Originally titled by Burroughs as Under the Red Flag the second chapter of the Moon Trilogy was later re-titled The Moon Men with few key and drastic alterations. As the originally title may tell you it wasn’t suppose to be about invaders from the Moon at all but the threat of Communism, Burroughs wrote the original draft in 1918 shortly after the Bolshevik revolution had ended and what he wrote was quite a scathing anti-communist dystopian story.
Sadly publishers at the time were nervous about releasing such a controversial book and Burroughs found his novel rejected eleven times before he finally gave up and turned the Communist into the Kalkars, a boorish race of invaders from the Moon. Aside from a few cosmetic changes it remains much the same as he first wrote it back in 1918 as there is really no fantasy elements to the book at all and very little relation to The Moon Maid aside from the opening few chapters.
As in The Moon Maid the story begins with the author running into Julian the 3rd who continues to regale us with stories of his later incarnations with Julien the 9th being the focus of The Moon Men. We do get a quick overview of what happened to Julien the 5th who along with the lovely moon maid Nah-ee-lah and the crew of The Barsoom managed to make it back to Earth, but when they tried to warn the peace loving populace of the threat Orthis and his lunar followers holds they were completely ignored. Of course Julien is proven right as the invasion led by Orthis steamrolls over Earth’s meager defenses. Julien and Orthis have one finally encounter that results in them both dying leaving the Kalkars in charge of Earth, but without the evil brain of Orthis to guide them or to provide them with technical support the Kalkars regress back to their ignorant ways and eventually even lose contact with the Moon.
We then jump ahead to Julien the 9th, the grandson of Julien the 5th, who we find living a pitiful existence amongst the crumbling ruins of a once glorious city with his mother and father who under the heavy boot of the Kalkar regime scape by selling milk and tending their goats. Reading, writing and religion have been made illegal and the humans are heavily taxed by the Kalkars to the brink of starvation. It is when a new commandant by the name of Or-tis arrives in their district that things get a bit tense for not only is he cruel even by Kalkar standards but he focuses his lust on many a pretty young human girl. Unmarried women can be forced to “serve” Kalkars and if they happened to be married accidents tend to happen to their husbands.
Young Julien hates the Kalkars as much as anybody but once he saves the beautiful Juana St. John from a pack of hellhounds (just big nasty dogs not actually from Hell) he finds something really worth fighting for and when Or-tis fixes his greedy eyes on Juana there can be only one outcome. There will be blood.
To call the Kalkars in this book a thinly veiled look at communists would be unjust as it isn’t even remotely veiled, those who may not know this book started out as anti-communist story will certainly pick up on it rather quickly. Like in his book Beyond the Farthest Star where the Kapars were that book’s communist analog The Moon Men shows a bleak world where Communist/Kalkars prey on the weak, spies and traitors are everywhere, all adding up to create an atmosphere of paranoia and fear.
Julien the 9th has many of the typical traits of your standard Burroughs hero; immensely strong, brave, noble of heart, and selfless, but where he stands apart from almost all of the pulp heroes that Burroughs created is that he recognizes that he is in love with Juana almost immediately upon meeting her. This may seem like a small thing but if you read as many of his books as I have you tend to notice that most of the protagonists are thick as bricks when it comes to love. In this case I’m betting Burroughs was more interested in exploring how the evils of communism will ruin the world than in the complex “Will they won’t they” of a love story. Regardless of the reason I found it rather refreshing.
The Moon Men is an interesting book to say the least as it gives you a good look into the philosophy and political beliefs held by Burroughs at the time but as a fun pulp adventure I found it a tad too depressing, especially when it starts off with the “noble” death of the hero from the previous book and then tosses the reader into a grim joyless world that only occasionally raises itself out of and onto the mighty back of heroic Julien the 9th to only be dashed down again just when you think things are going good. All said and done it could have used a lighter touch and maybe a few Moon-Centaurs.