The Book: Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Originally published in 1913-1914 as a serial, the edition read was the edition read was published by Ballantine Books in 1973.
The Setting: MARS! or BARSOOM!
The Story: John Carter fights his way from the south pole to the north pole in pursuit of his kidnapped princess, who is NOT dead. Although most everyone else that John Carter meets ends up dead. At the north pole he finds the lost Lemon Colored People of Mars, who all have big black beards and are fierce fighters (aren’t they all?). He kicks more ass without taking names. He rescues the princess, saves the jeddak (king), kills the bad guys, and is named supreme ruler of all Mars. Who’s the warlord of Mars? JOHN CARTER!
The Science: “I am a fighting man, not a scientist,” says John Carter in my second favorite line from the book. (First favorite line: “…and before I had half a chance to awaken to my danger he was like to have made a monkey of me, and a dead monkey at that.” Emphasis mine.)
Anywho, science! John Carter’s ultimate victory is secured by disabling a magnetic tower (which is situated upon the magnetic north pole) which irresistibly attracts all the airships of Mars.
The shaft was a mighty magnet, and when once a vessel came within the radius of its powerful attraction for the aluminum steel that enters so largely into the construction of all Barsoomian craft, no power on earth could prevent such an end as we had just witnessed.
The fact that this device can be disabled by a switch suggests to me that the tall tower is some sort of enormous electromagnet. Which is fine and well on it’s own, but here’s the problem: airships can’t escape it, but none of the other metal the Barsoomians use (which is a lot, since everyone seems to be wearing metal and fighting with it) is attracted to the tower. If it’s that’s powerful, there’s going to be other stuff that sticks to it… Moreover, aluminum is not magnetic under most circumstances, although we can suppose that the aluminum steel is some sort of fancy martian contrivance.
Magnets are cool though, and magnets as uberweapon is cool, even if it was used against the good guys.
The Reaction: Fightin’ around the world! So… how will life on Mars continue when John Carter has killed all men of reproductive age? Because, seriously, the body count in this book must be higher than in Return of the King. Which is probably why this book is a ton of fun. Burroughs’ prose is fantastically wonderful in it’s sheer pulpiness. I mean, that dead monkey line had me in stitches. I felt the need to read choice tidbits outloud to my husband almost constantly. Now that the initial trilogy is done, I wonder what they’ll do in the next seven books.
The Cover: Cover art by Gino D’Achille. What we have here is another example of “things that didn’t exactly happen in the book.” The image is thematically correct – some weird looking green guy is running off with a mostly naked girl while a white guy, also mostly naked, wields a sword. The major problem here is that the kidnapper appears to be Green, and the kidnapper was actually Black, or White, or even Yellow. But definitely not Green. Besides the green guy on the cover does not look like the green men of Barsoom. Good effort, exciting, and thematically correct, but lacking accuracy in terms of the story.
Next Up: Thuvia, Maid of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs