A Potboiler With a Vision

Every now and then–especially in his books about “Barsoom” (Mars)–Edgar Rice Burroughs would have a penetrating, almost prophetic vision that would go unrecognized because it was decades ahead of its time.

In Synthetic Men of Mars (1939), Ras Thavas, the Master Mind of Mars, embarks on a project to create artificial human beings. He grows them out of culture vats. These creatures, called “hormads,” very seldom seem to turn out quite right. In fact, some of them are such a mess as to be of no use at all. But Ras Thavas, like John Hammond in Jurassic Park, is convinced he can impose his will on nature if only he tries hard enough.

Well, something goes horribly wrong in Vat Room #4. Instead of producing individual hormads, the vats have begun to pump out a solid mass of writhing, hungry, ill-assorted body parts; and no one is able to stop it. It just grows and grows and grows, shooting forth monstrous heads and clutching hands, disconnected legs, undifferentiated tissue like a gigantic amoeba… yech! And if something isn’t done about it soon, it’ll take over the whole lab complex, then the whole island, and, theoretically, could keep on growing until it covers the entire planet and devours everything.

Now that’s what I call a vision. Not only did ERB anticipate cloning, and all that stuff. More importantly, his image of the all-consuming mess in Vat Room #4 is right on target as a metaphor for all-consuming statism. You know–the kind that aspires to a world government that can direct planning and land use for every little village on the planet, and, under the pretext of doing what’s best for us, swallow up every last one of our liberties. The kind of mess that Hitler, Stalin, and Mao did so much to pioneer. The kind that listens in on everybody’s phone calls.

The kind of hell you get after “progressive” thieves and murderers get through with “fundamentally transforming” your country.

In Synthetic Men of Mars, John Carter comes along with his air force and fire-bombs the hideous mass out of existence.

I don’t think our hideous mass will be quite so easy to get rid of.

2 comments on “A Potboiler With a Vision

  1. don’t think our hideous mass will be quite so easy to get rid of. How did he do it? I think God could do it even easier! I sort of remember his doing something like that in regard to the Amalakites. (Even the computer didn’t like that word!) We can never outguess the Almighty.

    1. It’s always easier to manage things inside a work of fiction than it is in real life. In Synthetic Men of Mars, the only problem John Carter really has is to escape from the island of the hormads and find his way home. He then returns with his enormous air force and bombs the hideous mass to kingdom come.

      Our problem is much more in the nature of a house that is riddled with termites.

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