER THE MOONS OF MARS, new short stories celebrating the 100th anniversary of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic hero John Carter of Mars.
John Joseph Adams is the bestselling editor of Wastelands, The Living Dead (a World Fantasy Award finalist), The Living Dead 2, By Blood We Live, Federations, The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Brave New Worlds, The Way of the Wizard, and Lightspeed: Year One. Forthcoming anthologies include The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination (Tor Books) and Armored (Baen Books). In 2011, he was nominated for two Hugo Awards and two World Fantasy Awards. He has been called “the reigning king of the anthology world” by Barnes & Noble.com, and his books have been lauded as some of the best anthologies of all time. He is also the editor of Lightspeed Magazine, and is the co-host of The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxypodcast.
ANTHONY: John, thanks for taking a few moments to chat with me about UNDER THE MOONS OF MARS. How did the project come about?
JOHN: I’d heard that Disney was going to be adapting A Princess of Mars into a movie, and it sounded like–at LAST–the adaptation was finally going to happen. There had been a number of false-starts over the years, but it seemed like this one was finally going to happen, thanks in no small part to the success of (and SFX technological advancement provided by) Avatar. Being a fan of the original books, I was quite excited, and the idea of doing the “new adventures” of John Carter sprang to mind. It seemed like a good, marketable idea, and a book that would be a hell of a lot of fun, so I started putting together a proposal and recruiting authors for it. Once I started reaching out to people, the number of folks who were excited about it really reinforced my thought that it would be a great project, and luckily Simon & Schuster agreed and published the anthology.
ANTHONY: The book features a fantastic line-up. Was there an open submission process or was it invitation only? Are there any authors you’d hoped would take part who weren’t able to?
JOHN: The book was invitation-only; unfortunately, I had to keep it that way because I was under orders to keep the project secret basically until it was done being assembled; the publisher wanted to wait to announce it until we had a table of contents to show off. Also, I had recruited a pretty large number of authors for the book in the proposal stage, and I knew it would be unlikely that I’d have much extra room for anything beyond that. Plus, for a book like this one, which is a VERY specific topic, I knew if I did an open call for submissions, a lot of writers would end up with stories that they probably wouldn’t be able to sell anywhere else. Although the Barsoom stories are public domain, most short fiction venues are unlikely to run a story set in another author’s milieu.
Neil Gaiman and Michael Moorcock were both initially interested but ultimately couldn’t contribute due to their schedules, so that was disappointing. And there were a number of authors I would have loved to have on board who said no at the proposal stage for one reason or another. One contributing factor to this was that the anthology had to be put together on a pretty short timeline if we were going to have the book ready to publish to coincide with the release of the John Carter film.
ANTHONY: The preview for the book on Amazon mentions a number of great artists, like Charles Vess and Mike Kaluta, contributing story illustrations. How did you decide which artist to pair with which stories for the illustrations?
That was mostly decided by Lizzy Bromley & Tom Daly at Simon & Schuster and my agent, Joe Monti. I was consulted, and I could have taken a more active role in those decisions, but I’m no art director, and I don’t really have a lot of connections to many artists, so I was happy to have someone else take the lead. I was pleased to see Mike Cavallaro participate, as I’m a huge fan of the graphic novel he did with Jane Yolen called Foiled. Likewise John Picacio, who I’ve been a fan of for years, and, of course, it’s an honor and a privilege to have work by Charles Vess. And it was also really cool, of course, to be exposed to artists I wasn’t as familiar with previously.
You can actually view all of the illustrations on the anthology’s website, johnjosephadams.com/barsoom.
ANTHONY: John Carter is easily Edgar Rice Burroughs’ second most popular creation after Tarzan, even though Burroughs didn’t write anywhere near as many books about Carter and in fact half of the Barsoom novels focus on other characters. What do you think is the enduring appeal of John Carter in particular and Barsoom in general?
JOHN: On the most basic level, the Barsoom stories are just great adventure stories, and so they’re sort of inherently appealing. But they also cross all kinds of genre boundaries. They’re obstensibly science fiction, but they feel a lot like fantasy, and there are elements from other genres as well, certainly romance and western fiction to name a few.
I think that as kids, we all wanted to be able to travel to Mars, and wouldn’t it be great if we could and it turned out to be the fantastical place with strange and interesting aliens and beautiful princesses? And a lot of us still have such dreams–so I think that’s a large part of what makes it so appealing–and enduring.
ANTHONY: 2012 is also Tarzan’s 100th anniversary, and Burroughs’ Pellucidar series hits 100 in 2014. Are you involved at all in anniversary anthologies for those books?
JOHN: I’m not–at least not at the moment! For Tarzan, it would be too late to do anything to celebrate the anniversary, obviously, but Pellucidar…who knows!
ANTHONY: What other books do you have coming our way this year?
JOHN: As we’ve discussed, Under the Moons of Mars: New Adventures on Barsoom just came out.
Coming up in April, I have Armored, an anthology of stories about mecha and power armor, from Baen. It includes stories by Jack Campbell, Brandon Sanderson, Tanya Huff, Daniel H. Wilson, Alastair Reynolds, Carrie Vaughn, and others.
I’m also currently wrapping up work on two reprint anthologies. One is an anthology of epic/high fantasy fiction to be called Epic, which will be coming out from Tachyon Publications this fall. And due out this summer from Night Shade Books is Other Worlds Than These, an anthology of portal fantasies and parallel worlds stories. And, as usual, I’ve got a couple of other things in the works that I can’t officially talk about yet, but I hope to be able to announce soon.
Then, in February 2013, I’ll have The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination, from Tor. That one features stories by Carrie Vaughn, Alan Dean Foster, Daniel H. Wilson, David Farland, Seanan McGuire, and Naomi Novik, among others, plus an original short novel by Diana Gabaldon.
ANTHONY: And my usual closing question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to someone who hasn’t read it to convince them that they should?
JOHN: The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. When I read that book, it BLEW MY MIND. After reading it, my reading life became all about finding other books like that one. Up to that point, I’d read a number of sf novels that I liked a great deal, and still to this day remember fondly, but it wasn’t until The Stars My Destination that I realized the heights that science fiction was capable of attaining, and it wasn’t until then that I narrowed my reading focus almost exclusively to sf in my efforts to find more books that effected me in that same way.
There’s a paragraph in the book from the early part of chapter one that describes “common man” protagonist Gully Foyle’s state of mind. He’s been stuck, as the lone survivor, on a spaceship for 170 days, and watches as another ship approaches his, ignores his distress call, and leaves him to die:
He had reached a dead end. He had been content to drift from moment to moment of existence for thirty years like some heavily armored creature […] but now he was adrift in space for one hundred and seventy days, and the key to his awakening was in the lock. Presently it would turn and open the door to holocaust.
So that’s the key to Gully’s awakening. I think of The Stars My Destination as mine.
ANTHONY: Thanks again, John! Always a pleasure!