Skeleton Men of Jupiter
Edgar Rice Burroughs
This is the twelfth and final entry in Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Barsoom series (or, if you’re a movie buff, the John Carter of Mars series). This entry, Skeleton Men of Jupiter, is really short, as was the previous entry, John Carter and the Giant of Mars, and are often bound together as one volume, despite having nothing to do with each other.
Skeleton Men of Jupiter was clearly meant to be the first in a series of novellas that would be collectively published as a novel, much like some of the previous entries in this series have done. This tale has an ending of sorts — but there’s still great peril and unresolved issues that were meant to be completed in later entries — but for some reason Burroughs never finished it. (I just checked the dates on Wikipedia, Skeleton Men of Jupiter was published years before his death, so I’m unsure why Burroughs didn’t complete the tale.)
This entry is markedly different from most of the previous books in the series by one factor and one factor alone. It is not a woman’s kidnapping that starts the conflict, it is the kidnapping of John Carter. Yes, John Carter, the unstoppable, unbeatable, and uncontainable hero of the entire series is easily duped, kidnapped, and stolen away to Jupiter. The inhabitants of Jupiter resemble skeletons (hence the title) and have an insatiable appetite for war and domination. After having dominated much of their own homeworld (though there are still pockets of resistance from non-skeleton men of Jupiter), they are looking to expand their horizons and conquer all of Mars. Who’s the one man that can stop them? John Carter of course! Except he’s sitting in prison.
I found this entry to be one of the better Barsoom novels, as it had little to none of the colonialism that marked much of the first half of the series, there are really no weak women characters (though that’s partly due to there being only three female characters, all of whom are very minor), and the only way that John Carter can overcome his enemies is to bring together a ragtag group of people from different walks of life but who share a single goal. And, unlike so many times before, it’s not a “noble savage” trope — John Carter teams up with real characters from real civilizations, not human-like individuals who have struggled to rise above their own savage race.
I have to say, though, that John Carter can be quite stupid when it comes to invisibility. After dealing with invisible people, buildings, and airships in this and so many previous novels, he’s a little bit of a dumbass when he bumps into an invisible building (soon after flying in an invisible ship, no less) and is stunned and stupefied.
After so many novels on Mars, this sudden change to Jupiter was refreshing, rife with new challenges and new adventures. It’s a shame it was never completed.