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:
- The Chessmen of Mars
- The Gods of Mars
- The Mastermind of Mars
- A Princess of Mars
- At the Earth’s Core
- Pirates of Venus
- Thuvia, Maid of Mars
- 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.