Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Review: Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs

This might be a long review, so you guys might want to take a break at some point.

Remembering how hard it was to review last year's Under the Moons of Mars anthology, I thought it would be best just to run off the stories I thought were the best, the worst and some brief comments on the ones left. Let me say though as a collection of stories inspired by the genius of ERB it's a commendable book, filled with fun-for the most part-stories all written by writers trying to recapture the spirit of Burroughs' work. Some succeed and some well don't. So which ones did the best? Here's my picks for the top three stories:

1. "The Forgotten Sea of Mars" by Mike Resnick. Yep the oldest story in the book is the one that does it best. As mentioned in the brief intro before the story starts, a previous contractual agreement prevented any new Barsoom stories (thanks Disney) but Resnick and co-editor Bob Garcia were able to include this one since it had been published before. Written in 1965, "Forgotten Sea" picks up where Llana of Gathol left off as John Carter launches a search to find Tan Hadron of Hastor, who was last seen still on board the Dusar when the crew mutinied and turned towards Pankor. Carter's search leads him to a still active and vengeful Hin Abtol and his mad scheme to conquer Barsoom. Resnick delivers a rousing story filled with enough action and Burroughs-like touches (especially the Chamber of Madness) that any fan should just pick this book up for this one story.

2. "The Dead World" by Paul F. Wilson. Wilson returns us to Pellucidar for this yarn, a good ripping tale in which David Innes and Abner Perry have to solve the mystery of a fallen object that unleashes a deadly vine that threatens to wipe out life in Pellucidar. Their quest leads them to the moon of Pellucidar and a shocking secret. While it takes a turn for the bizarre near the end it's still a good fast past tale and Wilson manages to keep the story flowing through its 40 page length.

3. "Apache Lawman" by Ralph Roberts. Instead of an alien world we head to another frontier, the old west for this continuation of the story of Shoz-Dijiji and his love Wichita Billings in this tale. Picking up where Burroughs' Apache Devil left off, the couple are trying to adjust to life when Shoz accepts an offer to become a deputy Marshal for the Arizona Territory. This brings him into conflict with his past life and "Death Bringer" in a final stand off. While it might seem jarring to have a western in this collection of scifi and fantasy tales, Roberts manages to craft a compelling tale that also reminds us of Burroughs' range of stories and the different genres he tackled in his life.

Honorable mentions also go to Peter David's "Moon Maid over Manhattan" (which brings us back to Julian 5th and Princess Nah-ee-Lah), "The Two Billys" by Max Allan Collins and Matthew Clemons (which picks up with Mucker Billy Byrne being drawn back into the world of his love Barbara Harding) and Mercedes Lackey's "The Fallen: A Tale of Pellucidar (which tells the tale of Mok the Sagoth).

As for Tarzan? Well he gets three adventures that pit him against spies, aliens and. The first one, Kristine Kathryn Rusch's "Tarzan and the Great War" is a fast-paced tale picking up after Tarzan the Untamed as Tarzan finds himself drawn into a tale involving his past and a spy ring that needs to be busted up. Kevin J. Anderson and Sarah J. Hoyt's "Tarzan and the Martian Invaders" pits Tarzan against an alien invasion from another Mars that could put an end to human life as we know it. It's a fun tale that owes a bit to both Burroughs and HG Wells. Finally Joe Landsdale returns to the jungle with "Tarzan and the Land That Time Forgot" as Tarzan, returning from Pellucidar, crash lands into Caprona. It's a cool story filled with enough action to fill out several stories.

So that leaves the worst-or rather the most disappointing I felt. The big one is "Scorpion Men of Venus" by Richard Lupoff, which starts out as another adventure for Carson Napier and Duare but ends with the biggest slap in the face ending I've read in a long time. The sad thing is that it has an interesting premise and that it comes from Lupoff, one of the leading scholars of Burroughs but that ending just undoes everything and shows almost a contempt for the characters Burroughs created similar to Andrew Stanton and his bunch. This one almost made me want to throw the book across the room, if you know what I mean. The other disappointment is "To the Nearest Planet" by Todd McCaffrey, which returns us to Tangor and Polada. Unfortunately it takes a cool premise and meanders through its 50 plus pages until it also delivers an unsatisfactory ending similar to "Scorpion Men."

If you're still with me the question now is this book worth picking up? Definitely for fans who love Burroughs and fun adventure fiction. The best of this collection are fun exciting stories that honor Burroughs and his work and they are worth reading. The worst, well you can skip them or read them and let me know if I'm wrong in my thoughts. Otherwise it is a strong selection and I hope to see more in the future. So pick it up and let us know what you think either in the comments section. Until next time, Kaor!

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