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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Under the Moons of Mars, ed. John Joseph Adams

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Under the Moons of Mars: New Adventures on Barsoom

Edited by John Joseph Adams
(Simon and Shuster/BFYR, February 2012)

Double Review by Chuck Rothman and Robert E. Waters

"The Metal Men of Mars" by Joe R. Lansdale
"Three Deaths" by David Barr Kirtley
"The Ape-Man of Mars" by Peter S. Beagle
"A Tinker of Warhoon" by Tobias S. Buckell
"Vengeance of Mars" by Robin Wasserman
"Woola's Song" by Theodora Goss
"The River Gods of Mars" by Austin Grossman
"The Bronze Man of Mars" by L. E. Modesett, Jr.
"A Game of Mars" by Genevieve Valentine
"A Sidekick of Mars" by Garth Nix
"The Ghost That Haunts the Superstition Mountains" by Chris Claremont
"The Jasoom Project" by S. M. Sterling
"Coming of Age on Barsoom" by Catherynne M. Valente
"The Death Song of Dwar Guntha" by Jonathan Maberry

Reviewed by Chuck Rothman

This year is the hundredth anniversary of the appearance of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ first novel, A Princess of Mars, which introduced John Carter and the many creatures and characters of Barsoom to the world.  In honor of this, John Joseph Adams has edited a new anthology (taken from the original serialized version of the novel.  Subtitled "New Adventures on Barsoom," it consists of 14 original stories that expand upon Burroughs’ stories.

It is not necessary to be well-versed in the stories of Barsoom to enjoy the book; Adams introduces each story so that the references and influences are clear to even though who have barely heard of it.  My knowledge of the books is pretty basic, but I never felt that was a handicap in understanding what was going on.

The anthology begins with  "The Metal Men of Mars," a new John Carter story by Joe R. Lansdale.  Carter leaves the city of Helium to look for adventure and is captured by the title creatures, humans who have been turned into robots, much like Dr. Who's Cybermen, and controlled by the mad scientist Odar Rukk.  This is a pure pulp adventure of the best type, with larger than life characters, an evil villain, and larger than life derring-do.  It captures the feel for the original stories quite well.

"Three Deaths" is a more modern type of story.  The Green Men of Mars choose Ghar Han as a champion to fight Carter. Ghar Han loses two of his four arms in the battle.  Reviled as a cripple, he vows revenge on Carter.  Ghar Han is a memorable character as he tries to redeem himself in battle.  David Barr Kirtley takes the situation and avoids a pulp story with a resolution that is both satisfying and has something to say.

I had a lot of anticipation seeing that Peter S. Beagle had contributed to the anthology, and his story's title, "The Ape-Man of Mars," promised to be about a subject most ERB fans would love to see:  a meeting between John Carter and Tarzan.  Alas, I was disappointed. The story is like the first part of many a comic book team up, where the two heroes become enemies, and it eventually turns into a variation on the eternal fanboy question:  Who would win in a fight?  I found John Carter's main reason for his dislike of Tarzan a weak justification (there is a hint there may be another cause, but it, too, is baseless).  The ending could be seen as the worst of all literary cop-outs.  There are some nice moments, like when Tarzan sees the White Apes, but the rest was a disappointment.  Maybe I was expecting too much.

"A Tinker of Warhoon" is about someone who doesn't fit into the warrior ethic of Barsoom.  Kaz is the tinker, a Warhoon (one of the Green Men) who is more interested in working with technology than going into battle.  Though this includes bombs, he is derided for his interests, without realizing how important he can be to their military success.  Tobias Buckell creates an appealing character who ends up having the right talent for the right moment. 

Robin Wasserman takes one of John Carter's enemies and writes about what happens after her defeat.  Sarkoja was an out-and-out villain (ERB was not one for subtle evil), and "Vengeance of Mars" shows what happens after she is defeated.  She does not take defeat easily, and plans to get her revenge.  It doesn't go the way she wants, of course.  Sarkoja is very well portrayed, and women whose ache for revenge dominates her every move, and who refuses to soften even at the end.  A very strong story that uses the Barsoom tropes brilliantly.

Theodora Goss also concentrates on one of the peripheral characters of the Barsoom stories:  Woola, John Carter's faithful calot -- in essence his dog (Burroughs's aliens were often either just humans or animals that had obvious Earth equivalents, but a century ago, that didn't matter).  "Woola's Song" is from Woola's point of view as he recounts his meeting with John Carter and why he became his pet.  But it's more than just a recap: it's part of his song, something that has important ramifications for the calots and John Carter.  I could joke about Lassie and Timmy fallen down a well, but the story is far more serious and quite moving.

John Carter takes center stage again in "The River Gods of Mars," starting out to rescue Dejah Thoris.  It becomes a quest for the cause of a light that streaked down from the sky, and which the Tharks see as a portent of great change, almost with a religious significance.  Carter races to discover the object, which turns out to be what the Tharks thought it was -- though not in the way they expect.  Austin Grossman makes an interesting contrast between the wonders of Barsoom and those of real science and, perhaps, how they might interact.

"The Bronze Man of Mars" is pure adventure well told. The title has nothing to do with Doc Savage, but rather Dan Lee Chee, a descendant of John Carter, whose skin is a shade of bronze, unheard of on Barsoom.  Dan Lee Chee goes off to visit the legendary city of Horz to find the secrets of the long-dead villain and scientist Lum Tar O, as a way to prove his worthiness as a warrior.  The adventures and deathtraps waiting for Dan Lee Chee are cleverly portrayed by L. E. Modesett, Jr., very much in the spirit of Burrough's original. 

In Burrough's novel The Chessmen of Mars, John Carter's daughter Tara is captured by the evil Kaldanes and forced to play a game of Jetan (Barsoomian chess) where humans replace the pieces and are killed when their pieces are taken.  In "A Game of Mars" by Genevieve Valentine, Tara is captured and is forced again by the Kaldanes to play at the same game of Jetan. There are difference, of course, concentrating on the characterizations and especially the relationships between the characters in the original novel.  They are enough to make this far more than just a simple rerun.

I loved the conceit in "A Sidekick of Mars," the story of Lamentation of Worldly Sin Jones, a grizzled young prospector of the old West and John Carter's sidekick in many of his adventures.  Barsoom fans, of course, have never heard of him, since Carter neglected to mention him in his journal, a fact that peeves Jones quite a bit.  The story tells how the two of them met, and Garth Nix has a lot of fun with the concept, especially the character of Jones, who is a Gabby Hayes type with a very jaundiced eye.

"The Ghost That Haunts the Superstition Mountains" is an infuriating story -- and not because there's anything wrong with what's written.  It pulls the Old Switcheroo and takes Carter, Dejah Thoris, and Tars Tarkus to Earth, where they become friends with the Apache leader Cochise and soldiers of the U.S. Army.  They discover Martian weapons on Earth, something that should be impossible (travel between the planets is by astral projection, so you can take nothing) and set up an enemy whose very presence threatens Earth.  Chris Claremont does a top-notch job, but when you reach the end, the main conflict isn't close to being resolved.  It's a great start to a novel and it's a good sign that I do want to read the next chapter, but as a short story, it's lacking.

S. M. Sterling tries to connect all of Burroughs’ dots in "The Jasoom Project."  John Carter's great grandson Jalvar Pan goes off in a quest to find the mad scientist Ras Thavas, from The Master Mind of Mars in order to use the genetically engineered bodies he had created as a way for those of Baroom to visit Jasoom (which is Earth).  The first portion of the book is a very good adventure tale about finding Jalvar Pan and rescuing him so they can complete the mission.  But it continues onward to a trip to Earth, which is there mostly to tie together all of Carter's creation into one narrative.  It has the same problem as the Claremont story, in that it doesn't really resolve.  It's not a bad idea, but the story should have either ended once the adventure with Jalvar Pan was completed, or continued onward; the last sections seem very rushed, with the intent to cram references to as much of ERB's work as it can.

"Coming of Age on Barsoom" gets its strength from using a different point of view, by showing one of the Green Martians who is not happy with their alliance with Carter.  It shows Falm Rojut, a warlord of the Green Martians, who tells his story of the anger and frustration felt with Carter because he can never understand them completely.  It's structure is an echo of the original novel:  Catherynne M. Valente is merely reporting her discovery of Falm Rojut's manuscript. The switch is a good one, and I like the fact she doesn't go into a revenge story, but makes you feel how Falm Rojut feels and how, though he can accept John Carter, he can never forgive him.

The final story is "The Death Song of Dwar Guntha" by Jonathan Maberry.  The title character is an old Red Martian warrior.  He and his aide Jeks Toron, along with a tiny force, know there will be a battle the next day that they cannot possibly survive. Dwar Guntha and Jeks Toron reminisce about their battles and adventures.  They also talk about there being a song to memorialize their battle. The result is a strong, highly emotional story about valor and heroism.                                                                                                                                                                                                            

There are some expected pitfalls in this sort of anthology. Characters are not always consistent from story to story, and concepts are explained multiple times.  I was also disappointed that no one tried to write a story featuring Dejah Thoris; she is often referred to, but rarely appears in more than a few lines.

On the other hand, by not making this "The Further Adventures of John Carter and his Family," the authors can explore aspects of the Barsoom novels that Burroughs wouldn't have even thought to consider.  There is a nice mix of straight space opera adventure and more serious pieces that make the book worth taking a long look at.

Under the Moons of Mars: New Adventures on Barsoom

Edited by John Joseph Adams
(Simon and Shuster/BFYR, February 2012)

"The Metal Men of Mars" by Joe R. Lansdale
"Three Deaths" by David Barr Kirtley
"The Ape-Man of Mars" by Peter S. Beagle
"A Tinker of Warhoon" by Tobias S. Buckell
"Vengeance of Mars" by Robin Wasserman
"Woola's Song" by Theodora Goss
"The River Gods of Mars" by Austin Grossman
"The Bronze Man of Mars" by L. E. Modesett, Jr.
"A Game of Mars" by Genevieve Valentine
"A Sidekick of Mars" by Garth Nix
"The Ghost That Haunts the Superstition Mountains" by Chris Claremont
"The Jasoom Project" by S. M. Sterling
"Coming of Age on Barsoom" by Catherynne M. Valente
"The Death Song of Dwar Guntha" by Jonathan Maberry

Reviewed by Robert E. Waters

Fourteen stories comprise this commemoration to Edgar Rice Burroughs and his excellent Barsoom universe, and after a foreword by Tamora Pierce and an introduction by the editor himself, we open with Joe R. Lansdale’s “The Metal Men of Mars.” John Carter, Jeddak of Helium, is restless for adventure. His lovely wife Dejah Thoris recognizes her husband’s mood and bids him farewell. He’s out the door before she can utter the words, and shortly thereafter, he stumbles upon Odar Rukk, a mad scientist who has designs to rule the world through subjugation via his half metal, half flesh creatures akin to steam-controlled cyborgs. Rukk performs all kinds of nasty experiments on red- and green-skinned Martians alike, and of course John Carter will have none of it. What follows is pretty much what you might imagine from a story told through the eyes of a warrior like Carter, and I’d say it’s a pretty decent action-adventure to kick us off.

Next is “Three Deaths” by David Barr Kirtley. Ghar Han, a great green-skinned warrior, gets into single combat with John Carter. Our resident warlord quickly lops off two of Han’s arms. The Green Man survives the battle, but must deal with his disability, which of course is no small task in a society whose culture is defined by multi-limbed torsos. He’s ridiculed and shunned, but finds a way to adapt. I must admit that my first impression of this story was not good; given the subject matter, I thought it might be boring. I was wrong. Since I only possess two arms like any Earthling, reading about someone losing two extraneous limbs seemed useless (who cares, right?). But Kirtley works it out very nicely and shows us how someone classified as a “freak” might be treated in a very rigid place like Barsoom (and through Ghar Han’s eyes, we get a glimpse of how John Carter himself must have felt when he first appeared on Barsoom).

I do not know if Peter S. Beagle meant for his story “The Ape-Man of Mars” to be funny, but I thought it was a hoot. Here we have Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ more famous fictional character, being whisked off to Mars and then quickly falling into company with John Carter and his wife Dejah Thoris. The difference between the two men cannot be clearer: Lord Greystoke comes off as a calm, cool and considerate character, full of charm and good looks. In contrast, Carter plays the condescending host, short-tempered and petulant. He’s clearly threatened by Tarzan’s presence, and things are not made better by Dejah Thoris, who seems to make puppy dog eyes at the jungle man whenever her husband isn’t looking. Naturally, things come to blows, and Tarzan eventually finds himself back in Africa, but not before making this reviewer laugh out loud at least three times.

“A Tinker of Warhoon” by Tobias S. Buckell is about Kaz, a Green Man of the Warhoon tribe. Kaz is not like his warrior brothers; he’s a tinker, a scientist who would prefer to be far, far behind the battle lines. But the realities of his society have him in a heated dispute with an infamous tribe member who’s all brawn and little brain. They stumble upon a massive structure in the desert held by Red Men. Determined to get inside and learn its secrets, Kaz builds a bomb and sends it into the front door hoping to blow it up. But what he does instead is create a dangerous situation that threatens the life of every Martian, and once he realizes the danger at hand, he has a hell of a time convincing his thick-headed companions to settle the matter in a peaceful and reasonable fashion. It’s not the best story in the anthology, but the author does a pretty good job at showing the frustration that a thinking man might have in a warrior culture.

Robin Wasserman's “Vengeance of Mars” tells the story of a Thark woman named Sarkoja who ran afoul of John Carter and his ally Tars Tarkas shortly after Carter’s arrival. She was banished from the tribe, and this is the story of what happened to her afterwards.  What happens is that she carries her enmity in spades as she assembles a cast of co-conspirators plotting and scheming to hunt down the warlord and kill him, and although I found the writing a bit overwrought at times, I liked this one a lot. It provides a unique perspective that one rarely finds in the Barsoom literature: John Carter is a liberator and hero to many, but to others, he’s a usurper and a murderer. I found it refreshing to see the other side of the coin for once.

“Woola’s Song” by Theodora Goss tells the tale of John Carter’s pet calot, a Martian doglike creature that, like many species on Mars, possesses eight legs and long tusks. The story is told from the animal’s perspective as it recounts adventures before, during, and after meeting its beloved master. There is little more to say about this one. It’s well written and pretty good, but not great.

Austin Grossman’s “The River Gods of Mars” has John Carter returning to Barsoom after a long absence, only to discover that his beloved wife, Dejah Thoris, is off with her father in search of the source of some strange light that streaked across the southern horizon and then vanished. This phenomenon has stirred great emotions on the Red Planet, many fearing that its presence augurs bad tidings for Barsoom’s future. Carter joins forces again with Tars Tarkas to seek them out, and what they discover augers bad medicine indeed. I cannot tell you what they discover, but suffice it to say that it’s from Earth, and its presence will change the future of Mars forever. Again, not one of my favorites, but not bad either.

“The Bronze Man of Mars” by L.E. Modesitt Jr. is divorced enough from the original Barsoom literature that it could stand as the beginning of a new set of adventures, as John Carter’s great grandson, Dan Lan Chee, heads off to ancient Horz to seek fame and adventure. In his travels, he comes across a princess of Horz, Cynthara Dulchis, and they strike out on a quest that will be mutually beneficial to them. This one was a good, solid adventure.

Genevieve Valentine’s “A Game of Mars” picks up shortly after the events in Burroughs’ novel The Chessmen of Mars. John Carter’s daughter, Tara, must return to the land of the Kaldanes, an insidiously treacherous race that uses captives as pawns in a life-sized chess-like game called Jetan. Tara has returned in order to free her brother Carthoris, who has fallen victim to this game. Having played and survived it once before, Tara is well-suited to be her brother’s savior, so off she goes into a whirlwind of adventure. I liked this story overall, and there was certainly nothing wrong with the writing, but my biggest beef was with the game itself. Although it’s clearly stated that Jetan is like chess, I gathered from the description of it that there were some chief differences that weren’t explained to my satisfaction. A paragraph or two explaining the rules in more detail would have made this one much better.

“A Sidekick of Mars” by Garth Nix tells the tale of Sin Jones, AKA Lam Jones, self-proclaimed sidekick to John Carter; that is, sidekick for at least eighteen percent of the warlord’s adventures. From the hard- scrabble land of Arizona to the dust-swept deserts of Mars, we listen as Jones recites how he came to know John Carter and how his “exploits” with the Jeddak of Jeddaks were  suppressed by  the media and by Carter himself. Even on alien planets, it’s hard for sidekicks to get any respect apparently, but Jones does his level-headed best to claim his slice of the Barsoom pie. After reading this story, I truly wished Jones had been Carter’s sidekick for real; it certainly would have made some of Burroughs’ adventures more comical.

The tables are turned in Chris Claremont’s “The Ghost That Haunts the Superstition Mountains.” Barsoomians have come to Earth, as John Carter, Tars Tarkas, and the beauteous Dejah Thoris seek adventure in Arizona’s so-called Superstition Mountains of the Chiricahua Apache. The “ghosts” of the title are in reference to suspicious activity in those mountains that have populated native folklore for generations. Could it be, however, that Martians have been coming to Earth for a long time, and is it they who are the source of these superstitions? That plus the need to determine who has been smuggling radium rifles from Mars to U.S. soldiers is what concerns us in this story, but just as it’s getting good, it ends.

S.M. Stirling’s “The Jasoom Project” is by far the longest story in the anthology. It covers a huge expanse of land, as he sends John Carter’s great grandson, Prince Jalvar, and his own Thark sidekick, Tars Sojat, on a quest to discover the truth behind the nefarious activities of Ras Thavas, the so-called “mastermind” of Mars. Thavas’ history is one of hate and evil science, but this time, his exploits are meant to devise a race of Martians who can withstand the gravity of Earth. This story takes us from Mars to the surface of Earth’s moon, to the jungles of East Africa where we meet Tarzan, and then finally to the center of the Earth and Burroughs’ other marvelous universe, Pellucidar. This story starts off strong, as John Carter and his great grandson have a very compelling conversation about the state of affairs between Earth and Mars, but then it kind of fizzles due to length.

“Coming of Age on Barsoom” by Catherynne M. Valente begins with a letter from the author herself. Like Burroughs, Valente claims to have gotten her story from a second hand source. Her translated tale, then, is about Falm Rojut, the Jeddak of Hanar Su, whose opinion of John Carter is much like Robin Wasserman’s Sarkoja (see above): an angry Thark who wants to put an ax in Carter’s noggin. It’s the shortest story of the lot, but quite possibly the best written. Valente is lyrical in her prose as she describes Rojut’s birth and rise to power. I was quite impressed. I just wished it had been longer.

Finally, we come to Jonathan Maberry’s “The Death Song of Dwar Guntha.”  Jeks Toron, a padwar (lieutenant) of the Free Riders, tells the last tale of Dwar (captain) Guntha, his commander and close friend. Guntha laments the good old days of war and battle, and wants to exit his life through blood, fire, and steel. Standing before him is the last pirate army that threatens the gentle peace of Barsoom. Dwar Guntha is convinced that in time, John Carter will arrive with his hordes and put an end to the rabble, but before he does so, he wants to charge into battle and go out as any hero worthy of the title would. The beginning is a bit lengthy, as the two friends talk of glorious wars past, but the narration is one of the best in the book and lends real weight and substance to two old warriors.

Those of you familiar with the Barsoom literature should enjoy this anthology for its many unique voices and perspectives. Those of you like me, with a familiarity but no expertise, will also find it enjoyable, especially since there is a glossary of pertinent Barsoomian terms in the back of the book. So, either way, don’t fret. Read and enjoy.