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Smartass of Mars Paperback – September 13, 2015
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About the Author
Jim Gavin lives somewhere in central Louisiana. He enjoys cigars, scotch, guns, and gluten, preferably all at the same time. He is the author of HARD BOILED VAMPIRE KILLERS and ARENA OF THE WOLF.
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This book is an attempt at an homage of a Barsoom story, featuring a young man in the modern era being sent to Not-Barsoom and having adventures. For a Burroughs fan wanting to get their kicks with a new story like this, you're already sold (like I was). But hold on. There are three major issues about this book that will completely ruin your experience.
The most minor issue is that it's not Barsoom. That would be fine if Gavin explained details, but he doesn't. Gavin knows the demographic that will buy this book, and as such, assumes you've read Burrough's Barsoom stories. However, since Gavin has to change the names to Barsoom characters, landscape, and creatures this can be problematic. You're constantly wondering what a creature is supposed to be what. Not only that, but the main character will flip-flop on using cultural references to describe what he's seeing (like calling Green-man Orcs and referencing Star Trek and Star Wars). Doing that takes the reader out of the world.
Next is the main character himself: C.J. is not a consistent character. He's often describing himself as a nerd/geek type, but he's constantly contradicting that. He'll talk about being a loser, but then go off about how he's been a bunch of girls in college. Not only that, but he says he's not a hard drinker, but constantly is drinking. His personality is that of a self-absorbed uncaring cocky jock, but he's also a sensitive "loser" who will occasionally feel empathy for a random person seemingly out of nowhere. He's both good at everything and sucks at it at the same time.
Third, and the worst aspect of this story, is the swearing. Good God, Gavin's writing.... every other sentence is an f-bomb is dropped. Now I, by no means, am a prude and am opposed to swearing, but this is far too much. Not only does it break Burroughs' style, but it's one more thing that takes the reader out of the world. The story is written in first person, so there's no escaping C.J.'s filthy mouth. It's constant and never-ending. For a nerd-type who's supposed to be a loser, this guy swears like a drunken sailor.
There are minor things that are just nit-picking. Like Gavin sort dumping on John Carter himself, as the Not-Barsoom representative John Byrd is a raving barbaric monster. This story is also so macho it makes even Burroughs look like a feminist. The most likable female character is a talking spider. Speaking of likability, there is practically no one. Not-Barsoom is filled with Earthmen, so our "protagonist" isn't special. And to top it all off there is a twist towards the end that is so awful it's story-breaking. The twist isn't necessary, is out of genre, and comes literally out of nowhere, and goes just about as fast. The result of the twist causes the whole story the reader has been on to completely change for the worst. And it wasn't that great to begin with.
So there you have it. Someone had to give the real account of this story, since previous reviewers didn't. I bought this book because of their recommendations. I'm a huge Burroughs fan and while I appreciate this attempt to be a homage, it so off pouting. This doesn't feel like a pulp fantasy adventure. If this was straight parody it actually would be better. But it isn't. The writing structure is everywhere, the feeling isn't there, and the protagonist is unlikable. There is literally no reason to read this. The only positive I can give this is that the physical copy looks amazing, the book is sturdy and the cover art is fantastic. It has a real nostalgic feel to it. But other than that....
Buy at your own risk.
Mr. Smartass (I can't remember the character's name) decides to do just that. Upon arrival, he is almost immediately beset by multiple threats to his life and escapes with the help of a local who turns out to be an assassin for hire. They become friends and eventually our hero makes it to the capital city. Unfortunately, the warm welcome he was expecting from his several times great-grandfather does not materialize. His relative is still alive and ruling the planet; he is highly disappointed to see that his relative is a total wimp. The ruler condemns his - well, I'll say grandson for the sake of simplicity - to fight against a squadron of Martians, but is rescued by his assassin buddy. They escape to a quarter of town populated by criminals, with such a poor reputation that the ruler's soldiers won't go there.
From there our hero learns to fight, learns the local language and eventually finds himself swept into major political developments on Mars. Rather than go into all the details of the plot, I will say that I was impressed with the depth of detail the author has used to create an entire culture and way of life on this planet. It's also laced with humor and the narrator's reactions to this new world are, in many cases, very funny. I could have done with fewer curse words, but overall I really enjoyed this book. If you're looking for adventure with a twist I would recommend it.