I was originally going to try to come up with some clever and trolly title about how Maza is more badass than Leia (she is) and how Star Wars looks pretty weaksauce when put side by side with this book (it does), but instead I’m going to just use the above throwaway title and dive right in.
Unlike some pulps with completely indistinguishable characters (Captain So and So, Lieutenant That Guy, Private The Other One and Doctor Doctor), Kline does a decent job of putting together the oft-seen heroic triumvirate, with the brilliant man of action(Ted), the guy with organizational know-how and follow-through(Roger), and the trusted scientific sounding board (Professor Ederson). I know I’m underselling it here, but each of these characters is split up and given their own action-packed thread in the story that, once woven together, ties up nicely at the climax to show that each played an integral part in the resolution of the crisis.
At the heart of the story is a tragic war between two races, the “white” Martians and the Asiatic Lunarians. At one time, the races had been at peace and even had colonies on one another’s worlds, but a dispute whose origins are so old as to be almost forgotten led to the near destruction of both Mars, whose atmosphere was stripped off by Lunarian ray weapons, and the Moon, which had its atmosphere stripped off by use of the ray weapon and was bombarded into Earth orbit by Martian guided asteroid assault. The survivors of the war on the Moon were forced to live underground and in domed cities at the bottom of canals and craters. One of the Lunarian Princes returned to find the surface of the Moon obliterated and in his sorrow spent the rest of his days on earth (thereby explaining the Asian races and the Chinese written language). Early on, Kline teases at the Evil Chinaman trope, especially with the betrayal of Doctor Wu and the plan for China to establish a separate peace with the Lunarians, but the heroes are proven wrong! The Chinese people rise up against their leaders and refuse to bow to Lunar tyranny! Even many of the Lunarians are opposed to their despot and, once freed from the dungeons of political prisoners, help in the fight against the P’an-Ku.
Maza of the Moon gives us a very early incarnation of Light Saber fights. Since lasers would not be invented for another 30 years, Kline is somewhat limited in his ability to describe them, but what else could you call “fencing” with green and red rays? The rays themselves are versatile in their purpose, as they can be used as close range weapons (the fencing) or long range fired weapons, either as side-arm or shipboard.
The degravitator devices Ted Dustin develops are monstrous: they are able to cause protons to lose their charge, setting electrons loose and destroy matter at the atomic level. Whether it’s Lunar dragons, space tigers the size of draft horses, or the space fleet of the P’an-Ku, these things can make short work of anything! One of the neatest tricks, though, is when they get modified into a diffuse beam as part of the space warship that is built to be the vanguard of the counter attack against the Moon, it acts as a deflector shield that will instantly annihilate any projectile or disperse any ray-beam attacks that would otherwise hit the ship. Perhaps the most jarring aspect of this entire story is that no one takes a moment to really appreciate how freaking scary dangerous the stuff Ted can make is, but when Roger is flying this ship through a fleet of Lunarian globe ships, you really don’t care because it is way more awesome than that time when Han Solo killed that one TIE Fighter.
Oh, yeah, I said that Maza was better than Leia. Well, with New Star Wars coming out, we’re hearing about how Leia’s not just a Space Princess, she’s a Space General. Well, back in 1929, Maza was a Space Princess and a Space General. Maza leads, from the front, an army of over half a million Lunarian infantry and Lunar-dragon riders. She is no damsel. Sure she gets saved a couple times after saving Ted once, but after she learns that the P’an-Ku has captured Ted, she is ready to put her life on the line for him, and there are OVER HALF A MILLION of her subjects ready to lay down their lives for her. How many dudes did Leia have who would do that? Two? The Rebels would make anyone a General, and when did Leia ever lead anybody into battle? Some of Leia’s Space Princessness is kind of wrecked by her homeworld being destroyed, but she is not as good an Action Princess either. Get a load of this:
At ray fencing, the Princess[Maza] was the equal of any trained soldier in her army, but her opponent, she found, was the most skillful she had ever encountered. His tactics, however, were purely defensive except as he tried to destroy her projector. Evidently his orders had been to bring her in alive. He would feint, swinging his ray as if he meant to strike her down, but never in direct line with her body. Noticing this, she resolved to stake everything on one long chance. Accordingly, she held her projector away from her – a tempting bait. He swung for the lure, leaving his guard open for but an instant. But in that instant her red ray struck him full in the chest, and he was no more.
Yeah, that’s right, THIS Space Princess is a master at fighting with light sabers! Tell me again about how regressive the pulps were, while I try to think of any modern Space Princesses this awesome.
Ignore the middling reviews of this; they’re wrong. Kline’s Maza of the Moon is one of the best action sci-fi stories EVER. I give 5.5 Death Stars of out of 5.
Kline is stuck in Burroughs’ shadow, with many either accusing him of ripping off Barsoom or his other writings, to the point where fandom fabricated a non-existent feud between the two. I liked a Princess of Mars, but I absolutely loved Maza of the Moon. I suppose if you love Burroughs and aren’t going to go into it with the “Burroughs is better so this will be crap” attitude, you could do a lot worse than Kline. As for me, he’s on my list of writers to look out for.
I bet Kathleen Kennedy hasn’t read Maza of the Moon…
Later this week or next, more Gardner F. Fox and other Planet Stories.
Addendum: ZOMG! There was a comic adaptation!!!