The Caspak Series

I feel like I’m horning in on The Books That Time Forgot territory with this collection of retro reviews from early 2010.

Obviously, with Prussian U-boat captains, I’ll have to revisit this someday for my World War One in Fantastic Fiction series.

Review: The Land That Time Forgot, Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1918.The Land That Time Forgot

It’s been said that the golden age of Burroughs is 12 or, sometimes, 14. Well, I read Burroughs at both ages, and it didn’t take. Way too many coincidences for me.

Well, it’s been more than 25 years since I’ve read Burroughs. Inspired by watching the latest movie version of this book and hearing the Caspak series praised as his best outside of the Tarzan and John Carter series, I decided to give ERB another try.

The plot is pretty straightforward. Narrator Bowen Tyler has his ship torpedoed out from under him in 1916. He is picked up by a British tug – but not before meeting the instantaneously recognizable love of his life, Lys La Rue, another passenger, as they float around in the water. Said ship is then sunk – by the same German U-Boat that torpedoed Bowen’s ship, and Bowen, Lys, and several of the tug’s crewmen are taken prisoners aboard the sub. A struggle for control of the vessel ensues. Not to fear, though. Our narrator just happens to belong to a submarine manufacturing family out of Santa Monica, and they built the sub he’s now on. Of course, the situation is a bit complicated by Lys being the U-Boat commander’s fiancé.

And the coincidences are just beginning. But, after about 50 pages into this slender, 126 page book, the real story begins after landfall on Caspak – a lost continent full of what should be extinct animals from Earth’s distant past. Naturally, dinos are going to be fought, Prussians are going to be surly and treacherous, and Lys is going to get kidnapped. And Burroughs does do something genuinely novel with the primitive humans of this land.

Burroughs, whatever his other faults as a writer, is a master of pacing. And, however melodramatic the scenes of Bowen and Lys acknowledging their love for each other are and their philosophical discussions, there are some moments of grandeur and poignancy as they face their solitary fate on Caspak – all related in the manuscript Bowen has put in a thermos and tossed into the sea.

This is the first third of a serial originally published in 1918, and this is one Burroughs series I will be completing.

Review: The People That Time Forgot, Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1918.The People That Time Forgot

Burroughs does something interesting in the second installment of the Caspak series. Rather than being narrated by the hero of The Land That Time Forgot, Tyler Bowen, this story is narrated by his friend Thomas Billings. Billings gets Bowen’s manuscript – thrown into the ocean inside a thermos — and undertakes a rescue expedition. Of course, Billings happens to be an aviator, crack shot, and all around great cowboy. The novel has a couple of points of interest: the details of how some primitive humans physically evolve in their lifetime and move from tribe to tribe accordingly and Billings cluelessly not realizing that he’s falling in love with native woman (and true human) Ajor – a “squaw” not of his race or culture.

A quick, short and worthwhile read despite Burroughs characteristically ludicrous coincidences.

Review: Out of Time’s Abyss, Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1918.Out of Time's Abyss

Despite an ending that is far, far too neat and unbelievable in its chronological relation to the first two books in the series, this is the best of the lot. Burroughs tamps down his love of coincidence and provides some interesting – if incompletely worked out – ideas. But then Burroughs was never an author known for rigorously working out the implications of his premises.

What Burroughs does deliver is romantic adventure. Yes, like The People That Time Forgot, this novel’s hero, Bradley from the first novel, accidentally, inevitably falls in love with a native woman he rescues. The two are fellow prisoners in Oo-Oh, dubbed by Bradley as the City of Human Skulls. Their captors are the Wieroo, Caspak’s most advanced humans. Not only do they have wings, but, unlike every other human group on Caspak, they have writing and textiles. They also, in bootstrapping their evolution and competing with the other humans on the island, developed a cruel culture dedicated to spreading the orthodoxy of their thought. (I suspect we are to see a parallel to the Prussianism of the villainous U-Boat commander from the first book – who makes a reappearance here.) Their religion is based on advancement by murder, and they really do like building out of skulls. Bradley’s adventures among the Wieroo are good, exciting stuff.

Burroughs also is more explicit here about some of the details on how human development works on Caspak, a land where most humans start out as tadpole-like critters in ponds and, barring accident and bad genes, become human. It’s a three-quarters baked idea here but still interesting.

This novel probably works better if you read its immediate successor, The People That Time Forgot, first.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

4 thoughts on “The Caspak Series

  1. I remember reading these three in one day about a decade ago, and they struck me as being far too similar in terms of plot and pacing—by this point in his career, Burroughs had found his formula and was sticking with it. Still, pretty exciting stuff, and I’m easily swayed by pulp adventures featuring dinosaurs, but if I was re-reading them today I’d probably break them up instead of reading them all in one go.

    1. Well, as I’ve made clear, I am not a Burroughs fan, so you will get only one argument from me and that is many critics cite this and its novel version of evolution as one of his more original efforts.

      One of these days I’ll buckle down and actually read all the Barsoom books. I’ve only read the first three.

      1. As someone who occasionally considers himself a Burroughs fan, I kind of think the first three Barsoom books are the best in the series… if only because most of the rest tend to blur together in memory.

      2. I don’t want to be too snarky about Burroughs. He is important in the history of sf and, for a writer to be read as long as he has, without being forced on people through school reading lists, means there is something significant about him, something he did very well. I’d say it was the romance and pacing.

        He also was a more topical writer than appreciated — and, as others have pointed out, there is a lot of classical (as in Roman and Greek) influence in his work.

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