Kline’s classic tale of swashbuckling and savage monsters in the deserts, swamps, and jungles of Mars first appeared in 1933 as a 6-chapter weekly serial in Argosy Magazine, the very pulp that had birthed the so-called “sword and planet” genre with the publication of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Under the Moons of Mars 21 years prior. Contemporary fans of Burrough’s John Carter of Mars and Carson of Venus tales often ranked Kline’s planetary adventures as equal or near-to-equal those penned by the master himself, but in the 75 years since the original publication of The Swordsman of Mars, Kline’s reputation as an author has not fared quite as well as that of Edgar Rice Burroughs.
The tale’s paperback publication came in 1960 from Ace, appearing alongside such science-fiction classics as Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne, The Isle of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells, and The Weapon Shops of Isher by A. E. Van Vogt. The boldly colored cover depicts a long-haired John Carter clone and his damsel battling some Martians under the banner “He wore another man’s body on the Red Planet”. Tucked away at the bottom of the frame, near the left-hand corner, is the tiny legend “Complete & Unabridged.”
As with many early paperbacks, this latter claim is more complicated than it appears. The 1960 Ace edition is an “unabridged” reprint of the 1960 hardcover edition of The Swordsman of Mars from a publisher called Avalon, who reprinted all of Kline’s sword and planet fiction starting in that year. Rather than a celebration of Kline’s important serial work, the 60s Avalon editions are badly truncated rewrites. Entire chapters are missing, key character and location descriptions are completely absent, and the final product cuts a slash across the chest of Kline’s literary reputation that would be totally invisible to readers unable to assemble the original Argosy serial and compare the two texts.
Happily, we at Planet Stories did just that when preparing our manuscript for print, and the differences between the original and the “Complete & Unabridged” versions are staggering. Yes, the serial is much longer, which is to be expected. But the changes made to The Swordsman of Mars rob the story of a great deal of description, characterization, pacing, and background that does no service to the original tale or the literary legacy of Otis Adelbert Kline.
Take a look at the first chapter of The Swordsman of Mars, first in its Ace paperback/Avalon edition, and then in the complete serial publication used as the basis for our Planet Stories edition.
Harry Thorne opened his eyes and gazed about him with a startled expression. This was not the tawdry hotel bedroom in which he had gone to sleep; it was a small room with bare, concrete walls, a door of hardwood planking studded with bolts, and a barred window. The only articles of furniture were the cot on which he was lying, a chair, and a small table.
So the sleeping pills didn’t finish me off, he thought. Now I’m in jail for attempted suicide!
Thorne sat up, then rose unsteadily to his feet and staggered to the window. Supporting himself by gripping the thick iron bars, he peered out. It was broad daylight and the sun was high in the heavens. Below him stretched a deep valley, through which a narrow stream meandered. And as far as he could see in all directions there were mountains, though the highest peaks were all below the level of his own eyes.
He turned from the window at the sound of a key grating in a lock. Then the heavy door swung inward, and a large man entered the cell, bearing a tray of food and a steaming pot of coffee. Behind the man was a still larger figure, whose very presence radiated authority. His forehead was high and bulged outward over shaggy eyebrows that met above his aquiline nose. He wore a pointed, closely cropped Vandyke, black with a slight sprinkling of gray, and was dressed in faultlessly tailored evening clothes.
Thorne got to his feet as his singular visitor closed the door behind him. Then, in a booming bass, the man said, “At last, Mr. Thorne, I have caught up with you. I am Dr. Morgan.” He smiled. “And I might add, not a moment too soon. You gave us quite a time—Boyd and I managed to get you out of that hotel room and down to the street, passing you off as a drunk. Don’t you remember a knocking at the door? You weren’t quite out when we came in.”
Thorne thought for a moment, then nodded. It seemed that there had been a pounding somewhere. “How did you get in? I thought I locked the door.”
“You did—but I had skeleton keys with me, just in case. We took you to my apartment, treated you, and brought you out here.” Morgan nodded to Boyd, who left the room, then waved his hand invitingly toward the tray. “I ordered breakfast served in your room. I especially urge you to try the coffee. It will counteract the effect of the sedatives I was compelled to use in order to save your life to bring you here.”
“You’ve gone to a lot of trouble to save something I don’t want,” Thorne said. “May I ask why you are interfering in my affairs?”
“I need you,” Morgan replied simply. “And I can offer you adventure such as only one other man of Earth has known—possibly glory, possibly death. But if death, not the mean sort you were seeking.”
Harry Thorne frowned. “You referred to a man of Earth as if there were men not of Earth. Are you suggesting a trip to Mars?”
Dr. Morgan laughed. “Splendid, Mr. Thorne. But suppose you tackle breakfast. It will put you in a better frame of mind for what I am going to tell you. I shall not lock the door as I leave. When you have finished, join me in the drawing room—at the end of the corridor to your right.” He paused in the doorway. “You mentioned a trip to Mars, Mr. Thorne. Forgive me if I keep you in suspense for a time, but —although it is not exactly what you think those words mean—that is what I am going to propose.”
So that’s it. Quick, to the point. Our hero is Harry Thorne. We don’t know what he looks like, how he came to be in this room, why he wanted to commit suicide, or really anything about him other than his name. We’ve met the esteemed Doctor Morgan (the scientist who ties together all of Kline’s Mars and Venus serials), but we don’t understand why he would be interested in poor, old suicidal Harry Thorne. This introduction is a serviceable stepping stone to the adventures to come, but it does little to ground the reader’s interest in the protagonist or foreshadow future events.
A VERY STRANGE VISITOR
“Is Mr. McGinnis in?”
The girl who presided at the information desk and switchboard of the McGinnis Physical Culture Institute suspended her gum chewing long enough to reply: “I’ll see. What’s the name?”
“Thorne. Harry Thorne.”
As she connected the office phone of her employer, the girl surveyed the young man before her with a look of approval. He was tall and slender, with wavy hair of a chestnut brown shade, and there was a pantherish suppleness about his movements which hinted of powerful muscles, perfectly controlled. His faultless attire and aristocratic air told her that he was likely to prove a wealthy prospect for the services which Mr. McGinnis had to offer, so she rang three times, a signal which her employer would understand.
“Mr. Harry Thorne to see you, sir.”
She nodded and smiled at the young man. “You may go in, Mr. Thorne. The first office at your right.”
“Thank you.” Thorne followed her directions, and was welcomed at the door of the office by the beaming proprietor of the institution, a middle-aged gentleman with bulging chest and biceps, a broken nose, and cauliflower ears.
“Come right in, Mr. Thorne. Take a chair. A wonderful frame you have to put muscle on. Now with our system of training we guarantee to add an inch to the circumference of your biceps in less than-⎯”
“One moment, Mr. McGinnis. I came here to be built up, not physically, but financially. In short, I am after that job you advertised in this morning’s paper.”
McGinnis settled back, a look of disappointment on his face.
“Oh, so you want a job as my assistant fencing master. Can you handle a foil?”
“Fencing has been a hobby of mine.”
“A hobby, eh? You’ll have to make it a profession if you work here. But come. I’ll try you out.”
McGinnis led him down the hallway, and through a large room where a group of perspiring financiers dressed in shorts and jerseys were going through various contortions under the direction of a husky looking young man wearing a striped sweater. A conspicuous majority of these striving athletes looked as if their chests had slipped down beneath their belts, and the calves and biceps were undeveloped.
They passed through another room, where a number of corpulent gentlemen were being mauled, poked, pinched, prodded and steam-cooked, and thence into a small empty gymnasium.
McGinnis removed his coat and invited Thorne to do likewise. Then he handled him plastron, mask, glove and foil, and both men armed themselves.
“Now, my lad,” said McGinnis, when Thorne was ready, “we’ll see what we’ll see. On guard!”
They saluted and engaged. Before he had got fairly warmed up, McGinnis, much to his surprise, was hit. “Accidents will happen,” he said. “We’ll try again.”
They did, and this time McGinnis was disarmed. The sudden realization of this made him quite red in the face--⎯he, a fencing master, disarmed by this amateur.
“That was a coincidence,” he said, as Thorne politely handed him his foil. “We’ll try it once more.”
Much to his astonishment and chagrin, the master was hit in the fifth disengage. He threw down his foil and tore off his mask. “Enough’s enough.” He growled.
“Do I get the job?” asked Thorne.
“Not in a thousand years, my boy. Do you think I’d be fool enough to hire an assistant who can beat me? Don’t slam the door as you go out.”
Out on the street once more, Thorne fished his last fifty cent piece from his pocket and bought an early edition of an afternoon paper. Pocketing his change, he retired to a doorway to scan the “Help Wanted” column.
Evening found him still tramping, after having followed five more fruitless leads. He fingered the change in his pocket reflectively. Not enough for a decent meal, but if husbanded carefully it would keep body and soul together for the next two or three days. He expended five cents on coffee and doughnuts, his first meal of the day. Then he returned to the cheap hotel where he had taken lodging and where his room rent, which had been paid in advance, would expire on the morrow.
As the clerk handed him his key, he said: “A gentleman called to see you, Mr. Thorne. Said he’d be back later.”
“A gentleman to see me! That’s strange. Did he leave any message?”
“Only that he’d be back later.”
Thorne climbed the creaky stairs with their covering of dusty, moth-eaten carpet, and entered his room. Shortly thereafter, in dressing gown and slippers and with his pipe going, he sat down in his creaky rocker, vintage of 1880, to think out the situation in which he found himself. He had already pawned his watch and ring, and the money was all but gone. The dressing gown would be next, he decided. Then his reverie was interrupted by a knock at the door.
“Come in,” he said, wearily.
He looked up curiously as the door opened, then suppressed a gasp of amazement at sight of the striking individual who entered. His visitor, almost a giant in stature, was obviously a tremendously powerful man. But the impression of great physical strength which the stranger’s physique induced was overshadowed by the promise of inconceivably greater mental force which shone from his face. His forehead was high and bulged outward over shaggy eyebrows that met above his aquiline nose. His piercing black eyes seemed to look through Thorne’s own, and into his very brain. He wore a pointed, closely-cropped Vandyke, black with a slight sprinkling of gray hairs, and was dressed in faultlessly tailored evening clothes.
Thorne got to his feet as his singular visitor closed the door behind him. Then, in a booming bass voice, the big man said: “At last, Mr. Thorne, I have caught up with you. I am Dr. Morgan.”
Surprised, Thorne took the proffered hand and muttered an acknowledgement. “Take the chair, doctor,” he invited. “I’ll sit here on the bed.” As his visitor complied, he continued: “You say you have caught up with me. Am I to understand from this that you have been following me?”
“Halfway across the world and back again,” was the reply. “I first saw your photograph in a local paper, accompanying an article which told of your hunting expedition in British East Africa. I followed you there, only to learn that you had sailed there days before my arrival.”
“You saw my picture and followed me there? Why?”
“I’ll come to that presently. When I reached New York, I called your father’s home in Long Island. I was advised that you had left, and that no one knew of your whereabouts. After that, it was not easy to trace you. I learned that you had sailed for home sooner than you planned, because of a wire from your father. I also discovered that on your return, you and your father had quarreled, and that as a result you were disowned and disinherited.”
“You seem to have taken a remarkably keen interest in my affairs,” said Thorne, amazed at the intimate details of his private business with which this strange individual was familiar.
“Exactly. And I presume you have seen the evening paper.”
“Only the ‘Help Wanted’ columns.”
“In that case,” said the doctor, “you missed some news which will be of interest to you.” He took a clipping from his pocket and passed it to Thorne.
With a shock that turned him suddenly pale beneath his coat of tan, he read:
FIANCÉE OF HARRY THORNE
ELOPES WITH OTHER MAN
Sylvia Thompson, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Horatio Thompson, of Newport, whose engagement to Harry Thorne, scion of the wealthy Long Island family, was recently announced, has eloped with Herbert Lloyd Vandevetter.
There were details, but Thorne did not read these. Instead, he looked at the pictures of his lovely fiancée, his best friend, and himself, conspicuously displayed beside the article. Then the page blurred and he turned away. A great sorrow gripped his heart. Sylvia Thompson was the one person in whom he had not lost faith. Before leaving for Chicago he had confided in her, had told her that he was penniless, and must seek out a new means of livelihood before they could be married. She had promised to wait. And now⎯this!
“She was false⎯a cheat, a fraud!” he said, bitterly. “I’ll never believe any woman again. I’ll never believe anybody.”
“Steady boy,” admonished the doctor. “You’re taking a lot of territory.”
“I mean it,” said Thorne. “I⎯I don’t care to live any longer.”
“Suppose you were offered a new interest in life. Excitement and adventures beyond your wildest dreams. A chance to view new scenes that no earthly being save one has ever glimpsed. To meet new and strange peoples.”
“All that is old stuff to me,” replied Thorne. “I’ve traveled until I’m sick of it. I’ve hunted big game in Asia, Africa and the Americas. I’ve been in every important country on the globe. The only adventure I have not tried is death, and just now it is the one adventure that intrigues me.”
He got up suddenly, and stepping to where his suitcase lay open on the grip-rack, drew therefrom a .38 caliber pistol. “I don’t know why you’ve come here, doctor,” he said, “and I don’t much care. But I’ll appreciate the favor if you will notify my fond relatives of my demise. I don’t like being messy, and I haven’t the slightest desire to be dramatic, so I’ll go into the bathroom for the last act.”
“One moment, before you go,” said the doctor. “Do you realize that if you do this deed while I am present you will implicate me as a murderer?”
“Right. I hadn’t thought of that. Sorry. I’ll say good-by then, and give you time to get away.”
The doctor rose. “That’s considerate of you my boy, and I’ll be glad to notify your relatives for you. Good-by.” He held out his hand.
Thorne listlessly grasped the extended hand. As he did so, he felt a sharp pricking sensation in his palm, followed by a numbness which shot up his arm and traveled rapidly through the rest of his body. The gun, which he had been holding in his left hand, clattered to the floor. A moment later things went black before his eyes. His knees buckled under him, and the doctor, catching him beneath the arms, eased him back upon the bed. Then consciousness left him.
The original Kline text reveals his hero to be a weary world traveler, an adventurer of impeccable swordsmanship and an aristocratic background (all of which will serve him well on the Red Planet). We have a fitting physical description for the ideal sword and planet hero, and we have a tragic love story that explains Harry Thorne’s self-destructive impulse and the motivation that will eventually send him to Mars.
Otis Adelbert Kline died 14 years prior to the publication of Avalon’s The Swordsman of Mars hit the shelves. Whoever wrote the short version, it wasn’t the original author, and the merciless cuts did little to help Kline’s literary reputation. No less an authority than The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction calls Kline’s work “pulp fiction at its worst.” But these analyses, indeed most modern perception of Kline’s fantasy output, is based not on the original pulp printing, but on posthumous editorial hack-jobs perpetrated long after the author himself had died.
Now, for the first time in 75 years, Planet Stories presents Otis Adelbert Kline in his own words. Order The Swordsman of Mars today and take the fantastic journey to the Red Planet the way the author originally intended it.
You’ll find it makes all the difference in the world.