Vintage SF Month: Return to Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

My journey through Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom novels (and my Vintage SF Month 2021) continues with Return to Mars.  Return to Mars collects Barsoom books 4-6: Thuvia, Maid of Mars; The Chessmen of Mars; and The Mastermind of Mars.  The three together manage to exceed ERB’s first three Barsoom books.

Which is a little surprising, perhaps, because John Carter is the great highlight of the first three books but plays a very limited role in these three.  John Carter’s son Carthorsis stars in Thuvia, Maid of Mars (along with the titular Thuvia).  John Carter’s daughter Tara stars in The Chessmen of Mars (unlike Cathorsis, she is a new character).  And a completely new character, Ulysses Paxton stars in The Mastermind of Mars, with John Carter only making a sort of cameo appearance.


Thuvia, Maid of Mars

TMoM is a pretty conventional Barsoom tale.  But it worked as a palate cleanser after The Warlord of Mars, my least favorite Barsoom book so far by a good margin, because it is well told, however conventional it is.  There is also one bit of very cool worldbuilding in the city of Lothar and its phantoms.

3.5 of 5 Stars.


The Chessmen of Mars

The Gods of Mars is the first ERB book I have given 5 of 5 stars.  The Chessmen of Mars is the second.  The Gods of Mars earned its perfect score with perfect, propulsive pacing.  The Chessmen of Mars earns its perfect score with a great cornucopia of cool as hell worldbuilding.  The sequence with Ghek in the prison is also hilarious.

5 of 5 Stars.


The Master Mind of Mars

Ulysses Paxton isn’t a member of John Carter’s family or another Martian: he is an American earthling like Carter himself.  A fan of ERB’s Barsoom books (meta!), he is able to astrally project himself to Mars as he lays dying in a WWI trench, his legs blown off by an explosive shell.  He quickly finds himself in the employ of a mad scientist who does a brisk business transplanting the brains of Barsoom’s old and powerful into the bodies of its young and unfortunate.  The main problem with tMMoM is that it leans so heavily on a theme—overemphasis on reason—that prominently features in the immediately previous book.  But it offers a love interest whose fundamental decency shines through when she is robbed of her beautiful body, and the implicit commentary on zealots in the latter half of the book is fresh and biting.

4.5 of 5 Stars.


The eight ERB books I’ve read, ranked:

  1. The Chessmen of Mars
  2. The Gods of Mars
  3. The Mastermind of Mars
  4. A Princess of Mars
  5. At the Earth’s Core
  6. Pirates of Venus
  7. Thuvia, Maid of Mars
  8. The Warlord of Mars


Vintage Science Fiction Month comes every year, right after Santa.  The gist is simple: read speculative fiction written before 1980 (or the year you were born) and write about it in January.  Vintage Science Fiction Month is the brainchild of Andrea at The Little Red Reviewer.

About H.P.

Blogs on books at Every Day Should Be Tuesday (speculative fiction) and Hillbilly Highways (country noir and nonfiction).
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Throwback SF and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Vintage SF Month: Return to Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

  1. Bookstooge says:

    Glad to hear you are still enjoying these! It is really nice to see soemthing being appreciated instead of being tossed (like I was ready to do to these!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jeboyle2 says:

    I thought these three were immensely entertaining and you touch on two things that I think very few people talk about these days: ERB’s sense of humor and his social commentary.

    That sequence with Ghek IS hilarious and Burroughs had a number of pointed things to say about racism, fascism, communism and Hollywood (which he despised) in his Martian, Venusian and Tarzan series. Too many people dismiss ERB as a racist, sexist and colonialist without ever actually reading his books.

    Thanks for putting a spotlight on three books by the Father of the American tradition of Adventure!

    Liked by 2 people

    • H.P. says:

      I’m not one of those “no politics in my entertainment” people. But – and maybe it is just a product of a little distance – I appreciate social commentary in older works much more than social commentary in contemporary works. (And, like every other aspect of storytelling, it can be done well and it can be done poorly.)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Lexlingua says:

    Awesome! I liked the movies too, esp. the whole experimenting with gravity. 🙂
    Those old scifi authors’ fascination with Mars was remarkable, and that even before we found traces of water/ life on Mars.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: January 2021 Month-in-Review | Every Day Should Be Tuesday

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