Edgar Rice Burroughs'
SKELETON MEN OF JUPITER
(John Carter of Mars)
Skeleton Men of Jupiter:
Amazing Stories: February 1943
J. Allen St. John: cover and two interiors
Amazing Stories Quarterly: v.3, n.4 ~ reprint ~ Fall 1943
Malcolm Smith and Julian S. Krupa: new cover ~ J. Allen St. John: two interiors repeated
Amazing Stories: January 1964 ~ reprint ~ St. John interiors reprinted
John Carter of Mars: contains Giant of Mars and Skeleton Men of Jupiter
Canaveral Press (2 states): July 24, 1964 ~ 208 pages
Reed Crandall: DJ , illustrated endpapers, eight interiors ~ Richard Lupoff: introduction
Ballantine paperback: April 1965 ~ 157 pages
Robert Abbett cover ~ Richard Lupoff: introduction
Ballantine paperback: October 1973
Gino D'Achille cover
Doubleday Science-Fiction Book Club double edition: April 1977 ~ with Llana of Gathol ~ 314 pages
Richard Corben: DJ wraparound and five interiors
Ballantine - Del Rey: April 1979 ~ 167 pages ~ Lupoff intro omitted
Michael Whelan cover
From the February 1943 issue of AMAZING STORIES, this was the last John Carter story by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and it`s an oddity in the series in many ways. Like the stories which were collected to become the book LLANA OF GOTHOL, this was to have been the first of four interconnected stories which eventually would have been reprinted as a book. As it happened, Burroughs never finished the project and this first installment ends on a cliffhanger but it`s still worth reading for its own sake.
There was a lot about Burroughs` writing which I disliked when I first read most of his books as a kid. Although the central characters were classic pulp hero archetypes and the plots always showed imagination, Burroughs himself seemed to have a rather unpleasant attitude. There were a great many asides putting down the human race in general and various nationalities specifically, and he mostly had negative things to say about nearly everything. His idea that animals are better than people because animals only kill for food or survival was simply wrong (if you`ve ever seen the results of a fox getting in a chicken coop or a cat get up from its dish to chase and torture a mouse, this glamorizing of predators would ring false).
But many years have gone by and I thought it might time to try Burroughs again. Books you hated at 12 often seem masterpieces a few decades later, and the reverse is also true as well. As it turned out, I enjoyed this story and see good points I missed as a little Hermesling.
`The Skeleton Man of Jupiter` is pretty good space opera for its period. By 1943, Burroughs had been writing for decades and his style had become appropriately streamlined and lean, especially when compared to his earliest books. Here there are moments of genuine humour when Carter gives insolent replies to his interrogators and when he remarks that if astronomers would only consult him before publishing their theories about other planets, `they would save themselves much embarassment.`
Burroughs introduces a new race which might have developed into the greatest threat Carter and his Empire ever faced, if the stories had continued. These are the Morgors, creatures which look almost exactly liike human skeletons covered tautly with skin, their dark eyes looking like empty sockets. When they stand in front of a light, you can see their internal organs (ewww...). The Morgors are singleminded obssessive warmongers, with no interest in art or philosophy or anything that doesn`t help them fight. They make the ancient Spartans look like 1967 hippies. Travelling from Jupiter, where they have completely taken over and need no lands to conquer, the skeleton men (with the help of a Barsoomian traitor) kidnap Carter and take him back to their planet.
The explanations which Burroughs gives for Carter and other humanoids being able to survive on Jupiter are okay for pulp fiction. Humongous volcanoes dot the giant planet, providing light and heat, and because Jupiter rotates so quickly, its gravity is actually less than that of Mars. This is where you just crank up your imagination another notch and go with the story. Imprisoned by the Morgors, John Carter is expected to provide them with the information they need to invade Barsoom. (There`s a switch... Mars being invaded.) Even when Dejah Thoris is abducted and brought to Jupiter as well, our hero steadfastly refuses to cooperate a bit. Then we learn that he and other humanlike Jovians (these folks have blue skins) are intended to be executed in an arena by Morgor cadets as a graduation ceremony.
Well. Giving John Carter, of all people, a sword and setting him loose, no matter against how many opponents, is asking for trouble. And the fact that he is even stronger and more agile than he was back on Barsoom, where he could take on the likes of Tars Tarkas, suggests the Morgors are in for a few surprises.
The story ends rather abruptly, but since it was intended to be followed by three more installments, this is understandable. Burroughs had a habit of closing even his full length novels with a cliffhanger, teasing readers to come back for the sequel. It`s a shame this particular book was never completed. A full scale invasion of Barsoom by the skeleton men, with the four armed green men and other creatures joining in the carnage, would have been quite a spectacle. If any Burroughs fans are itching to write a pastiche, here`s a great plotline to follow up on.
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