Interviewed by Andy Nunez
Christopher Paul Carey is the author of Swords Against the Moon Men, an authorized sequel to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic science fantasy novel The Moon Maid. He is also the coauthor with Philip José Farmer of The Song of Kwasin, and the author of Exiles of Kho, Hadon, King of Opar, and Blood of Ancient Opar, all works set in Farmer’s Khokarsa series. His short fiction may be found in various anthologies. In addition, he is a senior editor at Paizo, working on both the award-winning Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and Starfinder, and he has edited numerous collections, anthologies, and novels.
How old were you when you read your first Burroughs novel? Which one was it?
Well, the first Burroughs novel that I started to read was At the Earth’s Core. This was when I was eight years old and had just seen the movie adaption starring Doug McClure. I had spied the Ace Books movie edition on the paperback spinner rack in my local A&P grocery store and begged my parents to buy it for me. I think I read about three chapters, which I remember enjoying immensely, before getting distracted like eight-year-olds often do and setting aside the rest of the book unread. But when I was twelve, I picked up a copy of Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars and couldn’t put it down. It was a life-changing moment that began a two-year period of voracious Burroughs reading, during which I tracked down almost every ERB novel that had then been published, with the exception of two or three obscure titles that I picked up a few years later.
What is your favorite Burroughs tale?
That’s a great question, and one that’s very hard for me to answer because there are so many good ones! If you don’t mind, I’m going to give you a few: The Gods of Mars, because it was so innovative in terms of establishing the sword and planet genre; A Fighting Man of Mars, because it’s an interesting take on a lowly padwar [ERB’s Martian equivalent to the rank of lieutenant] instead of the larger-than-life John Carter; the duology of Tarzan the Untamed and Tarzan the Terrible, as ERB was at the top of his game in terms of both digging into the psychology of the ape-man and presenting exotic lost lands; and I Am A Barbarian, simply because it’s so very different from ERB’s usual formula. And, of course, I’ve always loved the Moon Men trilogy, which has a complexity that makes it unique in ERB’s canon.
That’s not an unexpected answer, given the power of Burroughs’ storytelling. You biography reads like a literary Da Vinci—writer, editor, roleplaying game designer. How did you break into the writing business?
I came into it at different angles that seemed to converge around the same time and interplayed with one another. I had just completed my master’s in Writing Popular Fiction when I received permission from Philip José Farmer to complete the third novel in his Khokarsa series. I applied for a position at Paizo, publisher of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, at the same time that I was pitching the idea of Paizo’s Planet Stories imprint publishing my collaboration with Farmer. I’d already edited a couple Farmer collections for Subterranean Press at that point, which had springboarded off the fact that I had already edited several Farmer stories for Farmerphile: The Magazine of Philip José Farmer. At the same time, I sold a few stories to some small press anthologies. It all hit a critical mass at the same time, I think, because I had my fingers in so many pies. It was a busy time, and it hasn’t slowed down since.
You’ve written fiction, non-fiction, edited anthologies, and even scripted two graphic novels with ERB characters based on the Pathfinder system. Wait, did I read it right that you’ve even told a tale of Richard Henry Benson, the Avenger? I read the entire paperback library reprint series back in the 1970s.
Yes, that was a lucky one! A good friend of mine who had sold a lot of work to Moonstone, the anthology’s publisher, knew my love for the character and got me in the door. Richard Henry Benson, of course, was a member of Philip José Farmer’s Wold Newton Family of heroes and villains. I was attending the memorial service for Phil in Peoria, Illinois, the day I got the go-ahead to write the story, so I made several subtle Farmerian nods in my tale in tribute. I think Phil would have gotten a kick out of that. But I’m not going to tell you what those nods are, because it’s more fun to pick them out on your own.
Okay, now I have to track that down! (So many books, so little time…). Of specific interest to ERB fans and of wider interest to science fiction fans, you collaborated with the late but legendary writer Philip José Farmer, known to Burroughs fans for his biography of Tarzan, his unauthorized Tarzan pastiches, and his authorized Tarzan novel that takes place within the storyline of Tarzan the Untamed. Of course, he’s best known to the wider Burroughs audience as the author of two paperbacks from the era of Donald Wollheim’s DAW Books—Hadon of Ancient Opar and Flight to Opar. How did that come about?
As I previously mentioned, I was coeditor of Philip José Farmer’s official magazine, Farmerphile, which printed previously unpublished Farmer stories. Michael Croteau, Farmerphile’s publisher, had permission to comb through Phil’s files to look for new material to bring to light in the magazine, and one day he emailed me to say he’d found the outline and partial manuscript to the third Ancient Opar novel, about Hadon of Opar’s giant herculean cousin, Kwasin. I was floored and anxiously emailed Mike back, asking him to send me copies of the papers, which he did. I saw straightaway that the story was just too good to let languish. This was in 2005, and Phil had already retired from writing by then.
So I wrote a lengthy proposal outlining how I would go about completing the book if he so desired. And to my utter surprise, he enthusiastically granted me permission to proceed. I completed the novel, titled The Song of Kwasin, in early 2008. Phil’s health had declined since he’d granted me permission and he was pretty ill by this point, but his wife, Bette, read the manuscript aloud to him and she told me his face lit up with a big smile while listening to Kwasin’s adventures. Phil passed in 2009, and the novel was published in 2012 by Subterranean Press in the omnibus Gods of Opar: Tales of Lost Khokarsa. It’s since been published under its own covers by Meteor House, and has even appeared in a French translation.
What did you bring to the stories and what did Farmer bring?
Phil had written a long, detailed outline of the novel and the novel’s opening. His outline had some loose ends toward the finale, which I discussed with Phil. Since this was now to be the climax of a trilogy, instead of the longer series he’d originally envisioned, he had some wonderful new ideas about how he wanted it all to wrap up. I also wrote a revised outline, fleshing out the climax and other areas of the novel that the original outline skimmed over, all of which Phil approved. It was an honor beyond words to complete the novel and see it through to publication. After Phil passed, his estate authorized me to continue the series with Exiles of Kho, Hadon, King of Opar, and Blood of Ancient Opar.
How did the fans receive them?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. I think the fans of the series got what I was doing, which was to immerse myself deeply in the traditions of Edgar Rice Burroughs and H. Rider Haggard that inspired Phil when he wrote the first two novels. People have told me my voice in the series is a fusion of the three—Farmer, Burroughs, and Haggard—and, if that’s true, I think that’s a winning combination.
After this huge body of work, why did you pick the Moon Men as your pitch novel to Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.?
I met Jim Sullos, president of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., at an ERB convention outside of Chicago in the summer of 2016, and we discussed the possibility that I would write a novel for the company’s new Wild Adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs series. When we ticked off the different properties that hadn’t yet been plumbed for new novels in the works, the Moon trilogy jumped out at me. I was itching to write something very different from the Ancient Opar tales, and a science fantasy was just what I was looking for. I’d loved the Moon trilogy, which connects directly to ERB’s Barsoom series and is also critically acclaimed in Burroughs’ oeuvre.
Richard Lupoff in Edgar Rice Burroughs, Master of Adventure called the Moon Maid trilogy the best story that Burroughs created—but it doesn’t seem to get the love among Burroughs fans that his more popular creations like Tarzan and John Carter do. I guess it might be because the Moon Maid trilogy takes place in a sort of alternate timeline that can’t be reconciled with our own. The other creations tried to maintain a verisimilitude that didn’t look too far into the future, but with the Moon Men, Burroughs jumped ahead to a 1960s reeling from half a century of global warfare, then jumping ahead to the 21st century when man tries to get to the moon.
What kind of challenges did such an alternate history present to somebody a century later than the time of the original novel’s genesis during the Bolshevik revolution? [Interviewer’s Note: Burroughs’ original concept for his cautionary tale was called Under the Red Flag and showed an America under Soviet domination. Burroughs rewrote the story to become the middle tale in his Moon trilogy.]
The primary challenge was to maintain ERB’s voice, as the characters in the narrative bookends of Swords Against the Moon Men are the same as those in the original Moon trilogy. So I needed to write in a 1920s style that at the same time would be engaging to a modern audience.
A secondary challenge was to cleave closely to ERB’s early twentieth century pseudoscience, which was, frankly, already outmoded when Burroughs wrote the original tales. But in science fantasy, you can pretty much get away with anything, as long as it’s consistent with what has come before. And there were certain aspects of the original trilogy that didn’t make sense without further explanation. For instance, Burroughs never explained how the Kalkars from the low-gravity world of Va-nah within the Moon would not have been crushed by the higher gravity when they invaded Earth. So I had to come up with an explanation for that. Lastly, you refer to the political themes in ERB’s Moon novels. While I stayed true to ERB’s world building, I focused more on the Kalkars’ tyranny than their political structure, and the villain of the story is certainly more out for consolidating his own power than anything else.
A few folks out there might be thinking like Burroughs did when he wrote John Carter and want to write their own novel, so tell us what you can about the process. How did the concept for Swords Against the Moon Men come about? Who did you contact? What were their requirements? Did you work with an editor?
Creatively speaking, the process was to put myself in ERB’s shoes and try to write the story that I think he might have, had he wanted to continue the series. In terms of the book deal, the novel was licensed and authorized by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., and anyone who would want to write such a book would need to strike up an agreement with the company. Jim Sullos, the president of the company, was familiar with my Ancient Opar work, so he already knew I could write a good story and that I was well-versed in ERB’s worlds. So it was simply a matter of writing a detailed chapter outline of the novel, which the folks at the company seemed to be quite excited about straight out of the gate. I worked with two editors, both of whom gave me wonderful feedback that allowed me to improve the novel, and a third editor proofread the novel after it was out of my hands, looking for any minor errors that might have slipped through the rest of us.
My old friend Mark Wheatley turned in a fantastic illustration job for your novel. Did you work with him on the ideas for the illustrations or did the Burroughs folks do that?
Mark read the novel and came up with his own list of scenes he wished to illustrate. We did consult on the illustrations, but Mark has such a knack for Edgar Rice Burroughs that it was mostly a matter of being repeatedly astounded by how uncannily his fantastic artwork matched what was in my head. It was almost as if we were both channeling the story out of the same etheric record. It was a joy to work with Mark, as it was to work with Chris Peuler, who illustrated the book’s majestic wraparound cover art and put a lot of thought and care into it. The book is truly a beautiful feast of artwork.
What do you think of this current Renaissance of these new authorized continuations of Burroughs’ characters?
I heartily approve! I got into Burroughs during the last great wave of paperback reprints in the early 1980s. There was a short blast of reprints from Del Rey in the early 1990s, but since then there’s been only a trickle of literary ERB works that have been coming out. But over the last couple years, that’s finally changed. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. is pulling out the stops and there’s so much good material coming out now. I hear my friend Win Scott Eckert is supposed to be writing a novel for the Wild Adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs line in a year or two, and I’m very much looking forward to that since no one knows his pulp hero literature better that Win.
What does the future hold now for Christopher Paul Carey? Will we be seeing any more continuations or will you be plowing new ground for ideas?
I hope to write a new series of books set in Farmer’s Khokarsa titled the Foundation of Kôr trilogy, which will be as inspired by the works of H. Rider Haggard as the Ancient Opar novels were inspired by those of Edgar Rice Burroughs. If I were offered the opportunity to write an authorized John Carter novel or, say, a Tarzan novel set in Opar, I admit I would have a hard time turning that down. But my next project will likely be an original novel with supernatural elements set in the nineteenth century. It’s one I’ve been wanting to write for a long time, and I think now is the time to do it.