Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Review - The Moon Men by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Short review: The Kalkars are invaders from the Moon who rule Earth, and the Julian's resist them to free humanity.

Subjugated Earth
Defended by the Julians
And finally freed

Full review: The Moon Men is a sequel of sorts to The Moon Maid, which I haven't read. Not reading The Moon Maid doesn't really detract from this book, because the two are pretty loosely linked, plus this book provides a decent summary of the events of the prior book. Basically, an expedition from Earth set out for Mars, but was forced to divert to the Moon as a result of sabotage. Once there, the explorers found the lunar inhabitants, and eventually, a human allied with them and led an invasion of the unarmed Earth (pacifism had apparently become dominant on Earth). Julian 6th, the hero of The Moon Maid, managed to defeat the mastermind of the invasion fleet, but was killed in the process.

The Moon Men is actually two linked novellas, both describing humanity's attempts to free themselves from the yoke of the Kalkars, the moon men from the title. In the first part, titled The Moon Men, humanity finds itself at its lowest ebb. The Kalkars are brutish and stupid, but they have all the weapons, including ancient firearms. They tax humanity into poverty, and prevent anyone from learning how to read or write. Because the Kalkars are too dimwitted to maintain a technological civilization themselves, and they prevent humans from effectively doing so, the Earth is slowly descending into barbarism.

Julian 9th, the descendant of Julian 6th, and apparently his reincarnation, lives under the yoke of the Kalkars in what was once Chicago one hundred years after the Kalkar invasion. The story details the indignities heaped upon the humans, including the outlawry of religion of any kind as well as crushing and unfair taxes. Eventually, Julian 9th comes into conflict with Ortis, the local Kalkar boss, and has to flee with his mother and wife after his father is taken prisoner and sentenced to a labor camp. Julian 9th breaks his father out of prison (along with the other prisoners) and leads a rebellion. The rebellion fails, Julian 9th is captured and killed, but not before he learns that his wife is pregnant. The first story ends with Julian 9th's death. This is somewhat unusual for a Burroughs story, as the hero accomplishes almost nothing concrete and gets killed for his pains. He sparks a revolutionary fervor, but little comes of it in this story. On the whole, this is a dark and depressing story.

The second part of the book, titled The Red Hawk, follows Julian 20th, also known as the Red Hawk as he leads the crusade against the Kalkars 400 years after the events of the first half of the book. Humanity has for the most part become nomadic tribesmen, and Julian 20th's tribe worships with religious feeling the remnants of a U.S. flag that has been passed down for generations. The Kalkars have lost their technological edge, and have been driven into enclaves along the coast. This is much more of a typical Burroughs story - the good guys are more competent than their enemies, the hero is cast through a series of adventures, finds and falls in love with a princess, has to rescue the princess, wins the battles, and wins the girl. The story is fairly well done, and completes the story of the Kalkar invasion pretty well. There is also an interesting conversation between the superstitious Red Hawk and his younger brother Rain Cloud about the nature of things - with Rain Cloud adopting a scientific view of the world to challenge the accepted supernaturally driven versions of events.

While not one of Burroughs' better works, The Moon Men is interesting and enjoyable, and provides a glimpse into what a non-swashbuckling tale by him might have looked like. If Burroughs had lived in a later era, it seems like he might have given us more reflective science fiction rather than his usual pulp adventure. I'm not sure I would have liked that better, but it is different, and makes this book more interesting.

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