The sixth book in Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Barsoom" series, The Master Mind of Mars, was first published in 1927 in the Amazing Stories Annual (see image on left). Recently reprinted by Disney Books in The Collected John Carter of Mars: Volume 2 (click here to reserve our copy online), Master Mind is an exciting adventure with the usual weird characters and situations, plus a bit of Burroughs' satirical commentary thrown in.
Author Edgar Rice Burroughs, nephew of John Carter and the chronicler of his uncle's adventures in A Princess of Mars, The Gods of Mars and The Warlord of Mars, receives a letter from U.S. Army Captain Ulysses Paxton in 1925. During World War I, Paxton, brutally maimed and dying on a battlefield, was able to somehow project himself millions of miles to Mars (Barsoom).
Finding that his body on Mars is in perfect shape, Paxton meets and is menthored by Ras Thavas, an old Barsoomian surgeon conducting various organ transplant experiments. To fund his research, Thavas arranges to sell healthy young bodies to weathly citizens who wish to prolong their lives. Thavas basically swaps the brains of his clients with younger, healthier specimens.
Then Paxton (now renamed "Vad Varo" by Ras Thavas) falls in love with Valla Dia, the beautiful young woman whose body has been selected by the cruel and arrogant Xaxa, elderly Jeddara (Queen) of the city-state of Phundahl to prolong her life. After the procedure, and having learned how to perform the surgery himself, Paxton works out a plan to switch back both women's bodies with the help of rogue assassin Gor Hajus, the Phundahlian warrior Dar Tarus (who wants his own body back) and Hovan Du, a Barsoomian whose brain was transplanted into the body of a giant four-armed Martian White Ape.
But first they have to escape Ras Thavas and make their way into Phundahl, where the evil Xaxa awaits. And what important role does John Carter, Warlord of Barsoom (who's offstage for almost the whole book) get to play in all of this?
More character and plot-orientated (at least in the first half) than previous installments in the series, Master Mind is a suspenseful and exciting adventure. When Paxton and company escape Ras Thavas and arrive in Phundahl, the usual sword fights and chase scenes (including an exciting one in mid-air) ensue.
As he did in The Gods of Mars, Burroughs also gets to take a poke at extreme religious fundamentalism with Phundahl's official religion, whose god is the all powerful Tur. The "Tur is Tur" exchange between Paxton and Dar Tarus in Chapter Ten is especially priceless and showcases the author's apt sense of humor.
The oddball brain transplant plot device does add a bizarre touch to the book (as depicted in the story, it's so easy that Paxton is able to learn and perform the procedure in a matter of weeks), but the book really gets going once our heroes flee from Ras Thavas.
The Master Mind of Mars is great fun. If you're a fan of the series, check it out!
Next: A Fighting Man of Mars