Sunday, August 17, 2008

Michael Chabon’s “The Martian Agent: a Planetary Romance” (1993)

In honor of Michael Chabon’s winning the 2008 Hugo Award for Best Novel for his The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, Timothy McSweeney of McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury fame has posted online an excerpt from Chabon’s 1993 short story, “The Martian Agent: a Planetary Romance.”

Originally published in McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales (Issue #10, 1993), which Chabon edited, “The Martian Agent” was recently published in Steampunk, an anthology edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (2008).

While we have not had an opportunity to read Chabon’s story, here is some feedback from those who have:

A nod to another pulp magazine tradition, the serialized novel. This story takes place in an alternative past where the American Revolution was not successful. The story focuses on the young sons of a captured American rebel. -- The SF Site

It kind of cheats the reader with expectations from its title. The story reads like the first chapter of a novel, featuring the exploits of two young brothers in a Post-Civil War alternate America, fleeing from their father’s enemies. Franklin and Jefferson Drake run, but to no avail; they are taken by the enemy and put in St. Ignatius Boys’ Home, which is a walk in the park compared to their parent’s fate, but it is nonetheless a melancholy situation. They are rescued by their uncle, Captain Thomas Mordden, inventor and aeronaut, who claims that it is possible for men to travel to the moon. But, alas, the story doesn’t go very far beyond this point, and we never learn who that Martian Agent is ... -- The Fix: Short Fiction Review

Enough to send readers back into the cold but reliable arms of The New Yorker. -- The New York Times

Apparently, a note at the end of “The Martian Agent” indicated that Chabon intended to write a second installment of the story, titled “The Indistinguishable Operations of Empire and Fate." If so, it was never published. As sci-fi critic Rich Horton hinted, perhaps Chabon transformed an unpublished extended version of his story into a movie script instead. The Los Angeles Times noted in a 2002 article that “In 1997, Jan De Bont, the director of Speed, optioned Chabon’s script The Martian Agent which the writer describes as ‘Lawrence of Arabia on Mars in 1899.’ It was never made.”


Blue Tyson said...

Fix is right, if what they mean isn't too pulp. Quite dull in parts.

Chadwick Ruddiger Quiddington said...

McSweeney's Issue 10 came out in 2002, not 1993.

Chadwick Ruddiger Quiddington said...

Also, bits of this story (both installments) were later made into the film John Carter.