THE ISLAND OF MORBUS:
Third Runner-up in the Seven Wonders of Barsoom
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
The island of Morbus is located somewhere near the middle
of the Great Toonolian Marshes, likely about halfway between Phundahl on
the western end and Toonol on the eastern end. There, the experiments of
the Ras Thavas, the Master Mind of Mind, have taken on a Frankensteinian
dimension: the creation of the Hormads. This story is documented in ERB's
ninth Barsoomian novel, The Synthetic Men of Mars. The genius
scientist-surgeon faces many foes as he relentless conducts his unlimited
research, unguided by any ethical principles.
It can be said that this Runner-up Wonder is a sequel
the last one dealing with Toonol and Phundahl, but it deserves a special
mention all of its own. It is narrated in the first person by a red Martian
from Helium, a padwar in John Carter’s Guard named Vor Daj. He gives a
whole new meaning to the term, “fool for love.” But in the end he shows
us what kind of bravery and
innovation is possible when a red Martian puts his mind
to something. His story is translated by Vad Varo, aka Ulysses Paxton,
then communicated to ERB by means of the Gridley Wave.
In this story ERB must have had some of the most fun in
his writing career. Having given so much detail about Martian culture to
his reading audience in previous novels, he felt totally comfortable telling
this story from a Barsoomian point of view, an experiment he tried successfully
before in A Fighting Man of Mars, the seventh novel in the
series. This time, however, the narration takes a delightful turn in that
Vor Daj mostly relates his story from the body of a Hormad.
Things have not fared well for Ras Thavas since we saw
him last, involved in the brain transplantation business:
“Upon an island near Toonol,
Ras Thava, The Master Mind of Mars, had labored in his laboratory for nearly
a thousand years until Vobis Kan, Jeddak of Toonol, turned against him
and drove him from his island home and later repulsed a force of Phundahlian
warriors led by Gor Hajus, the Assassin of Toonol, which had sought to
recapture the island and restore Ras Thavas to the laboratory upon his
promise to devote his skill and learning to the amelioration of human suffering
rather than to prostitute them to the foul purposes of greed and sin.
Carthoris, Tara and Thuvia plead that Carter take someone
else with him and, giving in for once, he chooses Vor Daj to accompany
him on a journey to Duhor, the home of Vad Varo, hoping that he will know
the location of Ras Thavis. Vad Varo could also stand in for a reliable
substitute if Ras Thavas cannot be found, for he had been trained in many
of Ras Thavis’ surgical techniques.
“Following the defeat of his little
army, Ras Thavis had disappeared and been all but forgotten as are the
dead, among which he was numbered by those who had known him; but there
were some who could never forget him....
“John Carter had not forgotten Ras
Thavas, and when an emergency arose in which the skill of this greatest
of surgeons was the sole remaining hope, he determined to seek him out
and find him if he still lived. Dejah Thoris, his princess, had suffered
an appalling injury in a collision between two swift airships; and had
lain unconscious for many weeks, her back broken and twisted, until the
greatest surgeons of all Helium had at last given up all hope. Their skill
had only been sufficient to keep her alive; it could not mend her.” (SMM/1.)
They set off in a flier from the roof of the Warlord’s
palace, set the directional compass for Duhor, but, of course, the reliable
mechanism never seems to work for our hapless heroes, and after taking
a slumber, they discover they are way off course, nearer to Phundahl than
Since Phundahl is allegedly a friendly city, they decide
to land and proceed on foot, acting like panthans in case they receive
a cold welcome from the Phundahlians. Carter dons his red skin pigment,
assuming the name of his trusty Green Martian moniker, Dotar Sojat. They
don’t get very far:
“We were still in the hills
and not yet in sight of the city when our attention was attracted by sounds
above and behind us. We turned simultaneously to look back, and the sight
that met our eyes was so astonishing that we could scarcely believe the
evidence of our own senses. About twenty birds were winging toward us.
That in itself was sufficiently astonishing, since they were easily identifiable
as malagors, a species long presumed to be extinct; but to add to the incredibility
of the sight that met our eyes, a warrior bestrode each of the giant birds.
It was quite evident that they must have seen us; so it was quite useless
to attempt to hide from them. They were already dropping lower, and presently
they were circling us. I was impressed by a certain grotesquerie in the
appearance of the warriors. There was something a little inhuman about
them, and yet they were quite evidently human beings similar to ourselves.
One of them carried a woman in front of him on the neck of the great bird
that was his mount; but as they were all in constant motion I was unable
to obtain a really good look at her; nor, by the same token, of the others.”
A truly comical confrontation ensues. The twenty malagors
land, surrounding them, and five of the warriors dismount and approach
“Now it was that I saw
what lent them their strange and unnatural appearance. They seemed the
faulty efforts of a poor draftsman, come to life – animated caricatures
of man. There was no symmetry of design about them. The left arm of one
was scarce a foot long, while his right arm was so long that the hand dragged
along the ground as he walked. Four-fifths of the face of one was above
the eyes, while another had an equal proportion below the eyes. Eyes, noses,
and mouths were usually misplaced; and were either too large or too small
to harmonize with contiguous features. But there was one exception – a
warrior who now dismounted and followed behind the five who were approaching
us. He was a handsome, well formed man, whose trappings and weapons were
of excellent quality and design – the serviceable equipment of a fighting
man. His harness bore the insignia of a dwar, a rank comparable to that
of a captain in your Earthly military organizations. At a command from
him, the five halted before reaching us....” (SMM/2.)
The dwar advises them that they are his prisoners and to
drop their arms, to which the amused Warlord answers, “Come and take
them.” The dwar orders the five to take the prisoners, but makes no
effort to join them:
“We whipped our longswords from their scabbards
and met the five horrific creatures, standing back to back as they circled
us. The blade of the Warlord wove a net of razor edged steel before him,
while I did the best that I could to defend my prince and uphold the honor
of my metal; and I did well, for I am accounted a great swordsman by John
Carter himself, the greatest of all. Our antagonists were no match for
us. They could not pierce our guards, even though they fought with a total
disregard of life, throwing themselves upon our blades and coming in again
for further punishment. And that was the disheartening feature of the horrid
encounter. Time and again I would run a fellow through, only to have him
back away until my blade was out of his body and then come at me again.
They seemed to suffer from neither shock nor pain and to know no fear.
My blade severed the arm of one of them at the shoulder; and while another
engaged me, the fellow stooped and recovered his sword with his other hand
and tossed his severed arm to one side. John Carter decapitated one of
his antagonists; but the body ran around cutting and slashing in apparent
ungovernable fury until the dwar ordered several of his other warriors
to capture and disarm it, and all the while the head lay gibbering and
grimacing in the dust. This was the first of our antagonists to be rendered
permanently hors de combat, and suggested the only way that we might be
What is the most fun in this account is to hear the story,
normally told by John Carter, from another person’s perspective. ERB’s
narrative genius keeps both characters true to their form, which is difficult
to accomplish from another point of view. The person of John Carter is
not diminished as a cardboard figure, which can often happen in the hands
of a lesser writer.
“‘Behead them, Vor Daj!’ the Warlord directed, and even
as he spoke he lopped the head from another.
“I tell you, it was a gruesome sight. The thing kept on
fighting, and its head lay on the ground screaming and cursing, John Carter
had to disarm it, and then it lunged forward and struck him with the weight
of its headless torso just below the knees, throwing him off balance. It
was fortunate that I happened to see what was going on, for another of
the creatures would have run the Warlord through had I not. I was just
in time, and I caught the thing with a clean cut that sent its head toppling
to the ground. That left only two of our antagonists, and these the dwar
called off.” (SMM/2.)
The dwar orders his monsters to capture Carter and Vor
Daj with nets, and they are soon ensnared and taken captive. Several artistic
depictions of these scenes can be viewed at ERBzine
#0352. Carter asks the dwar what manner of creatures are under his
command for he has never seen anything like them before:
“‘Nor anyone else,’ he
said. ‘They are called hormads. The less you see of them the better you
will like them. Now that you must admit that you are my prisoners, I have
a suggestion to make. Bound as you are, the trip to Morbus will be most
uncomfortable; and I do not wish to subject two such courageous fighting
men to unnecessary discomfort. Assure me that you will not try to escape
before we reach Morbus and I will remove your bonds.” (SMM/2.)
Carter and Vor Daj agree and are mounted on malagors behind
a couple of hormads to take them to Morbus; Vor Daj sees that the woman
is terrified and very beautiful before they go. Mounted on one side of
Vor Daj’s malagor is a net holding one of the heads that they had lopped
off in their very uneven battle:
“Our course lay south of
Phundahl, which the leader was evidently seeking to avoid; and ahead I
could see the vast Toonolian Marshes stretching away in the distance as
far as the eye could see – a labyrinth of winding waterways threading desolate
swampland from which rose occasional islands of solid ground, with here
and there a darker area of forest and the blue of tiny lakes.
Vor Daj shakes the net until the head is turned away from
the belly and engages in a conversation with it:
“As I watched this panorama unfolding
before us, I heard a voice suddenly exclaim, querulously, ‘Turn me over.
I can’t see a thing but the belly of this bird.’ It seemed to come from
below me; and glancing down, I saw that it was the head in the net beneath
me that was speaking. It lay in the net facing upward toward the belly
of the malagor, helpless to turn or move itself. It was a gruesome sight,
this dead thing speaking; and I must confess that it made me shudder.
“‘I can’t turn you over,’ I said,
‘because I can’t reach you; and what difference does it make anyway? What
difference does it make whether your eyes are pointed in one direction
or another? You are dead, and the dead cannot see.’
“‘Could I talk if I were dead, you
brainless idiot? I am not dead, because I cannot die. The life principle
is inherent in me – in every tissue of me. Unless it is totally destroyed,
as by fire, it lives; and what lives must grow. It is the law of
nature. Turn me over, you stupid clod! Shake the net, or pull it up and
turn me.’” (SMM/3.)
“‘What are you called?’
Vor Daj muses on the name, for in Martian, it means four-million-eight.
The hormad in front of Vor Daj tells him to pay no attention to Tor-dur-bar
because he is an upstart, and tells him that he would make a much better
friend. His name is Teeaytan-ov, which means, elevenhundred-seven.
“‘I shall remember. In Morbus you
may need a friend. I shall remember you.’
“‘Thanks,’ I said. I wondered what
good a friend without a body could do me. I also wondered if shaking the
net for the thing would outweigh the fact that I had lopped its head off.
Just to be polite, I asked what its name might be.
“‘I am Tor-dur-bar,’ it replied.
‘I am Tor-dur-bar himself. You are very fortunate to have me for a friend.
I am really outstanding. You will appreciate this when you come to Morbus
and learn to know many of us hormads.’” (SMM/3.)
The two hormads get into an argument and the dwar, Sytor,
has to break it up after Teeaytan-ov threatens to dump Tor-dur-bar into
the swamps below. Carter’s malagor rides in front of Vor Daj and the woman’s
malagor rides a little to his left as they fly at a speed of sixty miles
“After circling Phundahl,
we had flown due east; and late in the afternoon approached a large island
rising from the surrounding morass. One of the innumerable winding waterways
skirted its northern boundary, widening here to form a small lake on the
shore of which lay a small walled city which we circled once before descending
to a landing before its main gate, which faced the lake. During our descent,
I had noticed clusters of small huts scattered about the island outside
the walls of the city wherever I could see, suggesting a considerable population;
and as I could see only a small portion of the island, which was of considerable
extent, I received the impression that it was inhabited by an enormous
number of people. I was later to learn that even my wildest guess could
not have equalled the truth.” (SMM/3.)
They dismount and are taken through the main gate, the arms
and heads are assigned to Laboratory No. 3, and Carter and Vor Daj are
taken into the city, but not before Tor-dur-bar reminds Vor Daj that he
is his friend and the other hormad is but an experiment.
“Morbus differed from any
Martian city I had ever visited. The buildings were substantial and without
ornamentation, but there was a certain dignity in the simplicity of their
lines that lent them a beauty all their own. It gave the impression of
being a new city laid out in accordance with some well conceived plan,
every line of which spelled efficiency. I could not but wonder what purpose
such a city could serve here in the depths of the Great Toonolian Marshes.
Who would, by choice, live in such a remote and depressing environment?
How could such a city exist without markets or commerce?” (SMM/3.)
While they are being cleared by another guard station, Vor
Daj learns that the girl is called Janai and that she is form Amhor, and,
of course, Vor Daj falls madly in love with her. After being cleared, they
are escorted into a large patio where there are several other prisoners.
Two of them are Phundahlians, one is from Toonol, one from Ptarth, and
one from Duhor. Carter wastes no time in addressing them:
“‘For what purpose do they
keep prisoners?’ asked John Carter.
Carter expresses his doubt that Barsoom could possibly feed
such an enormous army in the field, especially on the island of Morbus
“‘They use some as officers to train
and command their warriors,’ explained Pandar, one of the Phundahlians.
‘The bodies of others are used to house the brains of those of the hormads
intelligent enough to serve in high places. The bodies of others go to
the culture laboratories, where their tissue is used in the damnable work
of Ras Thavas.’
“‘Ras Thavas!’ cried the Warlord.
‘He is here in Morbus?’
“‘He is that – a prisoner in his
own city, the servant of the hideous creatures he has created,’ replied
Gan Had of Toonol.
“‘I don’t follow you,’ said John
“‘After Ras Thavas was driven from
his laboratories by Vobis Kan, Jeddak of Toonol,’ explained Gan Had, ‘he
came to this island to perfect a discovery he had been working on for years.
It was the creation of human beings from human tissue. He had perfected
a culture in which tissue grew continuously. The growth from a tiny particle
of living tissue filled an entire room in his laboratory, but it was formless.
His problem was to direct this growth. He experimented with various reptiles
which reproduce certain parts of their bodies, such as toes, nails, and
limbs, when they are cut off; and eventually he discovered the principle.
This he has applied to the control of the growth of human tissue in a highly
specialized culture. The result of these discoveries and experiments are
the hormads. Seventy-five per cent of the buildings in Morbus are devoted
to the culture and growth of these horrid creatures which Ras Thavas turns
out in enormous numbers.
“‘Practically all of them are extremely
low in intelligence; but a few developed normal brains, and some of these
banded together to take over the island and establish a kingdom of their
own. On threat of death, they have compelled Ras Thavas to continue to
produce these creatures in great numbers; for they have a conceived a stupendous
plan which is nothing less than to build up an army of millions of hormads
and with them conquer the world. They will take Phundahl and Toonol first,
and then gradually spread out over the entire surface of the globe.’” (SMM/4.)
“‘There you are mistaken,’
replied Gan Had. ‘The food for the hormads is produced by means almost
identical with those which produce them – a slightly different culture.
Animal tissue grows with such great rapidity in this culture, which can
be carried along with an army in tanks, constantly providing sufficient
food; and, because of its considerable water content, sufficient water.’
Carter raises the question of transportation as a fatal flaw
in the plan, but Gan Had explains that they have an answer:
“‘But can these half-humans hope
to be victorious over well trained, intelligent troops fitted for modern
warfare?’ I asked.
“‘I think so,’ said Pandar. ‘They
will do it by their overwhelming numbers, their utter fearlessness, and
the fact that it is necessary to decapitate them before they can be rendered
hors de combat.’
“‘How large an army have they?’
inquired John Carter.
“‘There are several millions hormads
on the island. Their huts are scattered over the entire area of Morbus.
It is estimated the island can accomodate a hundred million of them; and
Ras Thavas claims that he can march them into battle at the rate of two
million a year, lose every one of them, and still have his original strength
undepleted by as much a single man. This plant turns them out enormous
quantities. A certain percentage are so grossly malformed as to be utterly
useless. These are sliced into hundreds of thousands of tiny pieces that
are dumped back into the culture vats, where they grow with such unbelievable
rapidity that within nine days each has developed into a full-size hormad,
an amazing number of which have developed into something that can march
and wield a weapon.’” (SMM/3.)
“‘That has been their problem,
but they believe that Ras Thavas has now solved it. He has been experimenting
for a long time with malagor tissue a special culture medium. If he can
produce these birds in sufficient quantities, the problem of transport
will have been solved. For the fighting ships for which they will need,
they are relying on those they expect to capture when they take Phundahl
and Toonol as the nucleus of a great fleet which will grow as their conquests
take in more and larger cities.’” (SMM/3.)
They are interrupted by chow time, brought to them by a couple
of hormads carrying a vessel containing animal tissue for their evening
meal. It is an “ask not, don’t tell” kind of situation where hunger overrules
conscience. They discover that the hormads are ruled by a council of seven
jeds, intelligent hormads who have had Ras Thavas transfer their brains
into those of comely and strong red men. The council will decide the fate
of the prisoners, with Janai likely going to one of the jeds. Vor Daj befriends
the girl and tells her he would like to help her, but they are taken to
the council before they can get to know each other better.
Three of the jeds lay claim to Janai and it is decided
that the prisoners will combat a group of hormads to see if any of them
are good enough to be officers and trainers. Seven of the best hormad warriors
then fight the prisoners. The hormads are more intelligent and more skilled
swordsmen than the five Carter and Vor Daj previously faced, but in the
end, they are victorious
and there are many headless hormads scattered around
the room. One Phundahlian, and the men from Duhor and Ptarth are killed,
but Pandar and Gan Had survive. The Council of the Seven Jeds decide that
Carter and Vor Daj will serve with the laboratory guard to see that Ras
Thavas does not escape and that no harm befalls him because they are such
excellent sworsdsmen and
because Helium is so distant they couldn’t possibly feel
any partiality to either Phundahl or Toonol. Janai smiles pathetically
at Vor Daj as they are taken away.
They are taken to the Laboratory Building where they meet
Ras Thavas. Vor Daj expects the old man that Vad Varo had first encountered
and is surprised that Ras Thavas is a young man, not knowing that Vad Varo
had transplanted his brain years earlier. Ras Thavas notes that Carter’s
pigment has begun to wear off in some places and deduces that since he
is white and and
has black hair, and he is not Vad Varo, that he must
be the famous John Carter. He asks Carter his opinion about Vad Varo, taking
his word that he is faithful and loyal.
Carter tells Ras Thavas about his princess, but Ras Thavas
assures him that there is no way to escape the Council of Seven Jeds, then
they are interrupted by a situation in one of the culture vats.
“Ras Thavas led us to an
enormous room where we beheld such a spectacle as probably never had been
enacted elsewhere in the entire universe. In the center of the room was
a huge tank about four feet high from which were emerging hideous monstrosities
almost beyond the powers of human imagination to conceive; and surrounding
the tank were a great number of hormad warriors with their officers, rushing
upon the terrible creatures, overpowering and binding them, or destroying
them if they were too malformed to function successfully as fighting men.
At least fifty per centum of them had to be thus destroyed – fearful caricatures
of life that were neither beast nor man. One was only a great mass of living
flesh with an eye somewhere and a single hand. Another had developed with
its arms and legs transposed, so that when it walked it was upside down
with its head between its legs. The features of many were grotesquely misplaced.
Noses, ears, eyes, mouths might be scattered indiscriminately anywhere
over the surfaces of torso or limbs. These were all destroyed; only those
were preserved which had two arms and legs and the facial features of which
were somewhere upon the head. The nose might be under an ear and the mouth
above the eyes, but if they could function appearance was of no importance.
They proceed on to another room where reconstruction work
is being carried out; heads are growing new bodies. They see a head sprouting
a leg and the head is very angry about it, becoming abusive toward Ras
Thavas, who threatens to redirect him to the culture vat, and the head
screams for him not to do it.
“Ras Thavas viewed them with evident
pride. ‘What do you think of them?’ he asked The Warlord.
“‘Quite horrible,’ replied John
“Ras Thavas appeared hurt. ‘I have
not attempt as yet to attain beauty,’ he said; ‘and I shall have to admit
that so far even symmetry has eluded me, but both will come. I have created
human beings. Some day I shall create the perfect man, and a new race of
supermen will inhabit Barsoom – beautiful, intelligent, deathless.’
“‘And in the meantime these creatures
will have spread all over the world and conquered it. They will destroy
your supermen. You have created a Frankensteinian host that will not only
destroy you but the civilization of a world. Hasn’t that possibility ever
occurred to you?’
“‘Yes, it has; but I never intended
to create these creatures in any such numbers. That is the idea of the
seven jeds. I purposed developing only enough to form a small army with
which to conquer Toonol, that I might regain my island and my old laboratory.’”
“‘Why should a thing like
that wish to live?’ I asked, after we had passed along.
Tor-dur-bar recognizes them immediately calling out Vor Daj
by name and Ras Thavas realizes that he is a hormad of unusual intelligence,
and decides that he will transplant his brain into a more beautiful body
which will take nine days. The Warlord is amused:
“‘It is a characteristic of life,
however low its form,’ replied Ras Thavas.
‘Even these poor sexless monstrosities,
whose only pleasure in life is eating raw animal tissue, wish to live.
They do not even dream of the existence of love or friendship, they have
no spiritual or mental resources upon which to draw for satisfaction or
enjoyment; yet they wish to live.’
“‘They speak of friendship,’ I said.
‘Tor-dur-bar’s head told me not to forget that it was my friend.’
“‘They know the word,’ replied Ras
Thavas, ‘but I am sure they cannot sense its finer connotations. One of
the first things they are taught is to obey. Perhaps he meant that he would
obey you, serve you. He may not ever remember you now. Some of them have
practically no memories. All their reactions are purely mechanical. They
respond to oft repeated stimuli – the commands to march, to fight, to come
to, to halt. They also do what they see the majority of their fellows doing.
Come! We shall find Tor-dur-bar’s head and see if it recalls you. It will
be an interesting experiment.’” (SMM/7.)
“‘If there is an Almighty
God he may resent this usurpation of his prerogatives,’ remarked The Warlord
with a smile.
Ras Thavas then gives his theory of the origin of life on
Barsoom, which is almost an exact account as given to Carter by Xodar of
the First Born. (See ERBzine
#3309) Vor Daj can’t get his mind off Janai and at last hatches a plan
which he hopes can gain
“‘The origin of life is an obscure
mystery,’ said Ras Thavas, ‘and there is quite as much evidence to indicate
that it was the result of accident as there is to suggest that it was planned
by a supreme being. I understand that the scientists of your Earth believe
that all life on that planet was evolved from a very low form of animal
life called amoeba, a microscopic nucleated mass of protoplasm without
even a rudimentary form of consciousness or mental life. An omnipotent
creator could just as well have produced the highest conceivable form of
life in the first place – a perfect creature – whereas no existing life
on either planet is perfect or even approximates perfection.’” (SMM/7.)
him intelligence as to her fate. An obnoxious assassin
is captured by the hormads, one Gantun Gur, and the Council of Seven Jeds
decides to remove his brain and resign it to the culture vats, replacing
it with an intelligent hormad brain and promote it to be a bodyguard for
one of the Seven Jeds. Vor Daj arranges for Tor-dur-bar to be the hormad,
for has grown a new body of
prodigious strength, though one of his arms is much longer
than the other.
Vor Daj succeeds in his plan and witnesses the brain transfer,
which gives him a new daring idea: he will have his own brain transplanted
into Tor-dur-bar’s old body, and with Tordur-bar a bodyguard for one of
the jeds, he too – with his profound strength and Tor-dur-bar’s help –
can gain employment as a bodyguard and thus hopefully protect Janai.
Thus the scene is set for one of the greatest works of
the imagination in pulp fiction. As the plot progresses, Carter and Ras
Thavas hide Vor Daj’s body in cell 17 in the pits, discovering an ancient
tunnel that leads them to a secret island outside of the area of the hormads.
Vor Daj, now in Tor-dur-bar’s old body, stumbles upon the tunnel and meets
up with his old comrades.
He asks them how they found the tunnel and Carter tells
him to let Ras Thavas explain:
“‘Morbus is an ancient
city,’ said the great surgeon. ‘It was built in prehistoric times by a
people who are now extinct. In my flight after our defeat at Toonol I discovered
it. I have remodeled and rebuilt it, but largely upon the foundations of
the old city, which was splendidly built. There is much about it of which
I know nothing. There were plans of many of the buildings, including those
of the laboratory building. I noticed that circle in cell 17, just as you
did. I thought it meant something, but never had the time or inclination
to investigate. When we decided to hide your body where it could not be
found and destroyed if anything went wrong, I selected cell 17, with the
result that we discovered the tunnel to this island which lies fully two
miles from Morbus.’” (SMM/15.)
This story is too good to give any more away. The reader
should have the pleasure of discovering the rest for him or herself. This
is all that is necessary in the way of data about the Island of Morbus
that we need to know for this article.
With Ras Thavas’ recreation of the extinct malagors, I
couldn’t help thinking about the late Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park,
and it’s famous line, “nature will find a way.” This especially
comes into play in Vat Number 4, where a monster Blob of animal tissue
threatens to overcome the whole planet of Barsoom. Crichton was a modern
master of the cliff-hanger and often returned to this theme that he had
started in The Andromeda Strain. I have no idea if he ever read ERB, but
I like to think he did and was influenced by the master.
There is an excellent summary of the plot of The Synthetic
Men of Mars, by Steve Servello at ERBzine
#0352, below the illustrations, of which I have two minor crticisms.
Mr. Servello states:
“Another discrepancy is
that when Ras Thavas and Vor Daj are finally reunited...he is told of the
disaster in #4 Vat Room. The Master-Mind expressed concern but seems to
forget that he already knew of the problem before fleeing Morbus with John
Carter. In addition, Vor Daj roars in indignation, “I, a noble of Helium!”...I
thought he was an officer (Dwar) not a noble.”
From my reading I am not positive that Ras Thavas knew of
the problem before he fled with Carter, but as to the second, Vor Daj was
a Padwar in Carter’s bodyguard and a Dwar in the bodyguard of one of the
hormad jeds. The point is, being an officer in the military doesn’t rule
out the possibility that one can still be a noble. This is brought to light
specifically in A Fighting Man of Mars, where the protagonist, Tan
Hadron of Hastor, is both “a Padwar in the 91st Umak, being assigned to
the 5th Utan of the 11th Dar,” and also from a noble family:
“My father is Had Urtur,
Odwar of the 1st Umak of the Troops of Hastor”; and “being of noble lineage
by my father and inheriting royal blood from my mother, the palaces of
the Twin Cities were always open to me and I entered into the gay life
of the capital.” (FMM/1.)
I remember when I was attending Artillery OCS in Ft. Sill,
Oklahoma from October 1969 to February 1970, that many a fortunate son
of the America aristocracy were among my classmates. A General’s son even
committed suicide while I was there. Anyway, this does not diminish Mr.
Servello’s article and it is worth the reading just the same.
I am subject to the same kind of errors. For example,
in my article that dealt with, inter alia, the Great Clock of Invak (see
ERBzine #3304), I
made such an error as brought to my attention in an email by avid ERB scholar
“I just read your article
on the subject of the cities of Invak, and found it on the whole to be
a good analysis of the subject matter. However, I have to disagree with
you when you claim that the ‘scientific information ERB gives about Mars
in this series is extremely accurate.’ In fact, the Martian day is neither
37 or 41 minutes longer than 24 hours. Both of Burroughs cited figures
Interestingly, I had read his article shortly after finishing
mine and had already realized my error as to the real Mars. It is an excellent
article and worth reading. Even though I was mainly thinking about ERB’s
imaginary Barsoom and the science and math involved in figuring out the
time of the Barsoomian clock, I took note to be more careful in my wording
in the future and I appreciated the correction. By the way, Mr. Ekman arrived
at the same calculation as I did for 11 xats past the 8th zode.
“If you have an interest in this
fascinating subject, I would like to recommend to you mine and Tom Gangale’s
article Martian Measurements of Time at http://www.erbzine.com/mag16/1630.html.
It contains a thorough analysis of all aspects of time measurements as
presented in the Barsoomian series.”
If anyone has any further criticism about any of my articles
posted on ERBzine, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All comments and criticisms are welcome. After all, we are all human, and
not – thank the Maker – hormads.
And there you have it,
ERB’s Third Runner-up in the Seven Wonders of Barsoom:
The Island of Morbus!