Review: When the Green Star Calls By Lin Carter

Review

B.Dyke

When the Green Star Calls.

2/5 stars

I read this book, the second of a series, more or less by mistake. For some reason, I thought it was a standalone book and not some over blown set of  “chronicles”. The cover art looked neat, the title inviting, and I really wanted to read a book by Lin Carter. In the end, I don’t think that call made much play in my negative opinion of the title.

Let me state that I really wanted to like this book. I respect Lin Carter’s legacy in genres I dig and wanted to check out some of his writing. However, despite this biased view going in. When the Green Star Calls is an unoriginal and mediocre fan fiction of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter saga with a weak, splintered plot, dull characters, and rushed themes that prove to undo and overcome any pulpy nostalgia the book may harbor.

A few notes before my review:

This was my first Lin Carter book. As stated, I was familiar with his reputation; as a middling writer but perhaps a more iconic editor, organizer and enthusiast of 1960s and 70s fantasy, specifically influential in the elevation of the “Sword and Sorcery” genre made famous by perhaps more talented writers like Robert Howard, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock. (all stuff I like, though I’m mixed on Leiber) Likewise, I was familiar with his affinity and work for/with HP Lovecraft and his material.

As for Green Star, the e-copy I purchased was filled with typos, misspellings and character errors. While this likely was not Carter’s fault, it was wholeheartedly atrocious and detracted from my enjoyment of the read. Certainly, Lin as a former editor extraordinaire would have been upset at this sloppy edition.

Pros;

A short and light book, nothing dense and could be considered “fun”. The prose is not terrible, and at times strafes the line of “acceptable”. Lin Carter succeeds in slightly toning down even the dated Burroughs –esque sentence structure and dialogue. In fact, halfway through reading this book I took a break and attacked a re-read of Princess of Mars via a low budget free audio recording online. I actually did not finish, and got too frustrated with some of the drifty sentences and motivations. I think Burroughs’ prose maybe even was more flowery and meandering. (Side note; I love everything about what Burroughs’ work stands for as historical and lighthearted pulp, but I do think his reading comes off dated)

Negatives;

Archaic dialogue, outdated character morality and superficial drive. When the Green Star Calls brings more of that and more. Unlike many gasbags of the current climate, I prefer to evaluate stuff at its own merit and not bring modern tastes and senses to bare when reviewing or evaluating older writers, but in this case it’s just too mired in mediocrity to tell what’s what. My gut tells me this Carter effort was a bit vapid and dull in the 1960s and 70s as well.

Thus, Karn, the main protagonist in the book, proves to be no John Carter. Sure Karn’s benefactor has a somewhat neat twist to his back a story. Turns out he’s actually a frail human on his deathbed who “astral projects” from Earth to steal the body of a recently deceased alien hunter. It’s woefully the same type of cool pulpy mumbo-jumbo science/magic of John Carter, that is, if it weren’t a complete jack.

Despite Karn’s neat back history, I think Burroughs even did a better job showing John Carter as a character with demons and more fleshed out motivations. Burroughs’ supporting cast likewise, was far more complicated and affable. Had (Lin) Carter used his Karn’s deepest motivations as a “physically handicapped” man in a fit body more effectively, the character may have blossomed…however we get little of that, and soon Karn may as well be a waxen version of John Carter, albeit with a few minor differences. The book is simply too short to flesh out any of the other characters with anything but superficial glimpses.

Homage is all fine. I can accept homages  and even do them in my own writing. So you name a starship the “Night Gaunt” or a Ghoul character “Pickman”. This goes way beyond that. So too, Pastiche is acceptable to me. Hell, Watchmen , one of the greatest literary/artistic fantasy works ever published was pastiche. It can be quite good when done right, and it doesn’t always need to be so profound as Moore’s comic. I liked Conan-style pastiche like Jake’s Brak the Barbarian and many others. Simple and fun. Yet, here the material is just not good enough. Solid pastiche needs a good twist on the source material for my tastes to prove worthwhile…or, at the least, it just needs to be better. At times, Green Star is so bad, it burdens on (gulp) bad fan fiction and/or intellectual infringement.

The most tangible problem with the book, however, is not the issues of homage, pastiche, and weak characters and is instead the drifting plot and fractured pacing. Here, Lin Carter does not come anywhere near approaching Burroughs’ plotting. As such, the book’s paltry cohesiveness breaks down under the sloppy structure.

Frankly, the first section is the best; here, Carter paints a weird and frondy version of the sorcerer’s apprentice. He should have focused the entirety of this tale with this arc and expanded upon it.  I liked the oddness of the vegetative antagonists and the muddled morality of the evil sorcerer. This section has a well-executed development of Karn’s exploration, errand running, the anticipation of his escape and sense of mystery. This first part should have led to a larger tie-in to the second act, but Lin missed the opportunity.

After this section the narrative just falls apart. That is, because there really is no narrative. The book devolves into that same old Burroughs “pastiche” and really loses its original alien sylvan-esque uniqueness in a soup of digressing into Barsoomish political alliances, flying zippers (dragonflies called “Zaiphs” here) princess rescues, city-state rivals, and factionalism. More weirdness would have been nice. As it stands, there’s nothing here worth reading.

The kicker is the end…or lack thereof, because Carter basically just cuts the sucker short at a cliff hanger without resolving any of the books plot points. He even breaks the fourth wall with a faux history and tells us all to “suck it up” because he’s busy with other stuff.  It’s beyond cheesy and aggravating. It gets even more cringe worthy when he tells us basically that everything was “ok” with the assortment of characters. Turns out Lin did have something in mind with this as there are three more books in the series, installments which thankfully will remain unexplored for me.

Sorry Lin, it was just not that good to keep going here. It’s horribly pretentious to assume the ride had the gravitas to continue.

And so old Karn for me will be left on the side of that tower, high and dry and in the lurch forever, so it seems. Pity… sucks to be him.

In the end, the best I can say about this book is that “I finished it”, which is something to be said. As I’ve stated, it is a quick read, so if you have a moldy copy on some dusty bookshelf at a summer camp, it’s not the worst thing you could read on the porch while the wind blows. Otherwise, I’d look elsewhere.

 

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