The Master Mind of Mars

Discussion in 'Lounge' started by lklawson, Jul 7, 2015.

  1. lklawson

    lklawson Staff Member

    I've been re-reading the Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs, as time permits. I read them many times in my youth and, frankly, they're not exactly high-intellectual fair. However, below the surface of Burroughs' formulaic but entertaining adventure, every once in a while, there appears to be a bit of social commentary which went unnoticed in my youth. The same is true for The Master Mind of Mars which I just finished re-reading last night.

    The story was written in 1927 and follows the exploits of an Earthman, Ulysses Paxton, transplanted to Mars in the same way as the original hero, John Carter. Like Carter, Paxton is a warrior by trade; in this case a veteran (and victim) of WWI, in which he was "killed" before being transported to Mars (Barsoom).

    Paxton's adventure upon Barsoom begins with an apprenticeship to a rather classic "mad scientist," Ras Thavas, who is described as not having even a vestige of sentimentality. He is described as being a penultimate genius, self-serving, and completely amoral, as likely to perform an altruistic work as an apparently immoral one but either one in service to the advancement of science and without consideration of morals or sentimentality. Thavas is described as the extreme end of a culture (from the city-state of Toonol). The Toonolians are described as being, to a man, amoral (not immoral, per se), and, particularly among the ruling elite, using a form of enlightened mutual self-interest more than loyalty and friendship, as well as being, culturally, completely atheistic. The Toonolians, while being presented as exotic and brave, are ultimately presented as incomplete, schismed, and ultimately lacking. In contrast to the Toonolians, Paxton is also introduced to the city-state of Phundal. Phundal's culture is described as unquestioningly, unthinkingly, and laughably religiously fundamentalist. Their monotheistic deity is "Tur" who's holy book, known as the Turgan, is considered supreme, even above scientific evidence to the contrary. For example, the Turgan sets out that the world is flat with edges and that pressing too far in any direction will cause one to fall off the edge of Barsoom (yes, I know...). Thus it is that attempting to circumnavigate the globe is illegal by Phundalian law as success would be blasphemous. The Phundalians, as with the Toonolians, while being presented as devoted and brave, are also ultimately presented as incomplete and lacking.

    In his earlier Barsoom novels Burroughs has been novelistically critical of unthinking religion, as typified by the religious organization of the Therns (The Gods of Mars) and the Cult of Issus (The Gods of Mars), and also of the elevation of mind and science over faith as typified by the thought-projecting Lotharians (Thuvia, Maid of Mars) and the all-brain Kaldanes of Bantoom (Chessmen of Mars).

    While most see the treatment of the Kaldanes of Bantoom (Chessmen of Mars) as his strongest criticism of over-intellectualism, it was in The Master Mind of Mars in which Burroughs first so strongly contrasts faithless intellectualism against unquestioning faith, presenting both as ultimately lacking in comparison with each other and, therefore, with an integration of the two.

    That's a long lead-up to this question: Why?

    The Barsoom series is really not usually thought of as a philosophical masterpiece. Was Burroughs just recycling tropes which he had earlier used in the series? I was pondering these questions last night when I realized that something of monumental social importance to the U.S. had occurred between the writing of the previous Barsoom novel in 1922 and this one, again, written in 1927; an event which pitted what many believed (and yet still believe) to be unreasoning faith against what many believed then (and many still, today) to be faithless, cold, intellectualism; The Scopes Monkey Trial, which pitted a religious based law prohibiting the teaching of The Theory of Evolution in school against a teacher (supported by a large community) who violated this law. It was seen as the Main Event showdown of the Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy.

    In the pages of The Master Mind of Mars, Burroughs appears to be giving a social commentary, echoing in much greater depth a concept which he had stated bluntly in The Chessmen of Mars, that for man to be fully realized, he must blend the purely physical and the purely intellectual and he must blend the spiritual and the scientific, that both, while opposing, are complementary and required sides of human nature.

    Naturally, I didn't realize any of this when I first read the book at age 15 or 16. Now, <ahem> "a few decades later," I am shocked at pleased to see what I had missed previously in what is, admittedly, a pretty shallow "Sword and Planet" SciFi series. It still has many problems, of course, mostly related to prevailing social attitudes of the time, some of which today would be considered deeply offensive to many. Still, there are hidden depths which I never realized.

    Peace favor your sword,
    Kirk
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2015
  2. Rerun

    Rerun Supporting Member

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    Eh...

    For really riveting Space Opera, one should immerse oneself in E. E. "Doc" Smith's "Lensman Series".

    eldar
     

  3. lklawson

    lklawson Staff Member

    Read many, many, many times. One of my all-time favorites.

    When first I read "First Lensman," I didn't really pay much attention to Smith's press for a one-world government with a dictatorial hierarchy. Fortunate for them that Lensmen are incorruptible. When I first read (more like "consumed") the novels, I remember thinking, "Yeah, that's what we really need, a series of incorruptible men with ultimate, unquestioned power." Now, today, I am glad that the Lensman series is a niche read for Space Opera nerds (such as myself) for exactly that reason.

    I also really enjoyed Smith's "Skylark" series. I less enjoyed some of his other Space Opera offerings, but still, the man was a master of the genera.

    Smith was highly influential, apparently even influencing post-WWII tactics and technology.

    Peace favor your sword,
    Kirk
     
  4. Bull

    Bull Just a Man Supporting Member

    Not quite as deep, but still along those lines, IMO, is Piers Anthony's Bio of a Space Tyrant series.....
     
  5. lklawson

    lklawson Staff Member

    Read that too, though only one time.

    In the series, he clearly engages in social and political commentary. I particularly recall his commentary on Social Safety Net programs. The gist of it was that it is economically unsustainable for every person to have unlimited budget of heath care and social programs. Fictionally, his remedy was to have something sort of like a lifetime capped Medical Savings Account. The government would contribute a maximum of X amount to it to be used as the citizen desired. The citizen could, of course, add more to the account if he desired.

    Anthony also had some commentary on the Education System as well, re: gerund/gerbil. :)

    If I recall, he also posited the NLA: The National Laser Association. "Lasers don't kill people. People kill people."

    Peace favor your sword,
    Kirk
     
  6. Bull

    Bull Just a Man Supporting Member

    I like Anthony's works....
     
  7. lklawson

    lklawson Staff Member

    Me too. :)

    Peace favor your sword,
    Kirk
     
  8. Bull

    Bull Just a Man Supporting Member


    Grew up on the Xanth series, enjoyed the Incarnations of Immortality series also...
     
  9. Rerun

    Rerun Supporting Member

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    His descriptions of many of the jobs his Lensmen held are reflected directly upon 'Doc' Smith's own experiences ~ from chemical analysis, to mining, to working metal.

    All these brought added life to his writings!

    Great stuff!

    eldar
     
  10. Rerun

    Rerun Supporting Member

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    For really out there stuff, one could immerse themselves in the "Gor" series by John Norman...

    eldar
     
  11. Bull

    Bull Just a Man Supporting Member

    Off the topic, but who else loved Doc Savage novels as a kid?
     
  12. histed

    histed Supporting Member

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    Loved and devoured every one of them, Bull. Also read everything ERB wrote and the Gor series. Must admit, Kirk, its been a "few" decades. Thanks for the links.
     
  13. Bull

    Bull Just a Man Supporting Member


    I've still got a dozen or so Doc Savage books in storage somewhere....
     
  14. I have read near 20,000 novels over almost 35 years. All mentioned here and many even most Sci-Fi and Fantasy fans have never heard of. It boggles my mind when i look at my eBook folders dating back to the early 90's.

    Reading via eBook is SOOO MUCH quicker. I am now stuck on audiobook format though. REALLY slow compared to my hard print reading, pet alone eBook reading speeds.

    I do have to be honest, it is very rare that I delve beyond the story as presented. For me, if the point isn't fairly obvious, it is either poorly written or figuring it out ruins the story. I just don't want to need to read between the lines.

    Must be my blondness coming through :)

    If you really enjoy Sci-Fi, read, better yet LISTEN to the Halo novels (in preferred order, not order releassd). They are awesome and the subtleties aren't too deep to ruin the up front story.
     
  15. Bull

    Bull Just a Man Supporting Member

    Haven't read any Halo Stromm, but I like all the Warhammer 40K books....
     
  16. Rerun

    Rerun Supporting Member

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    Honor Harrington series (the first four books were the best), or just about anything written by John Ringo.

    Or, the Golden Age authors ~ Heinlein, Clark, Asimov, Anthony. Or later, Pournelle, Drake, Haldeman...

    eldar
     
  17. MaryB

    MaryB Supporting Member

    Read all of the above! Heinlein being a favorite with some of his books commenting on the social scene we find ourselves in today. In Starship Troopers "gangs of kids running amok committing crime"(quote might not be exact but close) and in Friday we had corporations running the world and being behind the wars...

    I used to have well over 5,000 scifi paperbacks in my collection. Got tired of moving them and gave away most to libraries. Kept some first printings that were autographed that I have ebayed over time. Now I load them on my phone and tablet and can carry hundreds of books at once with no weight!
     
  18. moona11

    moona11 King of you Monkeys Lifetime Supporter

    Try free bookies. Find good book for free all the time for my kindle
     
  19. Think1st

    Think1st Supporting Member

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    Heinlein is also one of my favorites, although he went off the rails, a bit, with "Mark of the Beast." That one was just a little creepy. "For Us, the Living" was an interesting read. His theories about how a centrally-planned economy should work we're interesting in their discussion, but as we've all seen, they haven't worked out so well.
     
  20. lklawson

    lklawson Staff Member

    I really enjoyed the Sword and Planet books thus, I tried reading the Gor series. Way too misogynistic and objectifying for me. ...even for a Sword and Planet series. I slogged through 2 1/2 of the things, hoping they'd get better, but they never did. The basic gist of the Gor series, besides the classic "Swordfighting Adventure = Good" is that women are really only happy and fulfilled when they're sex slaves. :( I just couldn't take it.

    Peace favor your sword,
    Kirk