If you had to describe a Burroughs hero in one word that word would be “adaptable” as whether they are dropped into the middle of a danger filled jungle or flung to the far reaches of space they quickly adapt to their surroundings and quickly end up on top.
Just as WWII was really starting to ramp up Burroughs wrote two novellas “Adventure on Poloda” and “Tangor Returns” that were first published in the pages of Blue Book magazine and were clearly meant to be the beginning of a series in the spirit of the John Carter of Mars books but sadly with his work as war service correspondent and his ailing health this was not to be. Collected as a novel Beyond the Farthest Star shows a bleak society torn by ravages of war and look into author’s views on the nature of mankind.
Like A Princess of Mars this is a story related to us by Edgar Rice Burroughs as if it’s a true story but where the Barsoom books were told to us as if read from journals of John Carter the two stories that make up Beyond the Farthest Star were typed on Burroughs own typewriter but by ghostly hands. We never find out how this is possible or even the name of our hero, “My name is –well, never mind …” is all we get and from then on he is simply known as Tangor a name given to him by the people of Poloda. With his death 1950 we will never know if Burroughs ever intended to reveal how the hero ended up on this far off planet or how he communicated via ghostly typing.
The story begins with our hero’s death. His plane is shot down in a dogfight with three German fighter planes, he manages to shoot down two of the planes before he takes a bullet to the chest as his damaged plane falls into a death spiral, so he is quite amazed to find himself in what seems to be a beautiful endless garden and not splattered across the German countryside. He is also naked. A girls screams at seeing this naked intruder cuts short such thought as “Am I dead?” and he is quickly arrested and spends days under psychiatric evaluation as the world he claims to be from is 450,000 light years away. He takes the name “Tangor” which in the language of this world means “from nothing” and must prove that he is not insane but even more importantly not an enemy spy as that will get him quickly executed.
About the world of Poloda, like Earth back home this is a world at war only on Poloda the war has being going on for over a hundred years and everyone now lives underground so as to survive the constant bombings. In the county of Unis, where Tangor arrives, the buildings rise up out of the ground and then retreat back under during an air raid, it is a society that has reached the point where war is all they can think about and no real advancement in arts or science can be made. Thousands die in aerial combat and bombings on such a routine basis that the people of Unis have become so accustomed to death that “tears seemed to have dried up long ago”, and the women Unis appear to have two important jobs; working in the factories to outfit the military with guns and planes and of course producing the next wave of fighters to go off to die
The enemy of Unis is the Communist like land of Kapar, it is a dictatorship that represses all human freedoms and whose people live in a constant state of fear and paranoia. So it is no surprise that once Tangor is cleared of being a spy, and his coming from a far off world believed, he immediately signs up to fight with Unis against the evil Kapar state. He is at first given the horrible job of day labourer but after he proves himself a capable fighter he is quickly promoted to pilot of his own air crew and thus be able to show how damn good he is in the air. Things get a bit sticky when a girl he is dating turns out to be a traitor and wants him to join her in stealing Unis secrets and defect to Kapar. Being a noble hero he rats her out immediately but instead of having her executed the Commissioner of War wants Tangor to go with her to Kapar as they have heard that the enemy is developing a power amplifier that would allow them to travel to the nearby planets. Tangor is to steal those plans and destroy all copies so that the people of Unis can flee Poloda and leave its war torn landscapes to the Kapars.
Will Tangor survive amongst the cruel and paranoid people of Kapar or be caught as a spy and shot? Does the power amplifier actually exist and if so can Tangor steal it and escape back to Unis? Will Tangor and the people of Unis make it to another world? Just how did Tangor end up on this far off planet and how does this ghostly communications on Burroughs’s typewriter work? This book answers the first two questions but sadly with the passing of Burroughs in 1950 we will never get the answers to the rest. Maybe someday another author will pick up were Burroughs left off and all the secrets of Poloda will be revealed, but until then we must make do with what is a fun and thrilling adventure story that pits the hero against nefarious villains and femme fatales in a world torn apart by endless war.
Check out The Edgar Rice Burroughs Summary Project for an excellent afterword by David A. Adams
Film grad who spends most his time trying to catch up on his "To Watch" pile of movies.