When I was eleven years old, I preferred Lin Carter’s Jandar of Callisto series to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ books about Mars. Sacrilege I know, and that’s not the case today, but as a kid, I liked that the Callisto books were written in modern language, and the events described not only took place within my lifetime, they were still occurring now, in the 1970s when I was reading them. I could almost believe they were true.
Anyone who’s read both the Barsoom and Callisto novels knows the latter is a tribute, almost a pastiche, of the former. Carter was a huge fan of ERB’s Mars books, and the Callisto series hews close to that source. An Earth man transported across space to a distant world has adventures among exotic people and dangerous monsters. Standard Sword & Planet blueprint.
Carter was such a fan of Burroughs, in fact, that he had planned to write actual sequels to the Barsoom series, and wrote several chapters of a pastiche called The Swordsman of Mars. This fragment eventually saw print in the fanzine Astro Adventures Issue #8.
By the late 1960s-early 1970s, the world of fantasy/science fiction was experiencing the ‘Burroughs Boom’, where numerous publishers were reprinting not only as much of ERB’s stuff as they could lay hands on, but also the works of his pulp magazine imitators and a slew of new Sword & Planet material. Guys like Alan Burt Akers (Ken Bulmer) and John Norman leaped into the fray, and so did Lin Carter.
I actually remember discovering the Callisto series at a B. Dalton bookstore in a local mall. The first three titles were released back to back, and I bought Jandar of Callisto, Black Legion of Callisto, and Sky Pirates of Callisto all together. The covers did it. Painted by Vincent DiFate, the cover to Jandar showed floating, winged ships over an alien landscape. The cover copy promised thrills and swordfights in the ERB tradition, which was just what I was looking for.
Lin Carter mentioned in an interview that he had never found John Carter’s pseudo mystical arrival on Barsoom quite satisfactory, so Johnathan Dark made the trip via a Star Trek-style teleportation device. Of course Lin never got around to explaining how a world with medieval level technology ended up with a teleporter, so I had to do that for him. More on that later.
Dark, a helicopter pilot transporting medical supplies to Cambodia, crashes in the jungle and finds the ruins of an ancient city. There he stumbles into the earth end of the teleporter, which is inside a well lined with what appears to be jade. In John Carter fashion, Dark arrives naked and unarmed on Callisto, one of the moons of Jupiter, known to the inhabitants as Thanator.
At eleven, I don’t think I knew the word pastiche, but even then I realized that Carter was imitating Burroughs. Jon Dark, renamed Jandar by the Thanatorians, had his own incomparable Dejah Thoris in the Princess Darloona, and his own staunch Tars Tarkas stand-in, Koja the insectoid. There are many other characters and incidents that parallel Burroughs in the Callisto books, some a little too closely for some of Carter’s critics.
However, I don’t think Carter was trying to fool anyone. He wore his influences on his sleeve and gave himself and his readers exactly what they wanted, more Sword & Planet adventures in the Burroughs mode. He wrote what he wanted to read.
1975 saw the release of three more books in the series, Mad Empress of Callisto, Mind Wizards of Callisto, and most importantly for me, Lankar of Callisto. The moment I saw the cover of Lankar of Callisto on the bookstore shelf I knew what it had to be about. If Jandar was the Thanatorian mispronunciation of John Dark, then Lankar had to be a Callistan contraction of Lin Carter.
It turned out to be a really fun book, with Lin Carter traveling to Cambodia and following Jon Dark down the Gate Between Worlds and ending up on Callisto. Lin has various adventures before managing to get home.
You can probably tell that Lankar of Callisto is my favorite book in the series, and 30 years later I would write a sequel called Secret Masters of Callisto for a Lin Carter Yahoo Group. (Remember those?) In Secret Masters, a fictionalized version of me goes seeking a friend’s missing daughter in Cambodia, and you guessed it, ends up on Callisto. Adventures ensue.
While writing the sequel, I explained a few things Lin glossed over, including the aforementioned origin of the teleporter, and why a small moon has Earth gravity and an atmosphere. This was about six years before I became a published author and the novella is unabashed fan fiction. It was picked up by ERBzine online, where you can still read it, and later published as a chapbook by Rainfall Press.
Two more Callisto books would follow, Ylana of Callisto in 1977, and Renegade of Callisto, with pulpish covers by Ken Kelly. There was also a reissue of Jandar of Callisto with a new Kelly cover. Unfortunately, by the close of the 1970s, time was running out for mass market Sword & Planet/Sword & Sorcery, as the fantasy market took a swing toward more J.R.R. Tolkien derived fiction. Elves were in and John Carter and Conan were out. At least in mall bookstores.
Lin had planned for the series to run longer, with titles like Warrior Girl of Callisto, Sword-Master of Callisto, and Ice Kingdoms of Callisto, but in the end eight books were all that ever appeared. Though I am fond of Lin’s Thongor books, the Callisto series remains my favorite of his works. Next to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars novels, they are my favorite Sword and Planet books. I think Lin would have liked that.
Charles R. Rutledge is the co-author of three books in the Griffin and Price series. He recently brought Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster into the present day in the novella Dracula’s Revenge.