Archive for the ‘Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Category

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Special Post: The Martian Novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs

July 7, 2010

Eleven books is a heck of a series.  And the Martian or John Carter novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs are certainly that.  They run the gamut from kidnapping to fighting to falling in love to mad science to kidnapping to fighting again.  Mostly the kidnapping and fighting.  And where John Carter narrates, there’s sure to be a rollicking good time.  And where other people are the protagonists… well, that’s alright too, I guess.

The first three books are really the heart of the series.  There’s very little in the others that you can’t get from the first three.  But this is high, formula driven adventure.  I can’t wait to see what Pixar does with the story.

These are the books in the series, with links to my posts about them, all in one place for easy access.


1.  A Princess of Mars

2. The Gods of Mars

3. Warlord of Mars

4. Thuvia, Maid of Mars

5. The Chessmen of Mars

6. The Master Mind of Mars

7. A Fighting Man of Mars

8.  Swords of Mars

9.  Synthetic Men of Mars

10.  Llana of Gathol

11. John Carter of Mars

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John Carter of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

July 7, 2010

The Book: John Carter of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Consists of two stories published under the name Edgar Rice Burroughs.  “John Carter and the Giant of Mars” was published as a Whitman Big Little Book in 1940 and then in Amazing Stories in 1941.  The story was written by Burroughs’ son Jack and possibly revised by ERB.  “Skeleton Men of Jupiter” was published by Amazing Stories in 1943.  The two were combined into the book John Carter of Mars in 1964.  The edition read was published by Ballantine Books in 1973.

N.B. I’ll be addressing both stories in a single post.  I’ll try to keep it brief.

“John Carter and the Giant of Mars”

The Setting: Mars

The Story: Dejah Thoris is kidnapped by a synthetic man with a synthetic giant.  John Carter goes to rescue her, gets in trouble, gets out of trouble, saves Helium (his city) from an army of the horrible white apes.

The Science: There’s more genetic engineering in this book, but this was a Big Little Book story, so aimed more at kids.  My favorite moment of science in this book is when John Carter is about to be crushed by sliding glass walls, he remembers that he is wearing a diamond ring and that diamond will cut glass.  So he etches a circle in the glass and punches through.  This is accurate.  Diamonds are the hardest natural substance.  Way to go, elementary earth science!

The Reaction: OMG.  This story was so not written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and if he edited it, he did so very lightly indeed.  It has the ingredients of a John Carter story, but it lacks art.  It’s in the third person, so there’s no delightful John Carter internal dialogues.  The writing does a lot of little things ERB never does, and it’s just not as much fun.  It’s like fanfic written by an inexperienced writer for an inexperienced audience….  oh….


“Skeleton Men of Jupiter”

The Setting: Mars and, you guessed it, Jupiter

The Story: The skeleton men of Jupiter have conquered their own planet, and now they want to take over Mars, so they kidnap John Carter to make him tell them all his military secrets.  Needless to say, he refuses, Dejah Thoris gets kidnapped to Jupiter too.  There’s fighting and escaping and the ending is sort of up in the air.

The Science: In the story, Jupiter has an enormous surface lurking below the clouds.  The planet is lit and heated by constantly erupting volcanoes.  The gravity is actually less than that of Mars because of how fast the planet rotates.  All this is wrong, according to science.  Jupiter is actually a gas giant with little or no solid core and a gravity that would be about 2.4 times greater than that of earth.  But Burroughs heads this all off with John Carter spending a full page and a half talking about how fickle science is and how often he’s proved it wrong.  Good for a story, bad for science.

The Reaction: Just fun.  Especially after reading the prior story which was not much fun.  John Carter kicks ass and takes names, what more does a girl want?  I just wish that Burroughs had lived to finish writing the story.  The end is not really a satisfying ending – apparently this was supposed to be part of a story arc like that of Llana of Gathol.

The Cover: Cover art by Gino D’Achille.  Looks like we’ve got a planet, a snake dinosaur duck footed monster, Dejah Thoris, and John Carter.  John Carter, are you wearing socks with your sandals?  Tacky.  Also, I have no idea where that monster comes into play.  There were a couple random mentions of reptile monsters, so…  maybe?

Etc: Here ends the John Carter series.  And all I can see looming large in the future is Ray Bradbury, short story upon short story.

Next Up: “R is for Rocket” by Ray Bradbury.



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Llana of Gathol by Edgar Rice Burroughs

July 3, 2010

The Book:  Llana of Gathol by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Originally published as novelettes in Amazing Stories in 1941, they weren’t published as Llana of Gathol until 1948.  The edition read was published by Ballantine Books in 1974.

The Setting: Barsoom/Mars

The Story: John Carter wanders off and gets in trouble.  He discovers his granddaughter, the titular Llana of Gathol, is also in trouble.  So he rescues her and loses her a few times, makes friends in lots of places, makes enemies in more, and saves the world.  Pretty much, he fights and wins, gets captured, fights and wins, repeat.  Rollicking adventure all over the place.

The Science: Let’s see.  In this book we have an undead hypnotist who hypnotizes people to sleep, then eats them or doesn’t (and when the ones who’ve been “sleeping” for millions of years wake up, they crumble to dust within an hour); we have a machine which takes a full body imprint and then can be used to kill an imprinted individual anywhere at anytime; we have people being frozen for decades and then reanimated; and we have community that has developed pills which render them (and anything associated with them) invisible for a day.  And those are just the major plot points.  Let’s talk…  freezing.

Cryogenics or cryonics, the freezing the freshly-dead, is nothing new.  That happens a fair amount here on earth.  Not a lot, because it’s expensive and the freezer needs to be maintained indefinitely.  But it happens.  It’s that revival part that’s tricky.  Death causes tissue damage.  So does being frozen. And earth-science, it ain’t good enough to deal with that yet.  Cryonics continue to be one of those more crazy realms where you can go in one side, but you can’t get out the other.

The Reaction: I love John Carter narrating.  Burroughs is getting a little more playful here, and it makes it tons of fun to read, except for those parts where we go over the Martian clock, or their origin stories.  And, as silly as all those Martian names are, bonus points go to Gor-don for least creative Martian name, which in turns makes it extra silly.

The Cover: Cover art by Gino d’Achille.  I presume the cover scene is supposed to be the frozen warriors from part three of the book.  But that was in the frozen north, where it was snowy and cold and everyone was wearing appropriate outer gear and no one was holding a sword.  So I’ve got to give points off for inaccuracy.  Otherwise, it’s an adventure cover, whatcha gonna do?

Next Up: “-And He Built a Crooked House-” by Robert Heinlein

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Synthetic Men of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

June 24, 2010

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

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Swords of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

June 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.

The Science:

  • 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.

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Thuvia, Maid of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

May 26, 2010

Oops.  This should have been posted May 5th.  It was read in order.  Guess I didn’t hit publish.

The Book: Thuvia, Maid of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Originally published in 1916 as a serial, the edition read was published by Ballantine Books in 1976.

The Setting: MARS!  BARSOOM!  It’s the same place!

The Story: Carthoris, son of John Carter and Dejah Thoris, loves Thuvia, maid of Mars, who figured into the previous volume (Warlord of Mars).  But, alas!, she is betrothed to another.  And then she is kidnapped!  Carthoris seeks to rescue her, gets lost due to treachery, gets lucky and finds her again.  They find themselves at Castle Mindfuck (another undiscovered race, this time with vast mental powers) and, wouldn’t you know it?, in terrible danger.  But they get away, Thuvia gets herself kidnapped again, and Carthoris is in the right place at the right time and saves her.  Then he saves her fiance.  The fiance witnesses their superior love and releases Thuvia from the betrothal.  All is well with the world.

The Science: Two bits of science.

  • Autopilot.  Carthoris has developed a very clever and tamper-proof autopilot and obstruction detector device for his flying machine.  (Which, of course, is tampered with, sending him off on the story of the book.)  Autopilot, as we know today, exists!  And works!  “Obstruction detectors” exist as well, in the form of radar and what have you, but automatically avoiding those obstructions, as Carthoris’ device does, is something I don’t believe has been developed, at least not for commercial use.  So I think this was a pretty neat thing for Burroughs to develop.
  • MIND POWERS.  Carthoris and Thuvia encounter a fair skinned, auburn haired race of people who can conjure armies, food, pretty much anything by the power of their minds.  Not just phantoms, but physical beings which can fight wars and then dissipate when they are no longer needed.  Individuals of this race also can plant ideas in the minds of their enemies and effect mind control.  While I will not say that such a thing as telepathic mind control exists, it has certainly been a point of much interest throughout history.  The CIA was involved with mind control experiments, although maybe not in the way one might imagine initially.  So it’s a tantalizing idea, but one which science lacks evidence for.

The Reaction: A good story, but not as good as its predecessors.  The recipe is kind of the same.  True love + kidnapped love interest = high adventure.  This book suffers from a less distinct point of view.  It jumps between the view of several characters, sometimes confusing me, while the previous volumes had a single point of view.  Still, worth reading.  And the prose, while still fun, is not as fun as the last book.

The Cover: Cover art by Gino d’Achille.  Thuvia poses with a banth.  Well, we assume it’s a banth, since those are the beasts that Thuvia can magically control.  This beast doesn’t have enough legs, and it’s teeth are too thick.  But not bad all around.  Well done!

Etc: Special note on Planet Mindfuck.  A term which has evolved from watching a great deal of Star Trek and Doctor Who (yes, of course I’m that kind of nerd), both shows which frequently put their characters in situations explained by the presence of a GIANT BRAIN WHICH CONTROLS REALITY.  Or something.  Castle Mindfuck is a manifestation of Planet Mindfuck, just on a less than planetary scale.

Next Up: The Chessmen of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

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A Fighting Man of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

May 22, 2010

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.