Saturday, February 25, 2012

Book Review: Under the Moons of Mars


I had hoped to have this done sooner but now it is. So how are the "New Adventures on Barsoom" you ask? Well let's dive in and see...

After a brief forward by author Tamora Pierce and an introduction by editor John Joseph Adams, the book starts off with a bang with Joe R. Lansdale's "The Metal Men of Mars." While out looking for some adventure, John Carter suddenly finds himself facing a new threat to Barsoom-metallic men and their crazed inventor Odar Rukk-and it's up to him and some captives to prevent Rukk's grand scheme to conquer Barsoom. It's a fun story, similar to Llana of Gathol and a great way to kick off the collection.

The next few stories though were a little more uneven."Three Deaths" by David Barr Kirtley is the first of a few stories following individual Warhoons-in this case Ghar Han who is deprived of two of his arms and vows vengeance against the man responsible-John Carter. It's OK but shows why Burroughs didn't spend much time on them as they're pretty one note here. The biggest disappointment-and the one I was surprised with-was "The Ape-Man of Mars" by fantasy and sci-fi writer Peter S. Beagle (who was behind the classic The Last Unicorn). As you can tell the story finds Tarzan landing on Barsoom only to meet a rather unlikable John Carter-who spends most of it berating Tarzan for the British's pulling out of helping the South in the Civil War-and Dejah Thoris. The problem I had was John Carter was just unlikable from beginning to end while the story has Tarzan and Dejah flirting with each other-something out of character for both. Throw in a scene where Tarzan gets the Great White Apes to the "dum dum" dance and I was ready to move on.

Our next story, "A Tinker of Barsoom" by Tobias S. Buckell, returns us back to the Warhoons-in this case Kaz, the title character. When his skills are called for to open a strange structure, his explosive causes much damage inside-and the beginning of the loss of air on Barsoom. Yep this is the explanation for the Atmosphere Plant's failure at the end of A Princess of Mars. Like "Three Deaths" the Warhoons are pretty one note but it's still an interesting read-especially for how it ties into Burrough's narrative. Things begin to pick up a bit with "Vengeance of Mars" by Robin Wasserman which fills in the story of Sarkoja after leaving the Tharks at the end of Princess. Here we find her growing an army of Thark hatchlings and revenge seeking Zodangans as she prepares to destroy John and Tars Tarkas. While it has some hitches it still manages to be an entertaining story.

Like "Tinker," "Woola's Song" by Theodora Goss works around the narrative of Princess as we follow Woola from his birth-yes we hear about his mother and siblings-to his meeting and treatment by the Tharks and Sola's care for him before he is assigned to guard John Carter and then Dejah Thoris. Admittedly I would have liked to have had more time with Woola before he meets John or possibly later and see what Woola was doing in the time between Princess and The Gods of Mars but still anything that gives our favorite Calot his time in the sun is OK by me. The next story "The River Gods of Mars" by Austin Grossman finds John Carter returning from Jasoom after a long period-in fact it's the 1970s-only to find both Helium and the Tharks in search of a fallen object-one that could change the outcome and destiny of the entire planet. Grossman tells a good story, working in our modern knowledge of Mars within Burroughs and leaves us with an ambigous ending for Barsoom and John Carter.

And we're still going. Written by LE. Modesitt Jr., "The Bronze Man of Mars" is the first of two stories following the offspring of Llana of Gathol and Pan Dan Chee. In this case it's Dan Lan Chee-the Bronze Man of the title-who decides in order to win the hand of the haughty Jasras Kan to venture to Horz and find the ancient devices of Lum Tar O, which includes the ability to preserve people for thousands of years. Once there he finds some awakened-and ticked off-Orovars and the beautiful Princess Cynthara. Again it's an OK story that is very similiar to A Fighting Man of Mars in it's basic plot. Moving from Llana's son we move to her mother for the next story, Genevieve Valentine's "A Game of Mars" which follows Tara of Helium as she must return to Manator and the land of the Kaldanes to rescue her brother and his wife from their deadly Jetan matches. While the setup is pretty good I was a little confused-did the Kaldanes take over Manator after The Chessmen of Mars? Otherwise it had some good action pieces and gave Tara her chance in the son. Unfortunately things go down with "A Sidekick of Mars" by Garth Nix. Like "Ape Man of Mars" it follows another Earthman on Mars-Union soldier Lam Jones-who arrives on Barsoom and basically finds John Carter to be a jerk. Nothing more to the story really other than Jones' complaining.

After that though comes what are the the two best stories of the book: We kick that off with "The Ghost that Haunts the Superstition Mountains" by Chris Claremont (who fans will remember wrote several issues of Marvel's John Carter, Warlord of Mars series in the 1970s) and it takes Burroughs' concept and goes in reverse-John, Dejah and Tars Tarkas are now on Earth and have made friends with both Cochise-yes THE Cochise-and US Army Scout Tom Jeffords. In this tale our heroes discover that a Barsoomian has possibly been living on Earth for decades and now has the power and materials to bring Barsoom's massive war machines to life and put the Earth in danger! Written with respect for the characters, I really loved this story and how it tied in the narrative to real history. The only disappointment-it ends with a cliffhanger! I hope there is another collection just to get to see the conclusion.

Equalling Claremont's story is SM Stirling's "The Jasoom Project" which finds that other offspring of Llana's Prince Jalvar on his own adventure. With his Thark friend Tars Sojat-yep the grandson of Tars Tarkas-the two attempt to find Ras Thavas, only to discover a plot by radical Zodangans to destroy Helium and John Carter. And that's only the tip of the iceberg. Stirling has fun with this one, playing up everything from Ras Thavas' original past time to working in the plots of The Moon Maid and The Moon Men into the narrative. And a surprise cameo at the end that I won't spoil.

The last two stories don't match the previous two but are still fun. "Coming of Age on Barsoom" by Catherynne M. Valente follows the tale of Falm Rojut, a disgusted Thark who breaks ties with his kind after John Carter arrives and changes their ways. It does present an interesting twist on the story of the Tharks that doesn't overstay it's welcome. The last story, Jonathan Maberry's "The Death Song of Dwar Guntha" finds Barsoom on the verge of peace. With a group of pirates standing between it, a small group of warriors led by aging swordsmen Dwar Guntha and Jeks Toron attempt to hold out until John Carter arrives with his ships. It's a touching story of aging warriors going once more into the breach and the way history remembers them.

I know this was a long one. There was so many stories to work through, all of them taking different approaches to the world of Barsoom, some really great, some not. In all though I did get the feeling that each author wanted to honor Burroughs and his creation and attempt to do something unique. Some of them-like Landsdale, Claremont and Stirling-delivered big time. And that might make this book worth getting, even for the lesser stories.

I also have to mention the artwork. Each story has artwork by a variety of different artists-including old pros like Michael Kaluta-that are a nice touch to each story.

So to wrap up, Under the Moons of Mars: New Adventures on Barsoom is an interesting collection that fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs will enjoy, debate and have a lot of fun with. So give it a chance. Rating for the entire book: ***1/2 out 4.

1 comment:

THULL said...

I just finished reading "Ape-Man of Mars." It was so bad it pissed me off. It's like the author had never read an ERB book or had any idea who JC was. Everything about it was wrong and out of character - JC came off as as petty fool. Horrible. Hopefully this isn't some readers introduction to the world of JC.