SWORDS AGAINST THE MOON MEN by Christopher Paul Carey. Book review

SWORDS AGAINST THE MOON MEN by Christopher Paul Carey, ERB Inc., h/b, $34.95/p/b $19.95, Web Address

Reviewed by Dave Brzeski

This is an interesting one for me. I can claim to be a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs, but I had never got around to reading his Moon trilogy. As I don’t ever like to start a series anywhere other than the beginning, I decided to catch up with those stories before tackling this new addition to the canon.

Looking them up prior to reading, I discovered that The Moon Maid, The Moon Men and The Red Hawk are considered to be some of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ best work. I was a little dismayed, therefore, to discover that I wasn’t all that impressed with The Moon Maid. It can’t be denied that ERB had a tendency to recycle plot devices, and this first book in the series seemed to me to be too full of similarities to quite a few of his other novels. Earthman finds himself in an alien society, taken prisoner, meets beautiful woman, falls for her, offends her etc. It wasn’t until I got to The Moon Men that I began to see why this series was so highly rated.

When I read the foreword to Carey’s book I discovered that the second book in the series, The Moon Men, was in fact the first written. In fact it was originally written as Under the Red Flag in 1919, and as the title suggests, was originally set in contemporary Soviet Russia, with the Bolsheviks as villains. The publishers weren’t keen, so ERB rewrote it as a science fiction novel.

Once he’d got the somewhat formulaic first story out of the way, he gets to the material adapted from Under the Red Flag in which the obviously communist-based Kalkars invade an Earth that has become weak due to the world-wide disarmament which followed an extended Great War. It’s probably the most blatantly political ERB ever got, but it’s none the worse for that, even if one disagrees with some of his opinions. The story of earth suffering under the yoke of invaders, who are evidently intellectually inferior, but much better equipped for war is a refreshing change from the lone Earthman on an alien planet scenario.

One can’t really discuss any story in this series without touching upon what probably must be ERB’s most original concept—that of non-linear reincarnation. Julian,  the hero of all the books experiences the events of each book in what appears to be random order, in that he remembers the experiences of yet to be born incarnations, but not necessarily all the ones that went before. ERB explains that this is due to time not really existing. So, Julian 3rd (born 1937) shared his memories  of his future incarnation, Julian 5th (born 2000) with ERB in 1967. On another encounter in 1969 ERB is told the tales of Julian 9th (born 2100) & Julian 20th (born 2409). Finally, in 1970 ERB hears the story of Julian 7th (born 2057). It gave me a bit of a headache if I’m honest.

Swords Against the Moon Men is set between The Moon Men and The Red Hawk. Carey makes good use of ERB’s habit of leaving the odd, unexplained factor in his stories—in this case the fact that Julian can not recall anything of his 7th incarnation. Julian 7th turns out to be a simple farm worker suffering under the yoke of the Kalkar rule. Like so many heroes, he doesn’t set out to be any such thing. He is soon left with little choice, however, and becomes involved in a rollercoaster of an adventure, which has significant far-reaching effects on ERB’s wider universe. I will say little more than this, except to suggest that fans of some of ERB’s other books may find more of interest here than they might expect.

It’s a Burroughs pastiche, so there’s obviously a significant romantic element, but Carey handles it so well, putting his own stamp on the work while remaining completely respectful to ERB’s style and world-building. I’ve stated in a previous review that I regard Christopher Paul Carey as the best heroic fantasy author currently working and I see no reason here to change that opinion. This is another excellent, fast-paced read.

It really underlines how loved and influential an author ERB is that he inspires technically better writers to pay tribute and add to his body of work. It certainly can’t be denied that Carey is one of these—as was Philip José Farmer when he made his own contributions to the Burroughs mythos. The facility Carey has to somehow adopt the mindset of the author whose universe he’s playing in is nothing short of uncanny.

It would be unfair of me to end this review without mentioning the art. The cover, by Chris Peuler is stunning. Add to that 17, if I counted correctly, beautiful black and white internal illustrations—most of which are wash paintings—by Mark Wheatley, who I’ve been a huge fan of for forty years (damn, that is scary!) and we have a very impressive package.