Friday, April 12, 2013

Book Review: Tarzan on Mars

I had planned to post this earlier but with the recent Tarzan movie news this got bumped. So finally, here are my thoughts on what was supposed to be the historic first meeting of the two JCs…

With World War II on the horizon Tarzan is having the usual problem, La. In this case as usual she’s rejecting her ugly suitor Cadj and wondering why Tarzan prefers Jane to her (and many fans wonder as well). But before you can say well whatever that silly phrase was in John Carter, La disappears. When Tarzan investigates he finds a diadem as the only possible clue to her whereabouts. Giving the item to Jane, she also vanishes. Eventually though Tarzan discovers the truth: The diadem is the Great Star of Issus, the Barsoomian Goddess, which means Tarzan has to get his ass to Mars, pronto! Or after he spends seven years in service to England and then spending his fortune to build a rocket ship to get him there, but pronto!

Meanwhile things on Barsoom are not rosy. The Lotharian Jeddak Tario, discovering that his race is not alone on Barsoom decides he’s going to conquer the planet. Pulling together the disparate remains of the Therns and the First Born as well as the Zumorians, a race of seers to help in his mad scheme, Tario plans his conquest His plan you ask? To produce the “real” Issus and lead a holy war against John Carter, the Warlord of Barsoom. When Carter finds out he sends Kar Komak, the Lotharian bowman made real to infiltrate the stronghold in Taranth. But Tario ends up producing two Issus-La and Jane! With La placed in hiding and Jane’s being mind controlled, he is ready to proclaim himself Tharos Pthan, mate of Issus. But when Jane speaks that her true mate will come from another world, little does Tario or anyone know who shows up. His name is Lord Greystoke, Tarzan of the Apes, ready to kick ass and chew bubble gum. And he’s out of gum.

I had already covered the origin of this “book” a few months back but for those who missed that a brief recap: Written in 1954 by writer Stuart J. Byrne under the pen name “John Bloodstone,” Tarzan on Mars was an attempt by Amazing Stories editor Ray Palmer to continue Edgar Rice Burroughs’ characters. It was never published though as the Burroughs estate blocked it but over the years rumors of it leaked out and eventually it leaked out. So was it worth the wait?

Well yes and no. In some respects it’s a fun piece of fan fiction but in other cases it really falls short. First the bad stuff: Byrne/Bloodstone is not Burroughs as he drags out the narrative to the point of exhaustion. While the opening setup with Tarzan is a nice throwback to the characters, after Tarzan takes off he disappears for a long stretch. That would be fine except Byrne fills up page after page with Tario and his compatriots bickering over their plans, Issus and what not or Kar Komak wandering around and making questionable decisions. In one chapter after learning of the bad guys’ plans he escapes but instead of going straight to Helium he takes a side trip to Lothar. Granted he finds La but still. Also those wanting to see the Warlord in action well forget it. John Carter appears briefly in the beginning and doesn’t reappear until the very end during the big battle sequence.

It’s not to say there isn’t some fun stuff in Tarzan on Mars and Byrne does bring up some interesting plot twists, most notably with his handling of La. Convincing several that she is the real Issus, she ends up taking over the latter section of the book as she rallies her own army and leads them to get rid of the false Issus (who after all is standing in her way to getting Tarzan). Byrne also throws in cameos from several characters-from Korak and Merriem to Vad Varo and Carthoris-that it becomes a “Where’s Waldo” grab bag. The final assault on the Holy Alliance’s compound is also a well-written sequence that while it falls short of say the Valley Dor battle in The Gods of Mars it still provides a needed boost.

Which is good considering what happens next (SPOILER ALERT). There is no conclusion! In a note attached Byrne suggested to Palmer one of two scenarios: He could either wrap up the story in a few chapters, have Tarzan find Jane, La find love with Kar Komak and have her egg and Carthoris could come up with a way to get Tarzan and Jane back to Earth. Or he could end with a cliffhanger and have the Therns and First Born escape Barsoom and head to another planet, setting up Tarzan on Venus. (And I guess a third one would be Tarzan Beyond the Farthest Star or Tarzan and the Moon Men). This lack of wrap up is frustrating but oh well.

Is Tarzan on Mars worth reading? I would say yes for its historical value and as I said a piece of fan fiction. Does it equal the best of Burroughs? Not by a long shot. Maybe at some point someone else will pen the ultimate Tarzan meets John Carter tale but for now this is what we got. Rating (historical/entertainment value) ***/**1/2 out of 4.

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