Nine installments in, and Edgar Rice Burroughs' Martian novels have yet to let me down in terms of quality and imagination. The current one at hand, Synthetic Men of Mars, published as a six-part serial in 1939 and collected in book form a year later, maintains the consistent quality of the previous entries. (Click here to reserve our copy; the cover depicted above is from my wellworn 1974 edition.)
When Dejah Thoris, wife of John Carter, Warlord of Barsoom (Mars) suffers a tramatic and possibly crippling injury, Carter and one of his officers, Vor Daj (the book's narrator), go out to locate the infamous "Master Mind of Mars" and the finest surgeon on the planet, Ras Thavas. (See my review of Ras Thavas' previous appearence in the series here.) Only Ras' surgical skill can save Dejah Thoris.
While on their journey, Carter and Vor Daj, along with the girl Janai, are taken prisoner by strangely deformed warriors mounted on giant birds called malagors. The warriors, or "hormads" are the result of experiments by Ras Thavas, who has discovered how to create (clone) human beings, despite various gruesome deformities and who have now taken their creator prisoner. What's more, the hormads, who force Ras to transfer their brains into the better-formed ones of their various prisoners, intend to create more of themselves and eventually conquer Barsoom!
With the clock ticking in regard to Dejah Thoris' condition, plus the threat of an army of hormads and a bizarre expanding growth of human tissue threatening to overrun the planet as well, our heroes have their work cut out for them.
As usual, Burroughs is ahead of the scientific "what if?" curve. The hormads predate the later real-life explorations into cracking the DNA code, and has a bit of fun with it. (The hormads are egotistical and not very bright, and can easily be flattered.) Burroughs also has some fun with the required romance subplot, this one concerning Vor Daj and Janai, with Vor having his brain placed into the body of another hormad (without Janai knowing) in a complcated scheme to rescue the woman from the clones.
Lots of sword fights, lurking villians and hairbreadth escapes abound in this exciting adventure. Synthetic Men of Mars is wholeheartedly recommended!
Next: From 1941, the penultimate installment of the series: Llana of Gathol.