Burroughs


The first book in the pulp adventure series set in Venus.


Publication year: 1932
Format: print
Page count: 183
Publisher: Del Ray (printed in 1991)

I’ve read more than a few Tarzan books, the first three Pellucidar books, and the Mars series in my youth, but this is the first time I read Burroughs’ Venus series. To my surprise, I found out that the first three Venus books have also been translated but in 1930s but there aren’t any reprints that I’m aware of. I’ve never seen the translations.

The book starts with Carson Napier contacting Burroughs himself. Carson is determined to travel to Mars in a rocket ship. In order to tell people on Earth about his adventures, Carson will keep in touch with his telepathic powers which he learned from a Hindu mystic. Carson also tells his life’s story to Burroughs. This ties the Venus series into the same world where the Tarzan and Pellucidar books happen.

Carson takes off in the rocket but the calculations were wrong and he ends up on Venus instead of Mars. There he encounters a human race which lives on gigantic trees. The humans call themselves Vepajans and they are a remnant of a once great race which invented immortality and made great technical strides. The men are armed at all times and seem to be fighting against the local animals. However, they also have human enemies and soon they capture Carson who has to find a way to escape.

The book contains many of Burroughs’ staples: a strange new world with humans who have different customs and cultures, strange beasts, and adventure. There is even a Princess whom Carson falls in love with and has to rescue. The story also contains political satire with the two human cultures: The Vepajan Empire had strict class distinctions (between merchants, wage earners, slaves, and brain workers) and even though the Vepajans claim that the classes didn’t interact at all, the empire was also so egalitarian that anyone (I presume anyone male) with sufficient skills and intelligence could rise to the thinking class of doctors and scientists. Yet, there were people who were unhappy with the empire and rose in rebellion. Their leader was Thor and so they’re called Thorans. The Vepajans are all beautiful or handsome and very courteous while the Thorans are often plain or ugly and insulting. The Thorans won and killed a lot of the Vepajans before the rest managed to escape.

The humans are now split into Vepajans and Thorans. The Vepajans still enjoy immortality and are almost free of disease but only half of the women are able to bear children. They don’t have slaves or servants; everyone is equal except for the king and his offspring who are almost revered. The Vepajans don’t have religion and when Carson tries to explain the concept to them, they find it ridiculous. In contrast, the current day Thorans are ignorant and weak willed people who are ruled by their former rebel leaders with an iron fist. The Thorans possess guns and ships which the Vepajans no longer have.

The locals again have just one language which, we are told, is a lot easier to learn than English. For example it doesn’t have irregular verbs. Therefore Carson is able to learn it in just three weeks.

Venus, or Amtor as the locals call it, has heavy cloud cover and the locals have never seen the sun, moon, or stars. The vegetation is gigantic and the climate is so warm that the locals need very little clothing.

Carson is an athlete but he isn’t a soldier and while he can fence he’s a novice and not the overwhelmingly skilled swordsman that John Carter is. But he’s a courageous, friendly man who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, as is usual for a Burroughs hero. His fair hair, blue eyes, and light skin marks him as different from the Venusian people.

The beginning of the story is a bit slow when Carson is told a lot about Amtor but after that the pace picks up. It’s the first book in the series and ends in a cliffhanger.

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The final Barsoom book.

Publication year: 1964
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1977
Format: print
Page count: 160
Publisher: Taikajousi
Finnish translator: Seppo Ilmari

The book is composed of two novellas: “John Carter and the Giant of Mars” and “The Skeleton Men of Jupiter”.

In the first novella, John and his wife Dejah Thoris are riding when their thoat is shot from under them and Dejah is kidnapped without a sound. John hurries back to Helium. Before Dejah’s grandfather Tadors Mors can organize a search party, he gets a ransom note. Pew Mogel wants Helium’s iron mines in exchange for Dejah’s safe return. John doesn’t agree with that and instead he sends Helium’s air fleet and Tars Tarkas’ green men all over Barsoom to look for her.

Then he gets a message from Tars to meet with him in an abandoned city. Unfortunately, this turns out to be a trap and a group of white apes attack him. This is unusual because the apes don’t really work together. Then a huge giant attacks. He’s about 40 meters tall.

In the second novella John himself is kidnapped by a red martian and a group of skeletal men who turn out to be from Jupiter. The skeleton-like men are called Morgor and they a race focused only on war. They have already conquered almost all of Jupiter and are now determined to conquer Mars as well. They know that Helium is the strongest nation and want John to betray them.

The first novella is written in third person which was a bit jarring to me. It’s fast-paced and has more large scale battles than usual in a Barsoom book but the only new thing it brings to the series are some really nasty beasts.

The second novella is again written from John’s first person POV and feels more like the previous Barsoom books. John is whisked to Jupiter which is as fantastic world as Barsoom; obviously it has breathable air and it’s warmed by lot of volcanos. The red light from the volcanos also color everything pink or red when outside. Also, the four moons make seas so turbulent that no-one can navigate them in a ship and they can be only crossed by flying. Also, clouds cover the planet constantly, so the people there have never seen the sun or stars. It’s always daytime on the planet. Also, most plants seem to be man-eating variety.

The most warlike people on Jupiter are the Morgor who look skeletal; their skin is a thin parchment over their bodies so even internal organs can be seen when they’re standing in front of light. They don’t have art and only use science for war. They are arrogant and brutal towards all other intelligent species whom they consider inferior to them. However, as usual, John encounters also new friends. This story has also more humor than the previous books.

Unfortunately, the latter story don’t have a real ending because it was intended as a start for John’s adventures on Jupiter.

11th book in the Barsoom series.

Publication year: 1941
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1976
Format: print
Page count: 268
Publisher: Taikajousi
Finnish translator: Seppo Ilmari

This story was published originally in four parts but they form a whole. Storywise, this feels like a culmination of many of the tropes Burroughs used in his earlier stories; they’re all used here. A kidnapped gorgeous woman, new cultures which have stayed hidden until now, the main character putting on some new leathers as a disguise, vile villains, and heroic heroes. Yup, it’s a Barsoom book!

The narrator is once again John Carter. He’s come to visit Edgar on Earth and tells him a story about Llana, his granddaughter, although she’s not the main character, John is. The story starts when John is looking for adventure and solitude. When he’s flying above Horz, one of the biggest dead cities of Mars, he sees a group of Tharks attacking a red man and he has to help. Together John and his new friend Pan Dan Chee kill all the Tharks. However, Horz isn’t dead after all: a hundred warriors come appear and take John captive.

It turns out that Pan Dan Chee and the other warriors from Horz aren’t red Martians but have white skin and blond hair. They are of the ancient Martian race which people think have died out. They have been hiding out in Hortz and don’t allow any outsider to live. Their jeddak is sad but resolute; he must condemn John to death and Pan Dan Chee, as well. They are sent to the old dungeons.

In their further adventures, John encounters his granddaughter Llana who was kidnapped by a too-eager suitor but escaped. Naturally, John tries to take her home to Gathol. This is, of course, not easy.

This is actually a pretty good representation of the Barsoom series, full of adventure. Apparently, these were written as a parody of Burroughs’ own previous works. It is quite remarkable how none of the bad guys recognize John even when he has shown his remarkable strength and fighting skills and even openly told people that he’s from Jasoom. Unfortunately, it also has the same problems as the previous books: very black and white world where the good are beautiful and the bad people are easy to recognize on sight. Good guys also get along very well. Enjoyable, if you like that sort of light reading.

Llana is actually pretty good female character even though not as independent as her mother Tara. But she doesn’t really have a chance to shine; most of the book she’s off-stage. We’re told that she’s good with the sword but she isn’t given a chance to use it.

The eighth book in the pulp series.

Publication year: 1935
Format: ebook from Gutenberg
Page count: 230

For the first time since the third book in the series, Warlord of Mars, John Carter is the main character. This time, he’s trying to stop the infamous Assassins’ Guild once and for all. His own agents haven’t been able to do much against the Zodangan Guild and so John himself goes there in order to destroy the assassins. He’s undercover as a masterless fighter called Vandor. However, once there, he becomes involved in a war between two mad scientists and eventually he has to undertake a journey to one of Mars’ moons.

The story is fast-paced and has a lot of coincidences at first. Almost immediately after John arrives to Zodanga he meets an assassin working for one of Assassins’ Guild’s biggest enemies, the mad scientist Fal Sivas. In addition to having made an enemy of the Guild, Fal Sivas also has a nemesis: Gal Nar who is also an inventor. They’ve both just constructed spacecrafts, for the first time on Barsoom. Fal Sivas is certain that Gal Nar has stolen or copied his invention. However, Fal Sivas is also fascinated with the human brain and researches it in gruesome ways with live humans (mostly kidnapped women or slaves). He’s also invented a metal brain which controls his spacecraft and only he can, in turn, control the metal brain. He needs only to think and the metal brain controls the craft.

I rather enjoyed having John back as the POV character but this wasn’t one of the best in the series. The book isn’t as imaginative as some of the others in the series but still a fast-paced adventure. However, it does have more fantastic elements than in the previous books, leaning more towards the fantasy side of science fantasy. Even John himself calls ”preposterous” the theory which explains why he and his comrades can have adventures in the small moon. The book also ends rather abruptly, like Burroughs ran out of word count. Also, the societies we encounter this time are rather standard ones. Also, two (more) women fall in love with John this time.

The book has two clearly different parts: first part’s set in Zodanga where John has to spy and maintain his cover identity as Vandor and the second part where his party has an urgent mission to complete. The intrigue part is quite different in tone from usual Barsoom adventures and possibly not what the reader is looking for. The second part is a more usual Barsoom adventure.

The seventh book in the pulp series.

Publication year: 1930
Format: ebook from Gutenberg
Page count: 226

A beautiful woman is kidnapped and a man in love with her chases her across the dying Barsoom.

The hero of this story is a red man, Tan Hadron of Hasron. He’s of proud lineage but poor and has fallen in love with a woman whose father is one of the richest men of Helium, if not all of Barsoom. However, Sanoma Tora doesn’t warm to Hadron but when she’s kidnapped, Hadron quickly commandeers a flying craft and pursues her. He knows that a jeddak from the far Jahar had sent a man to court Sanoma Tora and even though he has only the vaguest notion of where Jahar is, he races there. However, during his flight, the green martians shoot him down.

He hides in a deserted city but notices that the tharks have a prisoner, a red girl. Hadron decides to free her. She turns out to be Tavia, an escaped slave from Jahar. She tells him that the jeddak of Jahar is very suspicious of outsiders and so they go to Tjanath, Tavia’s home city, hoping to get aid there. Unfortunately, they are arrested as spies. Hadron is thrown into a cell together with a man from Jahar, Nur An. They are sentenced to the Death which starts their strange adventures.

The Barsoomian societies in this book aren’t as imaginative as in some of the previous books. Both Jahar and Tjanath are scared of outsiders and very isolationist. Tul Axtar, the jeddak of Jahar, wants to conquer all of Barsoom and in order to do that, he had encouraged the women in his lands to produce a lot of warriors and he had also built a lot of ships. The only thing that’s standing in his way is his cowardice. However, he also has some mad science on his side: his mad genius had invented three rays; one of them can disintegrate wood, one metal, and one human flesh. But in his paranoia Tul Axtar has exiled the scientist. Also, Jahar’s lands are now so populated that the people are starving and turning into savages.

Hadron and Nur An encounter the genius; this time he has invented invisibility scientifically. It’s a liquid and even planes can be simply painted invisible.

Tavia was a pleasant surprise; I didn’t remember her at all. When we first meet her, she’s described as ”looking like a man” instead of the incredible beauty all the other women possess. She’s also quite smart and cool-headed and fights side-by-side with Hadron. On the other hand, she constantly belittles herself and calls herself ”just a slave girl”. Hadron’s lady love might be considered as a social critique (when the only ”career” a woman can have is marrying well… people shouldn’t be surprised when that’s her goal) but probably isn’t.

A fast-paced pulp adventure but IMHO not the best of the series.

Sixth book in the series. Mad science on Barsoom!

Publication year: 1927
Format: ebook from Gutenberg
Page count: 145

It’s a Barsoom book where the intrepid hero and his group of mismatched allies run around Mars to save the heroine, the most beautiful girl on the planet. What more do you need to know?

This time the hero is a US army officer Ulysses Paxton who is wounded grievously in WWI. He’s read about John Carter and a fan of his, so he delighted when he wakes up in Mars. He writes a letter to Burroughs from Mars and tells about his adventures.

Paxton woke up in the company of Ras Thavas, Barsoom’s greatest scientist and surgeon. After the initial confusion is cleared out and Paxton saves old Ras Thavas from the hands of an assassin, the surgeon teaches the Earth man Barsoom’s language and even takes him as an apprentice and a bodyguard. Paxton is at first horrified when he witnesses Ras Thavas at work because he can change a human brain to another body. His patrons are rich people who want young and beautiful bodies for themselves. Ras Thavas had bought beautiful slaves and the bodies of the recently dead whom he can repair so well that they can be brought back to life. Paxton witnesses Ras Thavas put an ugly old woman’s brain into the body of a young and beautiful woman, and he is very attracted to the young body. Later, Ras Thavas revives the old body who now contains the brain and mind of the young woman, Valla Dia. Paxton talks a lot with her and falls in love with her. He concocts a plan to retrieve her rightful body, which is now used by Xaxa, a cruel jeddara who rules her own city state, so the task isn’t easy.

To help him, Paxton recruits three other men: a man who was betrayed by Xaxa and is now in another man’s body, an assassin, and a man whose brain is now in the body of a ferocious white ape.

Burroughs criticizes religion quite a lot in the story and uses religion as a plot device, too. This time we’re introduced to a city where Issus wasn’t worshiped. Instead, Phuandal’s citizens worship Turgan. They chant out words which they don’t know and it’s heresy to ask what they mean and their religion teaches that certain scientific principles don’t exist, so the worshipers can’t acknowledge them (like basic human biology). Also, their gullibility is used as a plot point.

While the worshipers of Turgan are said to be overly emotional, the citizens of a neighboring city of Toonol, and Ras Thavas himself, is said to be overly rational. Thavas has no problem swapping people’s bodies because he needs the money to continue his scientific experiments. However, he knows that his own slaves and helps hate him, so he can’t trust any of them. Paxton is the only one he trusts.

Once again, the narrator prefers a balance of both rather than an extreme in either, just like in ”Thuvia, Maid of Mars”.

I’m a bit troubled that both women of power which we’ve seen in this series have been ugly and evil: Issus and Xaxa. Yes, the books need villains but they have plenty of male jed and jeddaks who are heroic in addition to the villainous males. The ”good” women don’t seem to have any power at all and are stunningly beautiful. We don’t see much of Valla Dia but she seems rather intelligent and even refuses to have any other body than her own because she doesn’t want to steal one from another and also because Ras Thavas could sell it anyway any time he wants to.

This was another very enjoyable science fantasy adventure. The swapping of brains was almost as creepy as the races in ”Thuvia” were one race was a head another was the body. However, the start of the tale is quite a bit slower than in the previous books.

The fifth book in the Barsoom series.

Publication year: 1922
Format: an ebook from project Gutenberg
Page count: not in a Kindle book

This was one of my favorite Barsoom books when I first read them as a teenager. Alas, I can’t reread it without any knowledge of what the book contains but it still ended up as one of my favorites because of two elements: the strange species and customs of the enemy peoples and Tara.

The book starts with John Carter visiting the author. Supposedly, John has now learned to travel between Mars and Earth at will. He tells Edgar about his daughter’s adventures. Two young people adventure in lands not well-known to Helium encountering wicked villains, steadfast friends, and strange places and people. It’s a Barsoom book, alright.

Tara is Dejah’s and John’s daughter and she has always known that she’s going to marry the son of her father’s great friend, Kantos Kan. Tara doesn’t love the young Djor Kantos but when Djor starts to pay a lot of attention to another woman, Tara becomes jealous. She also meet Gahan, the jed of far Gathol at her father’s party. Gahan is instantly smitten with her and declares his love for her. She, however, isn’t impressed. In fact, she’s so furious that she leaves the party and in the morning, she flies her one-man flier into a storm. At first, it’s just an exciting adventure, but she soon realizes that she’s caught in a terrible storm which whisks her away into a strange land. Without any food or water, she’s in a bad situation.

Fortunately, she’s a resourceful woman and at first she manages to hide for a while but soon she’s captured by strange creatures called kaldanes. Unfortunately, the kaldanes eat only meat and so they intend to fatten Tara and eat her. The kaldanes practically worship intelligence to the point that they don’t even have much emotions anymore. However, Tara manages to charm one of them, Ghek, with her sweet singing. She’s kept a prisoner for weeks. Then she tries to escape but doesn’t succeed.

Meanwhile, Gahan takes his own vessel into the storm and tries to find her. However, the vessel is caught in the same storm and Gahan goes overboard. After wandering around for weeks, he ends up near the place where Tara is imprisoned. Tara, Gahan, and Ghek manage to escape but end up in another strange city, Manador. Tara doesn’t recognize Gahan so he calls himself Turan, a soldier of fortune so that she wouldn’t be uncomfortable.

Tara gets to do lot more than Burroughs’ usual women, most likely because for most of the book she adventures alone. Even after Gahan finds her, they’re kept apart most of the time. Although she still is captured and imprisoned a lot. However, she’s quite selfless, thinking of the worry she has caused to her parents and others, and as duty bound as the rest of the (good) Martians. She also doesn’t hesitate to use her slim blade on others. It’s also said a couple of times in the book that John has taught her to use a sword. So, it’s frustrating that she isn’t allowed to use her skills, even when she could have just snapped up a weapon and used it. She just her knowledge to judge the fighting skills of the men.

Once again, I loved the eerie Kaldanes and the Rykors. Kaldenes are essentially brains with spiderlike legs and crablike pincers. They live below ground and have a loathing for sun and fresh air. Much like the Lotharians in the previous book, they love intelligence to the exclusion of everything else. However, the Kaldenes have taken it even further: their aim is to produce a pure brain which will alone survive the dying Mars. Their servants are the Rykors, people who are flawless Red Martians except that they don’t have heads. Instead, the Kaldanes attach themselves to the Rykors and use them as bodies. Alone, the Rykors don’t seem to be sentient and without a Rykor, it’s hard for a Kaldane to survive above ground. I used to have nightmares about these and they’re still mightily impressive. Also, John describes the Kaldene rulers as very similar to queen bees; they lay the eggs from which all of the others hatch from but they don’t have drones. Essentially, they seem to be hermaphrodite queen bees. John insist on calling them kings and using the male pronoun for them. In a society which literally doesn’t have biological sex and neither social gender. The Kaldanes also use male and female Rykors for the same jobs equally.

In contrast, mostly the culture of Manator isn’t very different from the other evil cultures we’ve seen in previous books. Indeed, their arrogance and tendency to capture slaves from nearby cities (including Gathol) seems quite similar to the way that the Black Martians lived. However, as a teenager I was fascinated by the idea of playing chess (or jetan in this case) with living pieces where the pieces had to battle each other. It’s still a great idea but I was a bit disappointed when I found out how little time was actually devoted to the living chess games. (Now I want to get a computer game where the chess piece battle each other. Surely there must be some?)

Gahan is a stalwart hero, not really different from other heroes. In fact, Ghek was more interesting to me, although “he” seems similar to other strange culture sidekicks Burroughs’ heroes seem to collect.

Despite slight frustrations and disappointments, this is still one of my favorite Barsoom books.

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