Monday, June 13, 2011
All of these books focus on Dray Prescot, an English sailor born in the early 19th century but, thanks to the miraculous technology of Kregen, has lived a life that is "long, incredibly long by any standards." Though the bulk of the action of this book takes place on the planet Kregen, Prescot occasionally returns to Earth. It is stated at the beginning of the book that, on one such return home, Prescot left behind audio recordings recounting his adventures on a far-off world and that these recordings found their way into the hands of Akers, who has transcribed them to form a narrative. This is one of many ways that Transit to Scorpio directly recalls the Barsoom stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs. This also explains why the book is told in the first-person.
I mean no insult when I call Transit to Scorpio a Barsoom pastiche. Much like Kline's Venus and Mars tales, Akers's novel is a very enjoyable read, but there's no denying its derivativeness. I tend to think that, as a culture, we overvalue the "new" and the "original," so, for me, following a template laid down by Burroughs in A Princess of Mars is no crime. Indeed, what I find compelling about the Kregen books is how, despite their clear inspiration in Barsoom, they nevertheless manage to add new wrinkles to the basic outline first set down in 1917. A good example of this is the aforementioned way that Prescot periodically returns to Earth, where time passes while he is away on Kregen, enabling him to see decades and centuries he might otherwise have not. But when goes back to Kregen, mere minutes have passed since his disappearance. So far as I know, this oddity is never explained, though it is noted, and it's a small but significant difference from the Barsoom stories that gives them their own unique flavor.
I don't recall ever reading Transit to Scorpio in my younger days, though I think I may well have read one of the later books in the series without realizing it was part of a larger whole. That says a lot about these books, I think, namely that they're mostly self-contained and can easily be picked up and enjoyed without any knowledge of what came before or after. They're very much in line with the conventions of older science fiction and fantasy, describing discrete episodes in the life of a protagonist rather than being pieces of an epic saga. Dray Prescot's adventures aren't like that at all. Instead, he journeys to an alien world, grapples with its strange cultures and customs, meets interesting -- and, in the case of the women, gorgeous -- people, and has swashbuckling adventures.
There's nothing particularly deep or meaningful about it. Even compared to Burroughs, I think Akers is a little shallow, but, again, this isn't intended as an insult. Transit to Scorpio is fun escapist literature and it succeeds well in its purpose. It's a good example of the kind of novel that was commonplace in another era and that could well have served as inspiration to the pioneers of our hobby. I enjoyed the opportunity to read it and might well seek out others in the series, which is something I don't find myself saying often anymore, so take that as you will.