I fell in love with this book when I was a teenager; in fact, I still have my 35-cent Ballantine paperback with Bob Abbett’s glorious cover. The older I get, the more I enjoy this book. You can enjoy it, too. If you can’t buy a used copy at various websites, you can read it for free on your computer. I like this book so much, I’m even pitching it to potential readers of my books.
What’s so great about it? Simply this: when I read it, I’m there. That’s the acid test of any fantasy–whether the author can get you to believe the crazy story he made up.
Chessmen takes place on Mars, in a backwater cut off from the rest of the planet. The people are splendidly barbaric, with a lot of strange customs and beliefs. Chief among those is a fanatical devotion to jetan, the Martian equivalent of chess, which these nonconformists play with living pieces battling with live steel. As a bonus, Burroughs also gives you the rules of the game, so you can make your own jetan set and play it. By the way, it’s a very cool game. Of course I made a set. I brought it to my local chess club a few times, and everyone enjoyed it. Sometimes you can also find websites where you can play jetan online.
Chessmen also features one of the most original and captivating characters any writer ever invented: Ghek the kaldane. Ghek is a monstrous head with hardly any body. His kind live parasitically on headless human bodies from which they can detach themselves at will. They worship the intellect and take pride in being uninvolved, unemotional–pure thinkers. But Ghek, wrenched out of his culture by the plot, must wrestle with certain aspects of life which are completely new to him–love, loyalty, friendship, self-sacrifice. As a kaldane, can he learn how to be a human being? His progress makes for fascinating reading.
Why read books like this? For refreshment and escape! Sometimes I just can’t take any more of the pompous asses in the Senate, our civilization-ravaging Supreme Court, that lawless golem in the White House, and pro-aborts chanting “Hail, Satan!” I can’t keep fighting every hour of every day. And so, from time to time, I just take off for Mars. Or Narnia, or Middle-Earth. Anywhere but here.
But don’t worry. I always come back.