Thursday, April 25, 2013

Collected John Carter of Mars - Volume Three

Last week, I finished reading Volume Three of the Collected John Carter of Mars, which contains four stories: Swords of Mars,  Synthetic Men of Mars,  Llana of Gathol,  Skeleton Men of Jupiter, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and a further story, John Carter and the Giant of Mars credited to him, but clearly written by someone else [supposedly by his son].  (Also see my post discussing Volume One, and the one discussing  Volume Two).

Swords of Mars features John Carter infiltrating Zodanga as part of his campaign against the Assassins guild.  There he works for a scientist who is building a ship to travel to the martian moon Thuria, while by night he thwarts the attempts of the assassins guild to kill him.  Deja Thoris is again kidnapped, and is taken to Thuria in an attempt to keep her from John Carter and the Heliumite fleet.  Carter of course pursues to Thuria, there are subsequent adventures, and they return to Mars.  Marred somewhat by an abrupt end, this story was still interesting because of the development of the space ships and the parts of the novel that involve John Carter sneaking about Zodanga, spying on and ambushing the various assassins sent against him.

Synthetic Men of Mars is a story that concerns the actions of Ras Thavas, the Master Mind of Mars, and his ability to create life from vats.  In the natural course of things, the life he creates is both repulsive and revolts against his control, so instead of creating a superior race of being as he hoped, he is forced by these synthetic men to produce massive armies of hideous hormads, with the idea that they will take over the whole world.  Vor Daj, the hero of this story, has his brain transferred into the body of a hormad, and works within the polity the synthetic men have created to liberate the captives and collapse the imperial ambitions of the hormads.  This story also introduces the malagor, a previously extinct giant bird creature, which the hormads use to transverse the swamps. 

Synthetic Men of Mars would be very interesting to use as the basis of a D&D campaign, as you could have the players transferred into the bodies of the "monsters" and work within to effect change in the direction of the an invasion for example.  There also exist perfect miniatures for the hormads, although I believe unintentionally.

A couple of leather straps, and some moved ears, and bam! Hormads!
Llana of Gathol features the adventures of John Carter in trying to recover the titular Llana, his grand daughter, in four shorter linked stories. As is common in ERB stories, Llana is the object of obsession by a number of uncouth folks, who kidnap her, leading to adventures.  She and her grandfather encounter the long thought extinct white men of mars, the piratical black men of mars, invisible men of mars, and the yellow men of mars, the leader of whom started this problem in the first place.  This story introduces some details about the functioning of the martian navies, invisibility pills, and the concept of freezing soldiers for storage until they are needed.

Skeleton Men of Jupiter is a short story where in John Carter is kidnapped and taken to Jupiter in an effort to make him divulge the military secrets of Helium.  There he leads a slave revolt against the titular skeleton men, and has a few adventures under the ever red skys of Jupiter.  (Jupiter is lit by ever burning red volcanoes, and the gravity issue is negated "by the high rotation at the equator") Wikipedia says that it was intended to be part of a series of linked adventures as in Llana of Gathol, but ERB did not complete the later pieces before his death.

John Carter and the Giant of Mars is a terrible story that has a number of errors, both in regards to physics, and with the Barsoom setting.  The red martians suddenly have radio, airplanes, parachutes, machine guns, and other earth technologies, while at the same time are unable to use any of these to any degree in order to advance the "plot".  This story was so poor it put me off the whole book, and I nearly did not finish.  According to Wikipedia, the thought is that it was written by ERB's son, which should be no excuse for its quality. I advise you to skip it completely.

In any case I have enjoyed reading the Barsoom books, so much so that I have requested the first of the Venus books from the library as well.

I already finished reading another Martian story (of sorts), the graphic novel Scarlet Traces, about a post Martian invasion England.  The story was somewhat interesting, but it did not really spark any ideas for gaming or figure conversions.  Next up is Monster Manual II.

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