Friday, September 12, 2008

Lin Carter and the Man Who Read His Way to Mars

One of our favorite books is The Man Who Loved Mars (1973), by Lin Carter. It's the adventure of Earthmen Ivo Tengren, a former official in the Colonial Administration’s Office of Native Affairs, and Dr. Josip Keresny, an extraterrestrial archaeologist formerly of the Luna City Museum, and their search for the lost Martian city of Ilionis.

Littered with references to scraps of parchment, undecipherable glyphs, cryptic poems, weathered inscriptions, battered copies of books, and ancient ruins, reading Carter’s novel is like strolling through a Piranesi etching.

Yet, The Man Who Loved Mars also has a library and fine literature woven into the storyline, as shown by this lengthy excerpt in which Tengren, the main character, describes his voyage to the Red Planet:
But all spacecraft keep a library by Mandate law, if only to prevent people from going crazy during a long crossover. The Antoine d’Eauville had one that was quite decent, considering its quite natural preponderance of scholarly journals and texts (it was, after all, a museum boat). I got the impression that the craft was named after either the museum’s founder or one of its more generous patrons, but no one ever enlightened me on the subject, so I never learned which.

I found enough to read to occupy most of my time, although outside of the voluminous scientific literature the general run of reading material was limited to turn-of-the-century European novelists and playwrights, with an unexpected sprinkling of midcentury writers from the South American states, mostly new to me. I had read no Borges at all since school and happening upon his inimitable genius was most enthralling. But the poets were almost entirely new discoveries. I had read, or looked into, a few of the Argentines--Ascasubi, Lugones, Almafuerte--but the others--such as a now-forgotten poet, once enormously popular, named Carriego--were all unknowns. Among them was Vazquez, the Nobel-prize winner, who became the most exciting of my new finds.

With nothing else to do in the endless monotony, I read virtually all day long. From time to time I would have to switch the machine off for no other reason than it was overheating. Luckily, no one else aboard had my leisure, so I had the book tapes all to myself. The girl, I think, had a portable reader in her cabin; the Doctor was busy with a detailed redaction of the thought record; I don’t know what Bolgov did--perhaps just sprawled on his bunk all day, glaring at the ceiling and sweating greasily--and the ship, of course, navigated itself.

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