Wednesday, May 04, 2016

The Radio Man: Questions and Answers [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

Edgar Rice Burroughs was a master of the jungle and interplanetary adventure. It is only natural he should have imitators. The most famous (or perhaps obvious) was Otis Adelbert Kline. But before Kline wrote of his imaginary Venus, another writer staked that territory with a long-running saga called The Radio Series. That writer was Ralph Milne Farley, pseudonym of Roger Sherman Hoar (1887-1963). Hoar has sparked many questions for me ever since I first encountered him in the old Ace paperbacks, The Radio Beasts and The Radio Planet (1964). The first novel begins with a recap of what was obviously a preceding story not included in those books. The questions begin... where was the first story?

The second question was why the pseudonym? Why was "Ralph Milne Farley" better than "Roger Sherman Hoar". Both have the same ring of the Victorian novelist to it. Hoar was a member of a family of well-respected lawyers and politicians. He was a state senator in Massachusetts as well as Assistant Attorney General, and the inventor of a guided missile system used in WWII. His relative, Roger Sherman, was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. I can only conclude that he might have been trying to protect that well-respected name from being tarnished by such an activity as writing for the "soft magazines," as pulps were known then.

Delving deeper, I came up with many more points. First off, why is it the "Radio Series"? The stories originally appeared in Argosy/All-Story, June 28-July 19, 1924. 1924 was an important year for radio as a public medium. The invention goes back into the 1890s, but the first public broadcasts began in 1924 (January 5: the BBC broadcasts a church sermon; January 15: the BBC does the world's first radio drama, Danger; February 12: the first commercially-sponsored program, the Eveready Hour airs). Farley, seeing the writing on the wall, decides he will use radio technology to send his hero into the universe. (William Gibson would do a similar job for the Internet with Neuromancer in 1984.)

The next question I had revolved around an event in my own life. Back in the early 2000s I had a successful book-selling operation through eBay. One of my customers was the granddaughter of Roger Sherman Hoar, trying to find copies of his work. I must suppose that the old lawyers of the family had not thought Ralph's work worthy of notice, and allowed the copyrights to lapse. (An odd thing for lawyers to do, but not those that find old science fiction stories silly.) Why had the family lost track of this part of their history?

Another question I had was: what did Edgar Rice Burroughs think of this series? It turns out that Farley became a friend of Burroughs. (Irwin Porges makes no mention of him in Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan (1975), but according to Den Valdron's excellent overview of the series, Farley was "actually a close friend of Edgar Rice Burroughs." Through the Milwaukee Fictioneers he also knew Ray Palmer, Robert Bloch and Stanley G Weinbaum (with whom he collaborated). Unlike many pulp slaves, Hoar wrote out of interest and did not need the money. This explains some of the diversity of his work, appearing in Weird Tales as often as Argosy.

Lastly, I came across a comic book adaptation of the first tale, done by Wally Wood for Avon Fantasy (1951). Actually, I found the reprinted version in Strange Planets #11 (1963). (Ralph's only other comic book appearance is a three-page text reprint, "Abductor Minimi Digit," reprinted in Witches Tales Volume 3 Number 4 (August 1971), originally in Weird Tales, January 1932.) How did the story come to be adapted? Farley was still alive in 1951 and his reaction to the piece may have been interesting. Wood's work is not his best, but even poorly executed Wally Wood is better than most.

But lets go to the beginning and look at the Radio saga. The series features Myles Cabot (did John Norman's Tarl Cabot come from Farley?), a radio inventor and operator who has an accident with his radio equipment that transports him John Carter of Mars-style to the distant planet of Venus. Venus is inhabited by giant insects who war with each other. Cabot falls in with the ants, only to find the humans of Venus are their slaves. Joining the Cupians (humans), Cabot shows them how to use gun powder and frees them. He of course wins the princess, too.

The first segment, "The Radio Man" appeared in Argosy/All-Story in 1924. (This novel and some of the sequels were reprinted in Famous Fantastic Mysteries and Famous Novels.) For some reason this story was never used by ACE Books in the 1960s, despite being the perfect size for inclusion. This feeling of incompleteness made me (and perhaps other readers) reluctant to start the series for many years. The truth may be the story was not available as it had appeared in hard cover in 1948 and at rival paperback publishing Avon in 1950.

The next two volumes comprise what most people consider the bulk of the series in paperback. The Radio Beasts ( March 21-April 11, 1925) and The Radio Planet (June 26-July 31, 1926) continue the Burroughsian-style story with all the fannish love that we would not see again until Lin Carter wrote his Jandar of Callisto books and the Green Star series, both in 1972.

More adventures came later, not in novel length, but as short stories and novellas with The Radio Flyers (May 11-June 8, 1928), The Radio Gun-Runners (February 22 - March 29, 1930), and The Radio Menace (June 7- July 12, 1930). The stories also moved away from giant insects and moved onto earthly invasion by the Whoomangs, animals controlled by intelligent slugs. None of these stories were reprinted by ACE, though they would have made great doubles. Perhaps the sales of Beasts and Planet had been poor (not surprisingly).

Farley wrote more full-length novels including The Radio War (July 2- July 30, 1932). Its missing first chapter was printed in Fantasy Magazine (February 1934). The Golden City (May 13-June 17, 1933) was oddly not named "Radio City," while Farley's name had become so associated with the word "Radio" it was attached to stories that weren't part of the series, such as The Radio Pirates in Argosy All-Story, August 1-August 22, 1931.

Getting long-in-the-tooth, the Burroughs clone was resurrected for Ray Palmer with The Radio Man Returns (1939) in Amazing Stories, June 1939. Farley was instrumental in Palmer's becoming editor of the magazine, so Palmer would have been pleased to return the favor. But this wasn't the last attempt for the denizens of Mars come to Venus. The Radio-Minds of Mars (1955) would appear in Spaceway (June 1955), then be reprinted in three issues of a new Spaceway magazine in January -September/October 1969, six years after Hoar's death.

Though not the longest running series in SF (that title probably goes to Neil R Jones' Zoromes), the Radio Series is an interesting specimen of Argosy's desire to replicate Edgar Rice Burroughs' success (both interplanetary as well as jungle). They would do this slowly over time, first with Farley, then Kline, (they actually rejected Kline's first novel, The Planet of Peril, until 1929, because they had already purchased The Radio Man), JU Guisy, Charles B Stilson, and others. As Sam Moskowitz points out in his Under the Moons of Mars (1970), this stems from the rough handling that ERB received by Thomas Metcalf over The Outlaw of Torn and The Return of Tarzan:
Now it was Metcalf's turn to worry. The success of The All-Story Magazine depended upon Burroughs, and the maintenance of his own job depended on the continuance of The All-Story Magazine. It was evident that he was already out of his depth. He was handling a once-in-a-lifetime circulation booster like Burroughs with far less finesse than he exercised upon the scores of run-of-the-mill hacks that were grinding out an endless series of eminently forgettable stories for the new breed of pulps that were digesting millions upon millions of words per year.
Munsey had a Burroughs exclusive and lost it by not realizing what they had in old Ed Burroughs. If they couldn't guarantee his work, they would try and duplicate it. But is Ralph Milne Farley a fair duplicate of ERB? This of course is a matter of opinion, but are any of the imitators close to Burroughs? I would say Farley was better than Kline, but certainly no better than most ERB wannabes. Even the Fritz Leiber and Joe R Lansdales fall short, perhaps not because they aren't good writers, but because they simply aren't ERB. Ralph Milne Farley may have been the first to try out of fannish love for Burroughs work, but in the end he is one of many reliable also-rans.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.
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