Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Review: City of the Beast AKA Warriors of Mars

It's been a while since I've reviewed a book on here so here's another look at Mars in all of it's sword swinging glory...

While vacationing on the coast of Nice, writer Edward P. Bradbury meets a strange American at a local cafe named Michael Kane. As the two talk Kane reveals a little about his past-in particular his work at the Chicago Special Research Institute on a matter transmitter device that could send objects from one place to another. After much testing Kane decides to test the device on a human subject and volunteers for the job. But instead of arriving at the test site he finds himself in a strange land. He soon discovers that he has been sent to Mars thousands of years before life even showed up on the Earth! While there he meets the beautiful princess Shizala who is currently leading her people in the country of Varnal after her father had disappeared while leading a fight against the Argzoon, vicious blue giants who take no prisoners. And it isn't too long before the Argzoon return, leading an assault on Varnal and placing Michael and Shizala in an adventure that both might not survive...

Published in 1965 under the original title Warriors of Mars (which I actually like better) this was Michael Moorcock's entry into sword and planet genre after having published the first books in the Elric of Melnibone cycle. And Moorcock wastes no time hooking the reader into the adventure, providing a brief background on our hero-a Vietnam vet with science and fencing skills-and dropping him into an unknown world filled with deadly beasts and beautiful women. Of course like most books in the genre there are the standard cliffhangers-being buried alive, a fight with the leader of the Argzoon and the final fight with the Beast itself. There is also a femme fatale, a traitorous prince, clothing optional Martians (always welcome!) and more sword fights that truly marks this as what they used to call a ripping yarn.

There are also some nice touches along the way that plays against the standard traditions. The first creature Michael meets when he lands on Vashu (as Mars is referred to) is ultimately docile and his first contact with a human is Shizala. The blue giants are also portrayed as creatures who are out for themselves and turn and run once the battle is lost-no code of honor like the Tharks. Also the book employs more scientific devices to give it a more "real" quality-from the matter transmitter to a device that allows Michael to learn to speak the Vashu language. And Moorcock carries his love of past authors-especially those who wrote about Mars before-well, from a dedication to both Edgar Rice Burroughs and HG Wells to the pseudonym he published the book under. The only fault is that it leaves you with a cliffhanger at the end so you'll need the second and third book in this series. But that isn't a bad thing.

In the end fans of sword and planet adventures will probably enjoy this. It doesn't have the richness of Elric or some of Moorcock's other works but that wasn't his aim I feel. It was just to deliver a fun adventure novel and he delivers big time. Rating: ***1/2 out of 4.

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