Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Toad Prince or, Sex Queen of the Martian Pleasure-Domes,” by Harlan Ellison (2000)

Originally written in 1991 but first published in a 2000 Special Collector’s Edition of Amazing Stories magazine (Vol. 71, Issue 5, #600), “The Toad Prince or, Sex Queen of the Martian Pleasure-Domes,” a novella by Harlan Ellison, is a return to the old days of pulp science fiction:

“Once upon a time, in a golden kingdom far away, a kingdom dreaming of never was but should have been, on an especially lovely day, a most exceptionally comely blonde princess, with eyes the color of skies toward which the noblest eagles yearn, chose to take a leisurely stroll at the veriest verge of the vast grounds bounding her father’s palace. ...”

According to the biography Harlan Ellison: the Edge of Forever (2002), The Toad Prince or, Sex Queen of the Martian Pleasure-Domes was “written as a tribute to Ellison’s pulp ancestors ... and
... accompanied in its original magazine appearance by a wonderfully lurid pulp illustration by Don Ivan Punchatz, is a lark, but a weighty lark, recasting the familiar fairy tale of the Frog Prince into a tale of an Earthborn prostitute named Sarna whose successful career on the Martian frontier -- serving both human settlers and the oppressed Martians -- is interrupted when a ‘yellow’ (a half-breed Martian descended from Martian women raped by Earth settlers) is murdered in her room, leaving behind a mysterious toadlike creature called only ‘one of the Six.’ Forced to flee for her life when a long overdue Martian revolution threatens to kill all the human settlers, she learns that the toad-thing can communicate with her telepathically, offering to help save her and all the other humans on Mars, if she will help it reunite with its five siblings, from whom it has been separated for something like a million years. Skeptical but desperate, she agrees, and most of the story involves the quest to find each of the siblings ..."

The Toad Prince or, Sex Queen of the Martian Pleasure-Domes” was reviewed briefly by David Soyka at the SF Site. In a longer review, Mark R. Kelly of Locus Online asked: “Will readers 'get' its nostalgic parody of 1940s space opera? In a pop culture saturated by the 'star-blasting space adventure' of Star Trek and Star Wars, maybe not.”

Pictured above: Cover of Amazing Stories, Issue #600.

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