Just for Fun2 014


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.

The fourth book in the Barsoom series

Publication year: 1916
Format: print and an ebook from project Gutenberg
Page count: 152 + a glossary
Publisher: Del Ray

The fourth book in the Barsoom series follows the same basic formula as the previous books: a fighting man following his kidnapped lady love all over Mars and encountering wicked villains, steadfast friends, and strange places and people. Do you need to know more? 🙂

This time the main character is Carthoris, John’s and Dejah’s son, and the tale is told in third person. The titular Thuvia is also a point-of-view character but she has far less screen time than Carthoris. She was introduced in the previous book, just like Carthoris. She helped John escape from the land of the dead by commanding the fierce Barsoomian lions, the baths. She’s also the princess of Ptarth.

Carthoris is in love with Thuvia and apparently he started to woo her at the end of Warlord of Mars, but he didn’t make his intensions clear and so Thuvia’s father promised her to his heroic friend and ally, the Jeddak of Kaol, Kulan Tith. Since Thuvia is honorable to a fault, she honors her father’s promise and spurns Carthoris. He returns to Helium with a heavy heart. However, another man is also determined to have Thuvia: Astok, Prince of Dusar. He kidnaps Thuvia, but is cunning enough to lay the blame on Carthoris. He has also sabotaged Carthoris’ compass so that Carthoris disappears around the same time as Thuvia and can’t defend himself against accusations.

Both Thuvia and Carthoris end up in the ruins of the ancient city of Aanthor in an unexplored (by red men) part of Mars. There, they encounter the Lotharians who have focused on their mind in order to survive. They can create fearsome bowmen and even food with their minds alone. However, they are constantly besieged by the green Martians and so they’ve come to believe that they are the only civilized people alive on Mars. They have hard time believing that Carthoris and Thuvia are even real. Oh, and all the Lothrian women and children are dead so it’s literally a society of very long-lived adult males. Their jeddak has forbidden them to conjure images of women or children. They have two factions: the realists who believe that they need to imagine meals in order to continue living and the etherealists who don’t even image meals anymore. Both stay alive.

The device that Carthoris has developed is quite ingenious considering the time the book was written. It’s essentially an automated pilot and it can also sense when some obstacle is near and goes around it.

This is another fun romp and I think that Thuvia is slightly less passive a heroine than Dejah. Thuvia commands the banths and she even uses her dagger to defend herself. Of course, a modern reader can find lots of objectionable things in this series.

A historical mystery set in the city of Akhetaten.

Publication year: 2006
Format: print
Page count: 443
Publisher: Black Swan

Rahotep is one of the Medjay detectives in Thebes where he lives with his wife and three young daughters. Then he’s commanded to go to Akhetaten and into the king’s court to solve a mystery. He doesn’t know anything about the case but he has to leave his family behind and travel to the new city. Once there, he encounters a hostile chief of police, Mahu, who tells him that the Queen Nefertiti has disappeared. The people already suspect that she has been murdered which is greatly undermining king Akhenaten. Mahu is sceptical of Rahotep’s chances of finding her. Rahotep is given two assistants who know the city but who are clearly spies.

When Rahotep meets the pharaoh, he commands Rahotep to find Nefertiti or Rahotep and his whole family will be killed. Rahotep has to find him in ten days, before the inauguration Festival. During the festival, powerful people will gather to the City of the Horizon and Nefertiti will have to be there by her husband’s side.

However, Rahotep requires authorization to question some of the most powerful men in Egypt, and Nefertiti’s household. She has been missing for five days; Rahotep’s task is far from easy.

Rahotep is pretty usual detective type even though in his own world he’s said to be unconventional because he actually questions witnesses and visits crime scenes rather than judging people by class, wealth, and appearances. This doesn’t make him a popular man; quite the opposite. Unfortunately, to me he was a bit too modern, especially because he doesn’t believe in any of the gods. The story is set during the Great Change in Egypt, when Akenaten has forced people to abandon the old gods and worship only one god, the Sun god Aten. However, Rahotep dismisses them all which sets him apart from the people around him. Well almost – Nefertiti admits at one point that she supported the change just so that the old powerful priest families would be stripped of their powers and to make Egypt at least a little more equitable.

I did like that Rahotep is happily married and is worried about his family. Even Nerfertiti’s legendary beauty doesn’t make him a gibbering fool, which is something I was a bit worried about initially. However, I didn’t feel any personal connection to him.

Akhenaten is shown with two sides: he has a powerful personality and strong vision, even single minded obsession. And yet, his body is weak and he needs a cane to walk. When he appears in public, his frailty is disguised from the common people.

The pace is somewhat slow but this isn’t a thriller. However, a lot of the book seemed to be spent talking about local politics. Incidentally, I’m an Egypt geek so I found it fascinating and wouldn’t have minded more of it, but readers looking for a mystery might be disappointed. There are also some social commentary; Drake makes the point that Akhetaten is an artificial city, built on the backs of the poor laborers with fabulous wealth and miserable poverty side by side. Even the Medjay police are robbers. Yet even the rich constantly fear for their status and even for their lives. Nobody is really enjoying living in the city.

The sixth City Watch book.

Publication year: 2002
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2010
Format: print
Finnish translator: Mika Kivimäki
Page count: 392
Finnish Publisher: Karisto

Pratchett is a fine form here and this is one of my favorite Discworld books.

Commander Samuel Vimes is a bit scatterbrained because Sybil is giving birth. He’s also hot on the trail of a cold-blooded murderer Carcer. The criminal runs to the Unseen University and the police follows him. Unfortunately, both Vimes and Carcer are drawn into a magical storm and sent to the past. 30 years in the past into a darker Ankh-Morpok. Before Vimes can ask the wizards to help him, he’s arrested for breaking the curfew. He realizes that he can’t let Carcer to stay in the past and make a mess of it. He also hears that the man who should have been there, Sergeant John Keel, has been killed by Carcer. In Vimes’ past, Keel was attacked by local thugs but survived to become young Vimes’ mentor and idol. So, Vimes is in the strange position that he has to teach himself everything he’s ever known about being a copper… He also knows what happened during the Glorious Revolution of the Twenty-Fifth of May and even though he knows on an abstract level that he should let things happen as they did and just try to arrest Carcer, he just can’t let awful things happen. Especially to people he knows and works with. Or will know in the future.

This is one of the darkest Discworld books I’ve read because Pratchett set the book in a city which is led by the insane paranoid lord Winder whose secret police, the Unmentionables, run the city with terror and torture. Pratchett also includes lots of dark themes such as revolutions, rebellion, competence (or lack thereof) of military officers, and morality of people in generals and cops in particular. And phrenology. There are humor and funny lines sprinkled here and there but not as much as in some of his books.

The Night Watch is in terrible form. Taking bribes is business as usual and the Watch men also deliver prisoners to the Unmentionables, without ever having to confront the fact that they are bringing helpless people to torturers. Of course, Vimes has to take over and teach them to be real cops.

Most of the cast is new and those few which are familiar are, in fact, younger versions of themselves: Fred Colon as a young constable, Reg Shoe (before he became a zombie he was an avid revolutionist), Nobby Nobbs (a street urchin), Dibbler just starting out on his vendor career, and Vetinari who is an apprentice assassin. I found this refreshing. The Agony Aunts were especially interesting new characters (or at least new to me).

Especially interesting book for Vimes fans.
“Who knew what evil lurked in the hearts of men? A copper, that’s who.”

”The Assassin moved quietly from roof to roof until he was well away from the excitement around the Watch House. His movements could be called cat-like, except that he did not stop to spray urine up against things.”

“No! Please! I’ll tell you whatever you want to know!” the man yelled.
“Really?” said Vimes. “What’s the orbital velocity of the moon?”
“What?”
“Oh, you’d like something simpler?”

”People on the side of The People always ended up dissapointed, in any case. They found that The People tended not to be grateful or appreciative or forward-thinking or obedient. The People tended to be small-minded and conservative and not very clever and were even distrustful of cleverness. And so the children of the revolution were faced with the age-old problem: it wasn’t that you had the wrong kind of government, which was obvious, but that you had the wrong kind of people.
As soon as you saw people as things to be measured, they didn’t measure up.”

”Raising the flag and singing the anthem are, while somewhat suspicious, not in themselves acts of treason.”

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