Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Book Review: The Swordsman of Mars

Another version of Mars then? Okay.

Harry Thorne is the outcast son of a wealthy East Coast family. His fiancee has just eloped and he's about to end his life when a old man approaches him with an interesting offer. The man, Professor Morgan has developed a way using astral projection to switch bodies with men from Mars. His first attempt however has caused a problem as the person, Frank Boyd has allied himself with a group plotting to take over the red planet. Thorne agrees to help and switches bodies with Borgen Takkar, the Sheb of the Takkar kingdom. Once there Thorne has to avoid Boyd, now called Sel Han, the Ma Gongi, a race that used to live on our Moon and the new Dixtar (or ruler of Mars) Irintz Tel. Of course there is battles, two beautiful women-Thaine the daughter of the former Dixtar and Neva, Tel's troublesome offspring, and a final confrontation by our hero. And at one point a flower pot attacks him.

As mentioned in the opening essay of the edition put out by Planet Stories by writer Michael Moorcock, Swordsman author Otis Adelbert Kline is probably known if it all as a former editor of Weird Tales magazine and as the agent of Robert E. Howard. His other reputation is apparently as competition to Edgar Rice Burroughs. Indeed Kline had created Jan of the Jungle (a Tarzan clone) and a series set on Venus. Burroughs replied by creating Carson Napier of Venus and then Kline headed towards the red planet. Only two books were ever written though-this one and The Outlaws of Mars.

As a writer Kline is pretty good, but not up to Burroughs or his famous client. Indeed Swordsman gets bogged down in some cases with Star Trek-like techno babble. His planet also lacks many alien lifeforms, except for a race of little people called the Ulfs. In one sequence Thorne does rescue the life of the Ulf king's daughter Erine and she gives him a magic ring (wonder if Tolkien ever read this). Where the book does succeed is in grounding Thorne as a normal person-no superpowers, he gets clumsy with the Martian gear he is given and almost dies. Also refreshing is the portrayal of the female characters. Thaine is a trained warrior and Neva is a femme fatale in the best sense. Rating: *** out of 4

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