A review by Andy Nunez
Swords Against the Moon Men
#6 in the Wild Adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs series of authorized sequels
Christopher Paul Carey
Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.
I grew up with Edgar Rice Burroughs and his many exciting worlds of adventure. Over the years, I’ve learned that continuations of his stories, even authorized ones, get a love-hate reception from Burroughs fans. Some, like myself, welcome well-written pastiches that explore areas of the Burroughs cosmos that he never got around to or only hinted at. I’ve written a few myself over the years. Others despise any tainting of the sacred word. I understand the haters’ point of view: nobody writes an ERB story like ERB.
Still, a good story using ERB characters is possible (see, for example, Fritz Leiber’s 1966 novelization of the movie Tarzan and the Valley of Gold). Christopher Paul Carey’s Swords Against the Moon Men, an authorized sequel to Burroughs’ Moon Men trilogy, is one such story. Though eclipsed by the popularity of Tarzan and John Carter, the three Moon Men stories have some of ERB’s best-written characters. They seem very realistic and human, without special powers like Tarzan’s jungle skills or John Carter’s ability to leap small buildings in a single bound.
Readers of the original trilogy know how the insidious Kalkars of the moon, led by the traitorous Earthman Orthis, invade our planet after a devastating decades-old war has led to nearly all weapons being dumped into the ocean. Orthis and the hero of the series, Julian, die in a climactic battle and the Soviet-like Kalkars take over Earth. Julian’s descendants appear now and then, and eventually Julian 9th leads a revolt against the Kalkars.
Carey comes to the narrative not at the end but smack in the middle, choosing to tell the story of Julian 7th.
Julian 7th is a simple horse trainer when he is sought out by a wicked descendant of Orthis, whose progeny is now known as Or-tis. Instead of a horrible death, Julian is rescued and taken to a rare working model of a Gridley Wave radio (invented by another ERB hero, Jason Gridley). There, Julian receives a desperate plea for help. It seems that the Martians, aghast at the defeat of Earth by the Kalkars, sent a delegation to one of the last remaining non-Kalkar cities on the moon, but have lost contact with it. The sender pleads with Julian to go to the Moon and investigate.
Julian manages to gain passage on a Kalkar ship. Upon landing he is befriended by one of the human-like quadrupeds, the Va-gas, and they set off to solve the mystery. Along the way, they encounter a number of new beasts out of Carey’s prodigious imagination, until they reach a fantastic city built in the walls of a crater. There, Julian meets his own Moon Maid, as well as learning the identity of the ambassador from Mars, which will give all Burroughs fans a huge smile. I am not going to spoil the rest of the story by telling you how that unwinds.
Instead, let me tell you how I feel about the book’s style and composition. Carey holds a Master’s degree in Fiction Writing. He has followed in the footsteps of the great Philip Jose Farmer and done a variety of other fantasy and science fiction stories. His imagination is fertile and there is not a slack part in the entire 225 odd pages of this wonderfully illustrated book. The dust jacket is moodily illustrated by Chris Peuler, while the interior illustrations are by comic legend Mark Wheatley. Wheatley uses a combination of period-looking tonal paintings that evoke the classic ERB illustrations by J. Allen St. John, while his character portraits are in his more familiar comic style of strong lines and dynamic curves.
All that talent is not wasted on this book. Carey’s experience allows him to mimic ERB’s style so closely you almost wonder if the story came from some dusty vault in Tarzana, California. His hero is strong, brave, and always ready to fight. Like all great ERB heroes, this Julian is as clueless about women. The world of Julian is radically different than our own and the science of the story is based on fanciful concepts that ERB used, such as rays of propulsion to lift ships into space. Carey has to wrestle with this mash-up of pseudoscience and alternate history, and does a creditable job.
Were I to title this review, I would good-naturedly call it “The Importance of Being ERB-est,” so faithfully does Carey fall into the Burroughs style. That’s both a strength and a potential drawback: besides a couple of nitpick typos, the biggest problem with the story is that Carey tries so hard to “be” ERB in style that his use of archaic words and terms may lead non-ERB readers to find an unabridged dictionary. Even so, Swords Against the Moon Men is accessible to those new to ERB.
If you are an ERB fan like me, this book will easily transport you back to your youth, whether it was reading the old red Grosset and Dunlap reprints or an Ace paperback with a Roy Krenkel cover. The story’s pace picks up so that by the last third there is a huge amount of action, with lots of ERB Easter eggs sprinkled along the way to delight faithful fans. The ending is full of twists as well, foreshadowing the events of The Moon Men and The Red Hawk of the original trilogy. Carey hints that Julian 3rd has another tale to tell, perhaps beyond the end of the trilogy. I can only hope so.
Don’t miss Andy’s interviews with author Christopher Paul Carey and illustrator Mark Wheatley!