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.
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.