Book reviews: Mars, robots and Revelation (#SFWApro)

A HISTORY OF THE END OF THE WORLD: How the Most Controversial Book in the Bible Changed the Course of Western Civilization by Jonathan Kirsch, is a look at The Book of Revelation—the circumstances of its creation, it’s deviation from the Gospels’ theology (Jesus forgives, John of Patmos looks forward to everyone burning), its influence on Christianity over the centuries and finally on American Christianity with its concerns about the Rapture and the Antichrist. Kirsch argues that rather than the allegory of Nero’s tyranny it’s often held to be, Revelation is John’ rant against accommodationist Hellenized Jews (in which group he includes Christians) selling out their culture to the Roman establishment (so the Mark of the Beast, for instance is a reference to those who handle Roman coins). Worth the read for the early sections, but the impact on America is something When Time Shall Be No More covered in more depth (however if I hadn’t read that, I imagined I’d be very pleased with the later parts).
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JOHN CARTER OF MARS was the final entry in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian novels, and actually consists of two unrelated novellas packaged together (cover by Michael Whelan, rights with current holder). “John Carter and the Giant of Mars” was originally written as a kids’ book (a sequel to Synthetic Men of Mars), then reworked for the grown-up SF market. However the story had several continuity errors and the for-kids style feels very “off” compared to Burroughs’ usual, so for years fans believed it was a fake (in the edition I have, Burroughs expert Richard Lupoff goes into the details in the forward).
“Skeleton Men of Jupiter” was a novella that Burroughs would normally have expanded into a full book a la Llana of Gathol, but war and age forestalled him. The story has the warlike Jovian natives kidnap John Carter in the belief they can force information out of him that will enable them to capture Helium and then all Barsoom. In practice, this proves more difficult (of course) and we end the book with Carter seeking Dejah Thoris across Jupiter (she gets kidnapped too, as usual). When I first read this, I was inclined to agree with fans that it’s a small tragedy we never got the rest of this interplanetary war; however, while Jupiter certainly makes for a different setting, I’m not sure it’s all that different. And there’s a lot of padding in John Carter lecturing us on how scientists obviously don’t know as much about the impossibility of life in the solar system as they think. Still it does show why the Barsoomian novels hold up better than many of Tarzan’s lost race stories, which almost never got this colorful.
ATOMIC ROBO: The Ghost of Station X by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener was a disappointment given I enjoyed my previous reading in the series. It starts off well as a mysterious conspiracy targets Atomic Robo and Tesladyne Industries for destruction, but falls apart when we learn the Big Bad is an evil AI, because even an AI created by Alan Turing is still indistinguishable from every other evil computer in SF history. And at my age, I’ve seen a lot of those. I’ll be reading more in the series, but this was not a high point.

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