Beyond Thirty: A must-read for all ERB completists

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Beyond Thirty by Edgar Rice Burroughs fantasy book reviewsBeyond Thirty by Edgar Rice Burroughs

By 1916, Edgar Rice Burroughs was already a popular and regular contributor to the pulp periodicals of the day. Though a late starter — his first work, the John Carter story “Under the Moons of Mars,” was serialized in All-Story Magazine in 1912, when Burroughs was 36 — his output increased rapidly, to the point that by 1916, he had already seen the first three Carter works, the first two Tarzan titles, the first Pellucidar entry (At the Earth’s Core), plus such various works as The Eternal Savage, The Monster Men and The Cave Girl, all printed in that same magazine. But despite his reputation at All-Story, he still managed to get his manuscript for Beyond Thirty rejected there. This short novel was written between July and August 1915, and ultimately appeared in the February 1916 issue of All-Around Magazine. Though not nearly as highly regarded as some of those other works mentioned above, this slim book is an interesting and exciting one nevertheless.

The hippies of the 1960s had an expression that went “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Well, in Burroughs’ novel, which takes place in the year 2137, the united Pan-American Federation (all the countries in North, Central and South Americas) might as well have a saying that goes “Don’t trust anyone beyond 30;” the 30th longitude, that is. It would seem that in 1921, the warring continent of Europe had been barred from all communication with any countries west of that line. From the 30th longitude bisecting the Atlantic all the way west to the 175th (just west of Hawaii), the citizens of the Federation have freedom of movement. But any communication or travel beyond those lines is strictly forbidden; in other words, complete isolation from Europe and its self-destructive ways. But when 21-year-old Lt. Jefferson Turck, commander of the flying submarine Coldwater, finds himself adrift EAST of 30 — the result of sabotage, a monster storm and the mutinous actions of one of his officers — he determines to investigate the forbidden European zone, along with three of his men. His explorations of the now-decimated continent, replete with savage beasts and barely civilized inhabitants, and his run-ins with the still-functional armies of Abyssinia and China, make up the bulk of this swift-moving tale.

Beyond Thirty is fairly relentless in its pace, and Turck’s battles with tigers, lions (ironically, before he arrives in lion-infested London — or rather, what’s left of it — he tells us that he hopes to be “feted and lionized”!) and savages should appeal to all red-blooded action fans. Burroughs throws a bit of romance into his tale when Turck encounters a savage young woman named Victory, who claims to be the queen of England (if only Elizabeth II were as spunky and appealing!), and his book ultimately does manage to please, short as it is and a bit skimpy in the area of fully fleshed-out characterizations. It certainly did strike this reader as an effective antiwar piece, so I was surprised to read, in Phillip R. Burger’s scholarly essay for the Bison Books edition, that Burroughs rather intended his story to be a call for American military preparedness, in the event that our participation in the Great War should come about. (The Bison Books edition, by the way, also includes excellent essays by Burroughs scholars David Brin and Richard A. Lupoff, and is certainly the volume to go with, despite the inexcusable number of typos that it contains.) Burroughs also provides the reader with clues as to his feelings on race relations in the course of the novel … ambivalently, for the most part. It is difficult to tell precisely how he feels about those Abyssinian warriors here. His attitude toward the Chinese, however, seems a lot more lenient than that found in Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu “yellow peril” novels of that same era. So brief as the novel is (102 pages in this edition), it yet provides food for thought.

Though many of Burroughs’ books are filled with inconsistencies, I only found one worthy of mention here. Though the year is said to be 2137 on several occasions during the course of his story, at one point, Turck tells us that the isolation zone was set up in 1921, “two hundred and six years ago.” Of course, that should read “two hundred and sixteen,” but this could merely be still another typo in a book riddled with so many; let’s give Edgar Rice the benefit of the doubt here. The bottom line is that Beyond Thirty is both a gripping and fascinating tale, and one well worth reading, almost 100 years after its initial release. Needless to say, it is a must-read for all ERB completists…

Publisher: By the year 2137 Europe has become a largely forgotten, savage wilderness. Fierce bands of hunters rove the crumbling ruins of once mighty, war-ravaged cities. On the other side of the Atlantic a prosperous Pan-American Federation has emerged, claiming all lands and seas between the 30th and 175th longitudes and forbidding contact with the rest of the world. All who cross beyond thirty are sentenced to death. Beyond Thirty is the story of Captain Jefferson Turck and the crew of his aero-submarine, who through accident and sabotage are forced beyond the thirtieth longitude and embark on an epic quest to rediscover the legendary lands of the Old World. Their adventures stand as one of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s most imaginative and subtly crafted tales. Burroughs wrote the story in 1915 in reaction to the growing horrors of the First World War, and his devastating vision of its consequences provides a haunting and enduring warning for the twenty-first century.

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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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