Author: David Barber

“And did they put up a fight?” the Dread Emperor asked.

Around the vast ill-lit throne room, flatterers, sycophants, and the rest of the nobility tensed. After another long day – it was forbidden to eat or drink in the Emperor’s presence, or to leave it – they were hoping there would be no bloodshed tonight, no risk of it getting out of hand again.

The Conqueror of Earth cleared his throat. “At first they would not admit the superiority of Your Imperial Majesty’s Space Navy. There was much slaughter. But the remnants offered their throats to the claw.”

The Emperor savoured this. “Describe my new planet.”

“Barsoom is an arid world, though home to numerous and varied races. They are a warlike folk…”

“Earth.” The Emperor leaned forward. Survivors say it is a terrible thing to be fixed by those eyes. “You said you conquered Earth.”

“I, I beg Your Imperial Majesty’s patience,” said the Admiral. “Some natives call it Barsoom, others Earth. It was one of the things they fought over.”

Others had sweated where the Admiral now stood.


“The inhabitants of ah, Barsoom are divided by their colour. There are Reds and Greens for example. Some have four arms, some two. The females lay eggs…”

At each day’s end, the Dread Emperor summoned the military to tell him about the latest addition to his Empire. He had decreed it would expand by one planet every day, without end.

Terrifyingly for those who waited upon the Emperor, the discovery of new worlds to vanquish lagged far behind schedule. Instead, desperate Space Admirals announced the conquest of barren moons, or primordial worlds like peaches bruised by mould, and were executed while the Emperor ate a light supper.

By tradition, no two executions were alike, the Blood Guard being famed for its invention.

And then Earth was discovered. There was no great slaughter. The Conqueror of Earth never even left the home world. A lone scout venturing far beyond the edge of Empire had harvested Earth’s rudimentary datanet in a flyby and it had proved a treasure trove.

The military learned its lesson, and inhabited worlds were now conquered daily without fail. The court held its breath as Admirals answered the Dread Emperor’s enquiries into the culture, history, and sexual habits of wholly invented planets.

The Conqueror of Earth was back in the dressing room hanging up his costume. A Five Claw Space Admiral with Radium Cluster. All paste. The door banged open.

“What were you thinking?” shouted the director. “Barsoom was scheduled for tomorrow. I’ll have to move Dune forward.”

True, the actor had forgotten some lines, even so, it was the performance of a lifetime.

“You know we’re running out?” If the director had hair instead of scales, it would have torn it in frustration.

“You said there was a feast of tales.”

“Turns out most novels consist of Earthlings having a chat. Outer Space is hardly mentioned; even then we can’t mention rival empires. They’re mainly obsessed with terrible things happening to Earth. What’s wrong with them?”

“But we’ve still got Mongo? I’ve been rehearsing Mongo.”

“And Mote Prime and Perelandra and Skaro, but they don’t seem to be writing them like they used to. All this later stuff…”

“Dear chap, you have the resources of the Space Navy at your disposal. If the Earthers won’t write what you want, perhaps we should start knocking them out ourselves. Try world-building instead of world-conquering.”

It was rather pleased with that.

“I mean, how hard can it be?”