Book corner: The Master Mind of Mars (Burroughs, E.R, 1928)

 I was certain that I had read the Master Mind of Mars previously, but after reading it now, I can say I had no recollection what so ever of it, so I guess it's safe to assume this was the first time I've actually read it. And that's fine, I think, as I believe I can appreciate the story much more now as, as far Barsoom novels go, the Master Mind of Mars has very little action in it. In fact, the main bulk of the story revolves around the brightest surgeon of Barsoom, and Earth and any other inhabited planet of our solar system, who's scientific exploits are closely inspected by the main hero, Ulysses Paxton.

The Master Mind of Mars is structurally very different from the previous books. It's the first one that revolves around a protagonist who's not related to John Carter at all. Paxton does come from Earth and he does narrate the story to Burroughs through a letter, but unlike Carter he's not related to Burroughs: he's actually just a fan of his writings about Barsoom and Carter, who on the brink of his death in the battlefield begs to be transported to the red planet of his dreams.

Secondly, Paxton's arrival to Mars happens in the house of Ras Thavas, who's a bit of an amoral scientist, who's specialized in organ and limb transplants. His greatest achievement in the area is the transplantation of brains into an another body, thus granting the possibility to eternal life if the brains are not destroyed by some other means. Ras is also doing experiments in planting human brains to the great white apes and vise versa as well as exchanging male/female brains. So all in all, pretty typical mad scientist stuff, despite the whole organ transplant thing is the closest thing to a real science Burroughs has presented in any of the Barsoom novels.

Thirdly, while Paxton is a soldier, he actually does very little actual fighting and the story itself isn't actually all that violent. While there are a couple of sword fights here and there, the main focus of the novel is at first on Ras Thavas teaching Paxton, whom  Ras renames Vad Varo because that's just easier Martian name, the secrets of his trade, so that he can also become a SURGEON OF MARS (imagine echo here).

What does tie the Master Mind of Mars together with the rest of the series, if you don't count it taking place in Barsoom, is that it's again a melodramatic love story as well. Paxton falls madly in love to a beautiful Valla Dia, whose body was brought by an evil jeddara Xaxa, who longed for younger appearance, while Valla Dia herself was left in the old, shrivelled body of the jeddara.

This leads Paxton to revitalize a couple of would-be body/organ donors from the stocks of Ras, whom he recruits in the campaign of getting Valla Dia's original body back. This leads into the second half of the story, which is more of an adventurous road story of his merry band doing the right thing because of the right reasons.

Burroughs takes again an another jab towards religion, just like he did in the Gods of Mars and the Warlord of Mars, where John Carter revealed the aeons old belief of Issus to be nothing but a scam. This time around Paxton & Co. abuse the religious system in order to impersonate the great Tur, so that they can ease themselves towards their goals. Religion is again shown just a tool to control the ignorant and when you think about it, it's not that moral from Paxton either to abuse the system the way he does, especially when it's mentioned in the end, that the new jeddak, a friend of Paxton's, will be also using the same methods if and when then need arises.

John Carter has again just a very small part to play in the story. He actually appears only briefly in the last chapter of the story, when he arrives with his fleet in order to right a wrong, but happily enough Paxton and his band have already done the heavy lifting and the end is happy for everyone.

As I stated, the Master Mind of Mars has relatively little actual violence in it, unlike the first three stories starring Carter himself. While it's mentioned, that Paxton is capable of astonishing feats because of his Earth accustomed muscles, he's not the same kind of a superman Carter is, and even when he is driven to fights, those scuffles usually end up having relatively few corpses in them. Overall the tone towards violence is very different and that aspect of the story lacks the tone of self-parody that often riddled John Carter stories.

I do think, just like with the previous two books in the series which starred Carters children, a lot of the tonal change might be because of the Burroughs was himself getting more aware how ridiculous the feats of Carter had begun to sound like, so it was really healthy for the series to take more "grounded" approach to action. Or perhaps he just felt that it would be good for the series to be more adventure than action-oriented, which was a good choice as well, as while I do like the first three books, they are a bit exhausting and a bit blunt in execution in comparison to these later stories.

But in any case, the Master Mind of Mars is yet another pretty decent pulp sci-fi/planetary romance piece. While it does break some formulae, it still does retain some others, so in the end, it doesn't offer that many surprises and things just kinda flow in the direction you'll think they go from the get go.

If you feel like giving the series a spin, you'll find them well presented in most e-book stories as well in printed form as well. As the copyright has elapsed for many of the Burroughs stories, they're pretty easily attainable for free as well.

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