Friday, January 9, 2015

Torsos Of Mars

Ace edition covers by Dorian Vallejo (1991)

Welcome to the first FATE SF entry for Vintage Science Fiction Month!  The goal of Vintage Science Fiction Month is to encourage people to explore SF&F books and media published before 1979. My overall commitment for the month is to read Frank Herbert's Dune. This may actually take more than one month, given that I am also reading the work by Octavia Butler for the Second Foundation Reading Group, and Michelle Wallace's The New Jim Crow for the Empire Reading Group in January. But while we wait for the Guild Navigator to arrive and transport us to Dune, here's a little Vintage Science Fiction Month warmer-upper.

Back in December, I shared that I had just read one of Michael Moorcock's very early novels, The City of the Beast aka Warriors of Mars. The novel was originally published in 1965 as a planetary romance and an explicit Burroughs pastiche. The novel had two sequels, Lord of Spiders aka Blades of Mars, and Masters of the Pit aka Barbarians of Mars published that same year.

I finished the middle book of the trilogy (series name: Kane of Old Mars), just before or possibly just after New Year's Day, and started Barbarians right after New Year's. They were both fun reads, introducing new races and mysteries for Moorcock's protagonist and proto-Eternal Champion, Michael Kane.

Blades continues to explore the mysteries of the two ancient forerunner races who warred on ancient Mars. These two races, the benevolent Sheev and the allegedly malevolent Yaksha left caches of their their technological relics for the younger races to discover and experiment with at their peril. In Blades, our hero Michael Kane helps to ignite a revolution against a quasi-theocracy in one of the blue giant nations, and then discovers one of the ancient Yaksha's technology caches, He also faces an old enemy who has caused trouble in the past, and before our adventure is finished, befriends a masked-mercenary assassin in a Southern Martian city that is gearing up for war. Shades of the future masked warriors of Granbretan from the Hawkmoon novels? Maybe!

Barbarians of Mars introduces two new enemies - an ancient plague, and an irrational social order based on science and experimentation. Both the biological and social plagues have afflicted the same Southern Martian city-state, and Michael Kane and his blue giant ally go in search of a cure. Many adventures ensue.

This novel felt the most Moorcockian and least stilted of the three. It is still a planetary romance in the style of Burroughs. However a bit more of Moorcock's lefty skepticism and hostility to authority is starting to emerge.

The other thing that hit home in reading the trilogy was how much the dry humorous banter between the PCs characters reminds me of the dialogue in the final two M.A.R. Barker novels which I had just read a few weeks earlier. (We also see this kind of humor in Vance and Leiber, of course.)

Right after I finished Barbarians of Mars, I started re-reading the second Hawkmoon novel, The Mad God's Amulet (1968) in its recently republished Tor edition. With Titan seemingly picking up where Tor left off, I am about to read the three Erekose novels, and then settle-in to read the republished Corum novels which start coming out in the second quarter of 2015. So far, I am really enjoying getting re-acquainted with Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion novels. I am also planning to pick up Michael Moorcock's autobiographical fantasy, The Whispering Swarm, which comes out next week!

We'll how far this dive into Moorcockiana goes!

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