Edgar Rice Burroughs is best known for his pulp-sci-fi Barsoom series (John Carter of Mars) and Tarzan. His swashbuckling heroes and their over-the-top adventures influenced countless authors and movies ever since. He’s not known for dystopian tales like those so popular today. Yet, before Orwell and Huxley, he wrote one, a lesser known book, The Moon Men.
A sequel to The Moon Maid, it takes a decidedly different tone than that volume. Maid is the typical Burroughs adventure: Hero finds himself in perilous situations, always perseveres and rescues the girl in the end. In Men, Flash forward a few centuries after these events, and we find Earth invaded and conquered.
Earth, after its own wars, had created “peace” by disarming all. The world’s militaries also all abandoned. A world lulled into a false Eden, ripe for someone to take advantage of it. What follows is a subjugated population who worships in secret, books are rare and people are stolen by those aligned with the invaders. Fall out of line and face death and being fed to the alien race. But Julian has had enough.
Burroughs, writing in the 1920s, had seen the destructive Great War and writes of the follies of war in the first book, but also of the futility of pretending evil is conquered and peace can be forced. He then shows how tyranny can begin to falter because of one man. The master of pulp fiction showed that this genre could give us as much to think about as any “literary” work.
And any worthwhile book should entertain and make us think.