Swords of Mars by Edgar Rice BurroughsJune 1, 2010
The Book: Swords of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Originally published as a serial in 1934-1935, the edition read was published by Ballantine Books in 1975.
The Setting: MARS! BARSOOM!
The Story: John Carter goes undercover to assassinate assassins and ends up in a heap of trouble, which he fights his way out of, but not before his beautiful princess, Dejah Thoris, is kidnapped and taken to the moon (TO THE MOON!) by his enemies. To which he must follow and rescue her. Naturally.
- Shrinking to the Moon: The most bizarre first. In order to make the tiny moons of Mars useful to the story, Burroughs works in what the Wikipedia article calls “some bizarre quirk of pseudo-scientific relativistic hocus pocus” which results in those who travel from Mars to the moons shrinking until the moon seems the relative size of Mars, and presumably vice versa. This, of course, is hooey. Useful to the story, yes, sensible, no. I don’t even have anything else to say about it. It’s just bad science.
- Mechanical brain: A scientist invents a spaceship piloted by mind control. He creates a “mechanical brain” which operates the ship completely and is controlled by human (or Martian) will power, telling it what to do. The brain is carefully constructed to be without independent thought and will, and so can only be controlled by someone focusing their thoughts upon it. Does man currently have any similar sort of mind control over devices? No. But it could certainly look that way to someone unfamiliar with the modern world. Sliding doors. Remote controls. Automation of any sort. Hell, even the Nintendo Wii. Science looks like magic used to, and that’s pretty freaking awesome.
The Reaction: Best book since the third of the series. Two factors contribute to this. The first is the return of John Carter as main character and narrator. The second is that the initial story is not motivated by a kidnapping. John Carter goes undercover to take names and kick ass. There are some novel characters, the love story is already well established, so we don’t have to go over it again, and fun stuff happens. It was fun to read. Books 4-7 in the series had all pretty much been the same, so this was refreshing. I hope Burroughs keeps it up.
The Cover: Cover art by Gino D’Achille. A big ship (which I presume is a spaceship) is attacked by two smaller fliers. I don’t recall this from the book. At least not where anyone actually hits the spaceship. For some reason, these ships remind me a great deal of Jabba’s ships in Return of the Jedi.
Next Up: “Night” by Don A. Stuart.