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Jane Carver of Waar by Nathan Long

Jane Carver of Waar by Nathan Long (Night Shade Books, 2012) is written by a man who has some passing familiarity with the Barsoom novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Except, of course, this is a coherent novel whereas ERB either wrote the originals as a serial or separate tales that were later put together and sold as novels. The result is often a less than coherent plot. The initial hero, John Carter, wanders from place to place having to fight off various attacks from weird creatures and evil warlords. He’s the archetypal hero being both brave and blessed with the wisdom of Earth. This enables him to win the hearts of the local women and rise to a position of leadership on Barsoom. Those foreigners could recognise a man of talent and put him to work. In terms of style, these books are easy to parody. The first was written one-hundred years ago and reflects the attitudes of the day, i.e. the innate superiority of the white man no matter where he finds himself. In the case of Barsoom, Carter has a natural physical advantage because of the lighter gravity. He’s therefore stronger than the local coloured folk, a trait that is, to some extent, passed on to his children. The later arrival, Ulysses Paxton, is better endowed in the brain department, although his military experience does come in useful.

Anyway, Nathan Long has a rich vein of material to mine for inspiration but, for the modern audience, there’s a problem. The ERB originals are deeply racist with each colour grouping having different physical, intellectual and cultural characteristics. For example, the Black and Yellow Martians are active slavers, raiding for new recruits and selling them on. In simplistic terms, this makes them evil and cruel whereas the dominant Red Martians are people of honour who fight for truth, justice and the Barsoom way. The issue of slavery was an ironic problem for John Carter to confront given his background as a soldier fighting for the Confederates in the American Civil War. Fortunately, he’d been converted to the Yankee way of thinking and was red hot in the cause of freedom. This did not, of course, change his sexist views. It might have been acceptable to free the slaves but women would always have to know their place.

Nathan Long as Normal Bean

So Nathan Long makes the strategic decision to substitute Jane Carver, a six-foot biker chick, for John Carter. Even in Earth terms, she’s strong and, with her training as an Airborne Ranger, she’s more than able to defend herself against attack. Once she arrives on Waar and acquires the advantage of gravity, not only does she look good without the assistance of a bra, she’s also able to beat the ordinary warrior. Once she gets some training in the use of swords (a serious omission from her Ranger training), she can match the top exponents. In her travels, she meets two races. One we can describe as comparable to tigers with a tail that enables them to rear up and perform tasks using three arms. They are tribal, living the lives of hunter-gatherers, but with a reasonably well-developed society and minor skills in shamanic magic. In cultural terms, Jane Carver has come to this New World so they are the Red Indians out on the prairies. Living more civilised lives in cities, we have the purple “humans”. Naturally, they take one look at Jane’s fair skin and declare her a demon, i.e. doubly damned when you add in the disadvantage of being a woman.

There’s also a fascinating LGBT subtext. As a less civilised world, there’s something of a fixation with sex. Fortunately, this is not interracial but, among the purple ones, more or less anything goes. Poor Sai-Far is treated as a doll to be dressed in gender-inappropriate clothing and given make-up by one of the tiger girls. As a slave he’s bought and abused by an old man. Fortunately, the pirate who captures him is female and in the mood for conventional sex. That’s a relief for him. The love of his life is Wen-Jhai, a somewhat anal young lady, who becomes completely liberated after Jane gives her lessons in a woman’s right to enjoy sex. We have straight sex, gay sex and a threesome. Then there’s Lhan who swings both ways. And Jane who gets no action, what with her being a demon and strong enough to rip the arm (or any other member) off any man attempting unauthorised access. Her only hope is one of the women will take pity on her. We should also mention the concept of open marriage among the nobility. If the men see any lower status women, they can honour them in the usual way without this disturbing the love between equals, i.e. the noble women are expected to accept this lack of fidelity.

Put all this together and Jane Carver of Waar takes itself seriously, showing our heroine as a fish out of water and trying to avoid death at every turn. This is not a parody intent on mocking ERB-style Barsoom fantasy novels. Unlike the originals, this has a coherent plot and good character development. It’s also quite amusing — ERB tends to be humourless — as Jane meets pirates, gets sold into slavery, fights as a gladiator in the arena and is a one-woman swat team in putting down an armed rebellion against the local King. This puts it in the same bracket as a homage to the memory of John Carter (ironically about to be revived yet again, this time as a Hollywood blockbuster). I found it very enjoyable and would recommend it to anyone who has read the pulpy “covers” written by L Sprague De Camp, Fletcher Pratt, Christopher Stasheff, John Norman, Michael Moorcock, et al. This is so much better now we have a modern master of fantasy working on the recreation of a Barsoom world.

For a review of the sequel, see Swords of Waar.

As an aside, the artwork from Dave Dorman is also available in true Amazon style.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

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  1. Jeddakakalaky
    February 15, 2012 at 10:16 am

    (Jane Carver of Waar by Nathan Long (Night Shade Books, 2012) is written by a man who has some passing familiarity with the Barsoom novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs.)

    Someone with only a passing familiarity with Barsoom has tried to write a homage to Burroughs? Oh Yeah that bodes well.

    (Except, of course, this is a coherent novel whereas ERB either wrote the originals as a serial or separate tales that were later put together and sold as novels. The result is often a less than coherent plot.)

    Excuse me, I’ve read the Barsoom novels several times and I have no problem following the plot. It is plenty coherent to me.

    (there’s a problem. The ERB originals are deeply racist with each colour grouping having different physical, intellectual and cultural characteristics.)

    EXCUSE ME! They are not racist. At no point when I was reading these books did I get any kind of hint that there was any kind of racism on display either purposely or otherwise.

    (For example, the Black and Yellow Martians are active slavers, raiding for new recruits and selling them on. In simplistic terms, this makes them evil and cruel whereas the dominant Red Martians are people of honour who fight for truth, justice and the Barsoom way.)

    The red Martians also owned slaves every nation on Barsoom does. It has nothing to do with race or skin color. Anyone could become a slave if they were captured by a rival nation.

    (ERB tends to be humourless)

    I don’t think you read the same books I did. I found the, quite humorous in many places. Sounds to me like you people have something against Burroughs. I’d say the fact that his books have been in pretty much belays any doubts about how good his writing is.

    • February 15, 2012 at 11:01 am

      It’s true that ERB has probably proved to be one of the most popular of the pulp writers. In Tarzan, he created an iconic figure in a fantasy world he called Africa. Like Barsoom, this is a not intended to be the real jungle just as John Cater does not go to the real Mars as understood by astronomers of the day. In the first novel Tarzan fights a tiger but there are no tigers in the African jungle. But all that means is ERB was happiest when creating fantasy. As an author, he was not interested in researching the facts. The work of many who wrote in the early part of the last century suffers from a number of problems. The first and most obvious is the focus on “adventure”, leaving little or no room for characterisation. We can explain this away by dubbing these writers “natural storytellers” but the truth is that readers of the day simply wanted escapist fiction and authors like ERB supplied it in bulk. Second, this is the age of the fix-up where publishers rammed short stories and serials together into a package they called a novel. This often means there’s little or no continuity between elements in the book. They are inherently episodic. Third, the books reflect the prejudices of the age. In some countries, reprints of work written contemporaneously to ERB is only offered for sale wrapped in cellophane with warning notices that modern readers may find some scenes offensively racist. The fact the work of ERB has not suffered this indignity does not mean he was free of racism. He institutionalises the racism by having different races with different characteristics, some good, some less good. Finally, the different races on Mars are all indelibly warlike. This is used to enable Carter to kill any one of them without penalty. The morality of this is fascinating in modern terms. Here’s a stranger in a strange land who can just pick up a sword and slaughter a few of the natives and be accepted into the local culture.

      I could go on but all I would do is demonstrate that we see different things in the same material.

  2. Jeddakakalaky
    February 15, 2012 at 10:18 am

    I meant to say pretty much in print for a hundred years.

  3. Jeddakakalaky
    February 17, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    I think anyone who sees racism in Burroughs work may be reading some of there own sensibilities into the stories. Because honestly, when I read these books for the first time the idea that Burroughs was racist or that he was presenting one race as better than another or that he was presenting John Carter as the great white hero who is better than all these savage primitives never occurred to me.

    If anything it seems to me that Burroughs was trying to demonstrate just how ridiculous racism is by turning it on it’s head and even that is a stretch, I think he was just trying to tell a rousing good adventure with a lot of wild over the top fantastical elements. The First Born(Blacks) consider themselves the highest and best of all the races on Mars. The Thurns(Whites) are the mostly lowlife manipulators. Hardly a shining example of racial superiority.

    You believe that Burroughs made the Barsoomians warlike just to give Carter an excuse for killing them? It’s a dying world. Barsoomian society has declined to the point of a few surviving nations struggling for limited resources. I think it’s reasonable to assume that a society might become overtly warlike in those circumstances. And Carter doesn’t just go around slaughtering anyone and everyone left and right. He never kills anyone without a darn good reason. Of course all of this means lots of adventure, you’re right about that. That’s what readers wanted and that’s what Burroughs gave them but I think the fact Burroughs has survived and most of the others(And from what I’ve read there were a LOT of them) haven’t says something about his abilities as a story teller.

    The article doesn’t make you sound like you’re much of a Burroughs fan.

    • February 17, 2012 at 2:12 pm

      You seem to be approaching this on the basis that racism is only about white supremacy. Your sentence says it all, “The First Born (Blacks) consider themselves the highest and best of all the races on Mars. The Thurns (Whites) are the mostly lowlife manipulators. Hardly a shining example of racial superiority.” Actually, this is a shining example of racial superiority. The moment one race asserts that it deserves different (not necessarily better) treatment than another race based solely on the basis of race, this is racism.

      I read ERB extensively back in the 1950s and, in terms of the cultural standards then applied, I considered him good entertainment. Sixty years later, I consider him a product of his time. We have moved on. By definition, his work cannot. That means the prejudices that informed his work are all the more apparent to us now. In more general terms, this means I can no longer read many of the books of the late Victorian, early Edwardian era without shuddering. Even some of the work in the period 1930 to 1960 is showing its age and growing increasingly unreadable. Indeed, I find myself quite embarrassed by some of the authors whose work I read when young. For example, the misogyny and racism of Lovecraft underpins his notions of horror. Sadly http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/On_the_Creation_of_Niggers is typical of the racism at the time ERB published his first Barsoom novel. When you have lived a few more years and read more widely, you too will probably develop different sensibilities.

  4. September 19, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    Different times, different writing styles and MOST OF ALL different ways of seeing things. Raciscm, what word was that in the late 30’s? Everybody was rascist. You cannot compare both times. It’s ridicoulous. It’s like saying that those writers who wrote the Russians and Chinese as the bad guys are racists.

    People give too much importance to racism in literature. It’s what it is. FICTION.

    Tolkien has been accused of being racist. Talk about seeing things that aren’t there. Just because the orcs are evil (and are “black”) and the elves and humans are depicted as whites?

    One day, in the future, white people will be a minority and the Blacks and Asians will be the writers and such. Then, this thing called racism will changed yet again and again and again.

    My main point is… Different times. Can’t judge them by our own standarts.

    • September 19, 2013 at 9:16 pm

      Of course, everything written is a mirror of the time in which it was published. So if the times were institutionally racist or sexist, we can expect the books to be racist and sexist. However, that rather misses the point you seem to be making which is that we should not judge the past and, in particular, neither condemn the people for their culture nor censor their fiction to make it more acceptable to our sensibilities. Take Mark Twain as an example. Huckleberry Finn makes extensive use of the “n” word. Today this is considered an offensive racial slur. So should modern editions replace the “n” word with “slave” or something less controversial? Personally, I think this is a mistake. I think period books should be left as they are. If they contain offensive content, there should be an introduction or commentary to explain the cultural context. That way, people can read with better understanding and be prepared to forgive the authors for their infelicitous choice of vocabulary. That said, it seems to be perfectly legitimate to comment on past cultures. I grew up through times punctuated by race riots, terrorist bombings and a countercultural revolution. I feel perfectly comfortable to comment on the past. If this means pointing out what I would consider mistaken views, I think that useful because, unless we are prepared to recognise past mistakes, how can we hope to avoid them in the future? Only through critically rigorous analysis of the past can we learn about ourselves. After all, my grandparents and parents were the product of their times. Understanding why I and others of my generation are different is socially useful.

  1. February 14, 2012 at 6:45 am
  2. March 18, 2012 at 12:40 pm

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