New Blog Under Development

Thank you all for your patience. It is still under development, but I have reformatted and transferred quite a few articles over to my new blog. There are even a couple of new book reviews I have just recently put up as well. My new site still hosts all my book reviews and interviews, but there will also be more journal-type entries that converge my other blog on mental health, while also creating journal-entries on my writing endeavors.

So check out my new site and let me know what you think. https://adrianmccauley.com/

Thuvia Maid of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

robert_abbett_4a-thuvia_maid_of_mars-coverEdgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) was an American author most known for his jungle adventure stories of Tarzan and his Mars adventures about John Carter. Maid Of Mars was the fourth entry set on the world of Barsoom (Mars.) It was originally published in 1916 as a three part serial in All-Story Weekly,  but was eventually released as a full novel in 1920. Where the first three books were focused on the adventures of John Carter, Maid Of Mars follows the adventures of his son Carthoris and the Princess Thuvia of Ptarth.

Carthoris is madly in love with Thuvia but she is to be wed in an arranged marriage. In the mix we also have Prince Astok of Dusar who is also madly in love with Thuvia. In an act of desperate and selfish lust he kidnaps the princess and tries to frame Carthoris, hoping to start a war between the great nations that are already in an unstable political climate. Thus are Carthoris’s adventures instigated, and he travels across Mars in search of his Thuvia.

In his adventures he encounters the various races of Mars – unfortunately, as interesting as these races or their world could be, it is assumed by the author that the reader has already read the previous books. And so sadly the first half of the book was a struggle to read as it was overwhelming trying to wade through so many names of people and places but no context for who or what they were.

However, the book’s salvation came halfway in when the lost nation of Lothar, occupied by powerful telepathic beings, is discovered. This is where the book grabs the reader and pulls him back into the story. The once-peaceful Lotharians are a dying race, as their women and children have been killed in the war with the Torquas (green Martians). They were forced to adapt to the ways of war to defend themselves and weaponised their telepathic abilities.

With sheer imagination they can summon warriors to fight for them – these warriors are mere telepathic constructs who only exist because the enemy believes they exist. And it is belief that has structured the Lotharians philosophy and society. There is no easy way to describe the Lotharian philosophy without quoting the book directly:

“Once that truth became implanted in their minds, it is the theory of many of us, no longer would they fall prey to the suggestion of the deadly arrows, for greater would be the suggestion of the truth, and the more powerful suggestion would prevail—it is law.”

“And the banths?” questioned Carthoris. “They, too, were but creatures of suggestion?”

“Some of them were real,” replied Jav. “Those that accompanied the archers in pursuit of the Torquasians were unreal. Like the archers, they never returned, but, having served their purpose, vanished with the bowmen when the rout of the enemy was assured.

“Those that remained about the field were real. Those we loosed as scavengers to devour the bodies of the dead of Torquas. This thing is demanded by the realists among us. I am a realist. Tario is an etherealist.

“The etherealists maintain that there is no such thing as matter—that all is mind. They say that none of us exists, except in the imagination of his fellows, other than as an intangible, invisible mentality.

“According to Tario, it is but necessary that we all unite in imagining that there are no dead Torquasians beneath our walls, and there will be none, nor any need of scavenging banths.”

“You, then, do not hold Tario’s beliefs?” asked Carthoris.

“In part only,” replied the Lotharian. “I believe, in fact I know, that there are some truly ethereal creatures. Tario is one, I am convinced. He has no existence except in the imaginations of his people.

“Of course, it is the contention of all us realists that all etherealists are but figments of the imagination. They contend that no food is necessary, nor do they eat; but any one of the most rudimentary intelligence must realize that food is a necessity to creatures having actual existence.”

The concept here is fascinating, though underused in the book. An entire nation only exists because the few survivors imagine it to exist, and they only defeat the Torquasians because they believe they do. Their King, Tario, however does impose strict rules upon his dream-nation. No women or children are allowed to be imagined, and as a result the race is dying out.

Lothar was the crux of the story, and the latter half of the book a drawn out denouement where little happens that hasn’t happened in the first half: Carthoris, due to sheer luck and coincidence, encounters allies and defeats enemies through more luck as opposed to any particular skill or intelligence. Thuvia spends the bulk of the book in a constant cycle of being captured and rescued. This book was once Science Fiction, but science fact has sadly overtaken the concepts of advanced life on Mars and the types of technology described just sound primitive and inefficient, demoting this whole franchise into the realm of Science Fantasy.

This bulk is typical of classic science fiction pulp from it’s overrated hero to it’s treatment of women and races; it reads very much like a 1920’s book, and it is for that reason it was successful – it was exactly what the post-war reader was used to and exactly what they were expecting. Despite definitely being one of Burroughs less dedicated efforts, he did go on to write nine more Barsoom books as well as several cross overs with his other series.

Despite the effort to reach half-way point, the interesting concepts revealed in the middle of the book make for compelling reading. Burrough’s style keeps exposition and descriptions to a minimum and this helps maintain a brisk pace and keeps the action exciting. I would recommend this book to both fans of vintage and classic science fiction, and those who are unacquainted with classic fiction to see how far genre fiction has come.

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Thieves’ World: Beyond Sanctuary By Janet Morris

7155Thieves’ World was originally an anthology of short stories created by Robert Lynn Asprin in 1978. The concept was that a setting was provided and rules were established, and then writers given the privilege to establish their own characters and stories within this shared world.

Lynn Abbey, one of the co-editors of the original anthologies, revived the series in 2002 with her novel Sanctuary. For a full list of all entries into the series, I recommend the Wikipedia page, as the list is enormous.

Thieves’ World is a Dark Fantasy novel – a saga of sword and sorcery in the tradition of Conan The Barbarian, or Druss the Legend. The world is full of wizards, demons, dark-magics, gods, barbarians, prostitutes and thieves – It is as colourful as it is bloodthirsty and with a huge wealth of backstory to draw on.

This book is my introduction to the series, and to be honest, the first chapters felt like I had walked into the middle of a conversation – I didn’t know who or what was going on, though I soon got the gist of it.

I felt the first quarter of the book suffered from too much exposition – the author seemed obligated to acknowledge all source material by dropping as many names and ideas in as possible. This did help me to visualise a rich and complex world, but at the same time it was distracting and I often got lost. Most of this info dumping was irrelevant, and many things were not brought up again.

However, once the exposition was out of the way and the plot could take over, the author found her voice more clearly. Janet Morris writes eloquently and once you become accustomed to the small quirks of her writing style, it becomes almost lyrical; the world becomes less distracting and more interactive, the story gains depth and the characters become easier to invest in.

Our main character is Tempus – he is an immortal Demi-God leader of a band of mercenaries who trek out from the city of Sanctuary to battle against demons and wizards and Gods. I forget exactly why they do this, or what their motivations were. The groundworks of this book were laid in the confusing and somewhat rushed first quarter.

However, on a genre as stylistically defined as Dark Fantasy, many of the characters were too similar in archetype, and I often found myself back-reading to find out just whom I was reading about. But, I repeat, once the chaos of city life is left behind, the story flows like a deep river, and you are swept away and carried with it.

If you are not familiar with Dark Fantasy, consider it thus: In Beyond Sanctuary the main characters are savage barbarians who are just as blood-thirsty and rapacious as their enemies; the demons they fight are just as vile and self-serving as the Gods that they worship; the world they inhabit is filled with wastelands and storms and magical realms populated by flesh-tearing beasts and witches and all manner of hell-spawn.

Half the outer wall was crumbled; debris and bodies were everywhere. Tempus’ eyes were smarting from the sulphurous fumes and the stench of rot that set in once these ancient foes met death. His sword glowed pink and dripped with acid blood and wherever he stepped ichor, in grainy puddles, ate into the paving stones.

I enjoyed Beyond Sanctuary and look forward to reading more in this series. Good dark fantasy is hard to come across, and this series has the benefit of dozens of authors over many many decades fleshing it out and developing the world and the characters.

Please share or reblog this review if you enjoyed it.