Tuesday, October 16, 2012


I've been reading Junot Diaz' fiction and gravitated to his introduction to the new Library of America edition of Edgar Rice Borroughs' A Princess of Mars." I found the book only a few steps from where I hang out in the library, and ended up reading snatches of the novel too.

Burroughs' Mars and Tarzan books were a little before my time, But of course I grew up on Tarzan movies, and sci-fi movies and comics with lots of extraterrestrial princesses inspired by Burroughs. If memory serves me right, my first true love was Princess Aura, daughter of Ming the Merciless of the planet Mongo. Aura had a thing for Flash Gordon, and pointy-nosed Ming was besmitten with Flash's girl companion Dale. I can't remember how these attractions worked out, but we can be sure they had chaste conclusions after titillating preliminaries -- and with less nudity than in the ancestral novel, where I now discover almost everyone, including our impossibly handsome hero John Carter, runs around starkers.

And the Roaring Twenties hadn't even begun.

It was from Flash's adventures on Mongo that I hypothesize the First Law of Alien Life: All women on other planets are young, beautiful and scantily clad; all resident males are beastly, misshapen or otherwise unattractive. The First Law has a Corollary: If we ever make contact with extraterrestrials, even a halfway decent-looking human male will be much in demand. To put it bluntly, Mongo girls are easy.

No wonder, then, that we older guys have so much interest in the search for other planets. If you've grown up with Princess Aura, Queen Undina (of Mongo's undersea kingdom), and Queen Fria (of Mongo's ice kingdom), all utterly alien and utterly delectable, then -- well, worlds beyond Pluto start looking pretty good.

Which brings us to my Second Law of Alien Life: The dominant creatures on other planets will always be at a stage of evolution just slightly in advance of our own. This makes it possible, for example, for Flash Gordon to be on the same psycho-sexual wavelength as Queen Azura of Mongo, from whom Earthlings acquired the idea of the string bikini.

And finally, my Third Law of Alien Life is also worth considering: All intelligent extraterrestrials speak English. This makes it possible for Ming the Merciless to say things like this to lovely Dale, which stands as one of the great pick-up lines in history: "The reason for our success is that we possess none of the human traits of kindness, mercy or pity! We are coldly scientific and ruthless! You'll be one of us."

Give this to Burroughs, when John Carter lands on Mars he has a communication problem; the residents don't speak English. But Carter is no slouch. Quicker than a wink he has mastered the local tongues, and well on his way to bedding -- yes, bedding! -- the beautiful egg-laying Princess Dejah Thoris.