Mars: The Home Front
|"Mars: The Home Front"|
|Author||George Alec Effinger|
|Genre(s)||Science fiction short story|
|Published in||War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches|
|Media type||Print (Anthology)|
|Publication date||June, 1996|
"Mars: The Home Front" is a short story by George Alec Effinger, published in War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches. It is a crossover between H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds and Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom series.
The story is narrated first-person, in the style of Burroughs' writing, by an unnamed man who has just returned to his Virginia cabin after fishing, when, hearing a noise, he turns around and is confronted by a massive beast. He soon realizes that it is Woola, the Barsoomian calot of his uncle - John Carter, Warlord of Mars - who has appeared with the creature to relate his latest adventure to his nephew.
The narration then switches to Carter's voice as he tells his story (from references he makes, it is set after The Warlord of Mars and before The Chessmen of Mars, as he is already Warlord of Barsoom, but his only child is stated as being Carthoris). Carter is at a party in Lesser Helium, speaking with Kantos Kan and Mors Kajak when he realizes that Dejah Thoris has gone missing. With Kantos Kan at his side, he looks for her and finds evidence that she has been kidnapped in a scuffle; on the roof of the palace are several dead bodies of militiamen and brigands, and an abandoned flier. Assuming that the kidnappers arrived in two fliers but only escaped in one due to their losses, Kantos Kan and John Carter enter it and, finding the coordinates already set in the destination compass, activate the controls.
For half a day they fly over an unrecognized portion of Barsoom, finally coming to rest above a complex that is built around what appears to be a massive pit in the ground. They land and exited, but are beset by a band of Red Martians who use a paralyzing weapon on them and place them in a cell where an old man, a Gathol army officer named Bas-ok, is already being held. Bas-ok explains to them that they are being held captive by the sarmaks, a leathery-skinned, tentacled race who have taken them captive in order to drink their blood due to their having no digestive organs of their own.
The cell then shakes with the force and sound of a massive explosion. Bas-ok describes how that is the third explosion that happens once a day, and that it means the sarmaks have fired the giant cannon in the center of the complex again, using it to launch cylinder-ships of conquest against the inner world of Jasoom. Carter realizes that he now not only must rescue Dejah Thoris, but also help prevent the sarmaks from conquering his own homeworld. Overpowering the guards, he and his companions escape, with him sending Kantos Kan to rally the forces of Helium and with he and Bas-ok searching out Dejah Thoris.
The narration again switches back to Carter's nephew, who explains that he must wait to tell the rest of the story but gives a brief overview of what happened. Bas-ok betrayed Carter to the sarmaks and was killed for it; John Carter, after a battle in the feeding chamber, rescued Dejah Thoris and destroyed the cylinder-launching device after the tenth blast (explaining why only ten cylinders landed on Earth in The War of the Worlds), and finally how Carter led "the navy of Helium...the combined forces of the green men of Thark and Warhoon, the black First Born, and red men from many cities and nations" in a climactic battle against the sarmaks. He ends by retelling Carter's last words before returning to Barsoom: the threat of the sarmaks is over and there is no need for thoughts of revenge, as both worlds are now once more at peace.
"The Home Front" is one of the only sources to give an actual name to the Martians of The War of the Worlds (the 1988 TV show called them the Mor-Taxans). The name sarmak has become somewhat popular; that is the name they are called in the Wold Newton Universe as well as a number of articles in ERBzine, the official Edgar Rice Burroughs fanzine.
The character of Bas-ok draws comparisons between the sarmaks and the kaldanes, another Martian race of Barsoom; in the Wold Newton Universe, the kaldanes are stated as being mutated sarmaks, with both possibly descended from Cthulhuoids.
A number of comparisons have also been drawn to Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic series. The first issue of the second volume had Carter, along with Gullivar Jones, leading an alliance of Martians (including those from Barsoom) in the final assault against the launching cannon of Wells' Martians. In it, a conversation between Carter and Jones indicates that something has happened to Dejah Thoris during the war; Jess Nevins' semi-official annotations for the series suggest that Moore was referencing her abduction in "The Home Front". Others have noted that "It's tempting, my god but it's tempting, to try and read Effinger's short story and Alan Moore's comic together. Effinger's is the beginning, and Moore gives us the end, leaving only a detailed middle for us to imagine."
The concept of the Martians of Wells and Burroughs coexisting (and fighting) on the same fictional Mars was also used in Larry Niven's 1999 novel Rainbow Mars and briefly indicated in Ian Edginton's 2006 comic Scarlet Traces: The Great Game.