The Book: Synthetic Men of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Originally published in 1939, the edition read was published by Ballantine Books in 1976.
The Setting: MARS!
The Story: John Carter and his loyal man Vor Daj set out to find Ras Thavas, the Master Mind of Mars, because Dejah Thoris has been horribly injured in a crash. They get captured by hideous creatures who refuse to die. These hormads are the creation of Ras Thavas, but they have taken control and plan to take over all Barsoom. The story involves Vor Daj swapping brains with a hormad, fighting, falling in love with a girl, trying to win said girl, and trying to save his original body. It all ends well, and Vor Daj gets the girl and his body.
The Science: Hormads and genetic engineering: The hormads are spit out of some sort of primeval life soup. They come out horribly misshapen, so much so that most must be destroyed because they cannot be of use. The others usually have random faces, arms in weird places, and odd proportions. At one point, one of the primeval soup vats gets out of control and grows without end, consuming itself and anyone in its path. And it would just keep going like that until it covered the whole of the planet, if John Carter hadn’t bombed it out of existence. It’s really pretty crazy. But, you say, no sort of thing can continue generating indefinitely. And there’s where science comes in. Check out this immortal jellyfish. And this immortal line of human cells – from a woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951. So it’s possible to continue forever in the right circumstances – but not exactly like in the book.
The Reaction: Meh. It was fun to read, but it’s the same formula with a slightly different spin. Everyone gets kidnapped this time. More brain swapping and fighting and exploring unknown reaches of Barsoom. At least John Carter was around for part of this book.
The Cover: Cover art by Gino d’Achille. A scene from the book. A couple of hormads capture a red man. The hormads aren’t horribly misshapen, which I think would have been a lot cooler. But it’s an action cover, so it’s alright. Nothing remarkable.
Next Up: “Homo Sol” by Isaac Asimov