When I picked up this book, I wasn’t quite sure to expect. The reviews that I had read before buying it were a mixture of outraged feminists, nostalgic reminiscences, and people pointing out the predictability of the plot. It sounded like it would either be terrible or a lot of fun.
“Tarnsman of Gor,” is basically “A Princess of Mars” with bondage and sex slaves thrown in for the aesthetic. The plot is almost exactly the same as Burroughs’. Tarl Cabot is a professor who goes hiking in the woods and is somehow teleported to Gor, the Counter Earth. Gor follows Earth’s orbit, but is on the opposite side of the sun, so we can’t see it. While on Gor, in part because of slightly altered gravity, Tarl becomes a heroic warrior who is capable of seemingly impossible feats of strength and valor. He rides on a giant bird called a tarn. Tarns are treated a lot like the sand worms in Dune; they’re integral to society, but they’re dangerous and can kill people. While on a quest, Tarl falls in love with Talena, a warlord’s daughter, and when she falls into enemy hands he must rescue the damsel in distress.
Based on the outraged reviews, I had expected the S&M parts to be a lot worse and/or more sexist than they were. Yes, the female characters tended to either be sex slaves or to wear veils and and be socially segregated from the men, and I can see how that might bother some people. But, to be fair, the heroine didn’t end up chained up until she tried to kill Tarl several times, and he did seem to be very respectful of her under the circumstances. Then again, I also probably wouldn’t fall in love with someone who tried to kill me, so there’s that.
One thing that I didn’t care for was the infodump when Tarl arrives on Gor. I tend to prefer a more integrated way of worldbuilding, where the details about the setting and society are woven into the plot as they become relevant.
The plot is very predictable, but that’s to be expected in pulpy sci-fi, and it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book. It’s a fun read if you know what you’re getting yourself into. Sword & planet science fantasy adventures are my indulgence of choice if it’s been a particularly rough day (/rant/ such as when you’re house-sitting at your boyfriend’s apartment while he’s on vacation overseas and there’s a sewage backup that they have to dig up the street to fix and you’re trying to keep yourself awake at five in the morning while repair people and plumbers are going in and out and there’s shit everywhere… /endrant/), and if there are scenes that border on softcore porn, it’s just part of what gives that type of book its flavor. The book was perfect for something mindless but with lots of adventure, and I ordered the second book in the series with the hopes that I’ll enjoy it too.
“Tarnsman of Gor” certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you’re in the mood for some cheesy pulpy sci-fi, then it’s perfect.