Master Mind of Mars (Mars #06) – Edgar Rice Burroughs (1927)
‘A TRADE IN BODIES
Former Earthman Ulysses Paxton served Barsoom’s greatest scientist, until his master’s ghoulish trade in living bodies drove him to rebellion. Then, to save the body of the woman he loved, he had to attack mighty Phundahl and its evil beautiful ruler.’
The Sixth in Burroughs’ Martian series sees a new Earthman, Ulysses Paxton, transported from the Hell of the trenches of World War I to the red sands of Barsoom. We know this, because he took the trouble to write a letter to Edgar Rice Burroughs telling him all about how he got there and what happened to him.
Paxton appears on the island of Ras Thavas (The Master Mind of Mars), in the midst of the Toonolian Marshes and is set to work in Thavas’ ‘House of The Dead’ for Thavas, over a thousand years old, has dedicated himself to science and surgery, and can not only raise bodies from the dead, but can transplant old brains into young bodies.
As is standard in many of these tales, the hero falls in love, but his chosen object of affection is the young mind of Valla Dia, Princess of Duhor, whose body has been swapped with that of Xaxa, an evil old ruler of a nearby province.
Paxton, now renamed Vad Varo and trained by Ras Thavas in all the despicable Martian surgical techniques, sets out to escape and kidnap Xaxa, so that the brains of the two women can be reunited with their old bodies.
Burroughs, one imagines, is no big fan of organised religion. In ‘The Gods of Mars’ he exposed the ancient beliefs of the Martians as a sham, and their priests as charlatans. Here too, he attacks the concept of blind faith in a way very reminiscent of the work of Jack Vance, who quite often created absurd religious belief systems merely, one imagines, that the reader might actually compare them with actual belief systems and find the basic ideas not too dissimilar.
’They would not permit the use of telescopes, for Tur taught them that there was no other world than Barsoom and to look at another would be heresy; nor would they permit the teaching in their schools of any history of Barsoom that antedated the creation of Barsoom by Tur, though Barsoom has a well authenticated written history that reaches back more than one hundred thousand years; nor would they permit any geography of Barsoom except that which appears in Turgan, nor any scientific research along biological lines. Turgan is their only text book – if it is not in Turgan it is a wicked lie.
Much of all this and a great deal more I gathered from one source or another during my brief stay in Phundahl, whose people are, I believe, the least advanced in civilisation of any of the red nations upon Barsoom. Giving, as they do, all their best thought to religious matters, they have become ignorant, bigoted and narrow, going as far to one extreme as the Toonolians do to the other.’’
One does not have to look very far in the US, even today, to find striking parallels with the people of Turgan.