The Book: A Fighting Man of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Originally published in 1930, the edition read was published by Ballantine Books in 1973.
The Setting: Mars/Barsoom
The Story: A soldier of noble birth, Tan Hadron of Hastor, falls in love with a rich princess, Sanoma Tora. She’s promptly kidnapped. Hadron rushes off to her rescue, alone, but crashes in unfriendly territory. He rescues Tavia, a slave girl, from the green men of Mars, and they continue on the quest to rescue Sanoma Tora. Along the way Hadron encounters nearly certain death in the form of: an underground river, giant spiders, white apes, a wicked king, a mad scientist, another wicked king, and cannibals. In the end, Sanoma Tora is rescued, a couple of minor characters find a happy ending, and Hadron discovers that he loves Tavia, not Hadron. And, surprise, Tavia is actually a princess, not a slave!
The Science: We’ve got another mad scientist in this book. His name is Phor Tak, he enjoys revenge, and he likes to shout “Heigh-oo!” He also invented the:
- Disintegrating gun: Phor Tak created a rifle which disintegrates metal portions of whatever it’s pointed at. This is bad, because it can disintegrate airships, and everyone falls to their death. According to the book, the gun can “change the polarity of the protons in metallic substances, releasing the whole mass as free electrons.” I am greatly disappointed that the gun does not reverse the polarity of the neutron flow. It seems to me that chaos would ensue if you could convert protons to electrons, but I don’t think that’s even possible, given that protons are like a thousand times larger than electrons. Something about the law of conservation of mass would kick in, wouldn’t it?
- Invisibility paint: Phor Tak develops a paint which, being invisible itself, can make objects invisible when applied. He explains that it bows light around it, bows a viewers line of vision right around an object, thus rendering it unobservable, or invisible for all practical purposes. I thought maybe this was impossible, but holy crap, science is working on making this stuff! But it’s only at the nano-scale now. Madness.
The Reaction: By the time I finished the book, I’d forgotten half of it. There’s a lot of story in this book, with more characters and more strange and unusual dangers than previously. A nice change of pace, however, is Tavia. Tavia can fight as well as Hadron and fly an airship. She’s not helpless and she doesn’t act it, insisting that she will fight beside Hadron. So that was pretty cool. The book was fine while I was reading it, but there’s just too much story, with some parts being wrapped up in a couple of sentences when they deserved more.
The Cover: Cover art by Gino D’Achille. Two mostly naked guys with swords go through spiderwebs with giant spiders in the background. This is a scene from the book, pretty accurately depicted. I could nitpick, but I won’t. It is a fine and decent cover.
Etc: I kept getting distracted by the name Hadron, since hadrons are also a thing in physics, a la the Large Hadron Collider. But I’m not sure Burroughs was aware of that.
Next Up: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.