Moon Maid at the Earth's Core

by Andy Nunez
Series: Pellucidar fan fiction
Reviewed date: 2021 Jun 6
128 pages
cover art

Read this book online at Tangor's Pastiche and Fan Fiction: Moon Maid at the Earth's Core, by Andy Nunez.

Moon Maid at the Earth's Core is the best little book I've read in ages. I'm a sucker for Pellucidar fiction, and I'm especially interested in anything that features the pendent moon of Pellucidar. So Moon Maid at the Earth's Core checks all the boxes. It's like Andy Nunez wrote it just for me.

It should be canon
I've read 57 books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and quite a few pastiches and fan fiction novels. Most of the fan fiction is written for the purpose of taking a new and fresh view of ERB's worlds. You know, parody, or maybe adding some gritty realism, or maybe turning the story on its head by portraying the hero as a bit of a jerk. That's fun, but it means they don't fit well into the established canon.

Not so with Moon Maid at the Earth's Core. I think this could be considered canonical. The only other non-ERB story that made me think it could be added right into the official series is The Forgotten Sea of Mars by Michael Resnick, which (in my mind anyway) should be added to Llana of Gathol in all future printings.

Moon Maid at the Earth's Core fits right into the ERB universe. It fits better than Tarzan and the Dark Heart of Time by Philip José Farmer, which is a semi-official entry. If ERB, Inc. is including that book as official, well, then I'm including Moon Maid at the Earth's Core in my canon.

This is excellent work. I have noted a lot of minor quibbles below, but these quibbles are probably fewer than I have with actual ERB books. (I like his stuff, but man, some of it has problems.)

Plot summary (warning: spoilers)
The plot is perfectly Burroughsesque. Byron Jasper Wells is a P-38 pilot for the US Navy, on Arctic patrol duty during World War II. He gets lost, flies into Pellucidar via the north polar opening, and has a fantastic adventure. First he falls in with an Italian explorer, Giuseppe Rinaldo, who has also strayed into Pellucidar. Giuseppe is accompanied by a woman named Salome, who claims to be from the moon, and Salome's slave Ee-la-nah. Wells has read a little about Pellucidar from the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, so he suggests they head towards Sari and contact Emperor David Innes. But first they need fuel for the P-38.

Fortunately the fuel problem is solved when they meet a solitary Mahar and make a deal: the Mahar will help them distill gasoline if they will take him to Phutra. Making a deal with a Mahar is risky, but they have no other choice. (As it happens, the Mahar keeps his end of the bargain. He seems a particularly progressive and humble individual, for a Mahar anyway.)

Wells picks up a pet tarag (saber-toothed tiger) that he names Lightning. They won't all fit in the P-38 so Giuseppe designs and builds a glider for the P-38 to tow. (I love that. It's a clever bit of writing. There's a problem, and the characters solve it with ingenuity and hard work. There's no cheating on the part of the author here.)

On their flight to Sari they meet trouble: an advance scouting party of aircraft from the Race. The Race live on the pendent moon of Pellucidar, and they are analogous to Nazis. They've filled up their world and now seek more land, so they've built a fleet of airplanes and airships to invade and conquer Pellucidar. The flimsy primitive aircraft of the Race are no match for a P-38, but Wells is one man with a single airplane. The Race have a whole army and a world at their disposal.

Wells shoots down several enemy aircraft before being forced down. The upshot: the Mahar grabs Ee-la-nah and strikes out for Phutra on his own, before the Race can capture them. The Race murder Salome out of hand (she lied about being from the pendent moon so they killed her), then follow the Mahar and Ee-la-nah to Phutra. Wells and Giuseppe escape and make their way to Sari, where they warn David Innes. While the Empire of Pellucidar prepares for war, Wells takes his P-38 and goes to rescue his true love Ee-la-nah, who, as it turns out, is actually from the pendent moon. She is the real moon maid.

Wells flies to Phutra, where he finds the Mahar, dying. The Mahar tells him that the Race took Ee-la-nah back to the pendent moon. Wells flies his P-38 all the way to the moon and lands right on one of their military airstrips. He's immediately captured, interrogated, thrown into prison, and assigned to hard labor. Conveniently, in the work gang he meets Ee-la-nah's brother Othniel. Together they stage an uprising and rescue Ee-la-nah. Wells takes her back to Sari.

Then, the war. The forces of the Race are formidable, and the hastily-devised anti-aircraft guns and rockets of Sari only slow them down. The Race lands an invasion force complete with armored tanks. Things are looking bleak when a regiment of lidi riders charge into the fray. Their diplodocus mounts knock the tanks around like toys. Then, an advance force from Sari bombs the pendent moon with incendiary balloons, causing widespread devastation. Faced with aerial bombardment and utter devastation, the citizens of the Race rise up and overthrow their warmongering government, and sue for peace.

The end.

Thoughts on style and storytelling
It's not ERB's style, it's quite a bit more casual. That's OK, ERB's style is hard to mimic, and it's nice to get a story told in a different voice.

Storytelling-wise, it worked well. There were a couple of spots where the action was unclear. In particular I'm thinking of when he flew toward Thuria and the pendent moon, I was unsure whether he landed in Thuria or flew directly to the moon. (It was Thuria, but I was unsure for a few paragraphs.)

The Pendent Moon
The moon of Pellucidar should have a name. Burroughs called it a pendent world. (Note, pendent, not pendant. Adjective vs. noun.) But that's a description, not a name. William Gilmour called it Orbitar in his story Back to the Earth's Core, a story I quite enjoyed. F. Paul Wilson calls it the Dead World in his story The Dead World, which I haven't yet read. In this story, I think the Race that lives on the moon should have a name for it.

Some quibbles about the pendent moon: In Pellucidar, Edgar Rice Burroughs states that it floats only a mile above the surface. That's a little over 5000 feet, and the P-38 routinely flies 10,000 or 20,000 feet. In Moon Maid at the Earth's Core the pendent moon is farther away, at least a few miles.

More moon quibbles: The moon "rotated slowly in an exact parallel to the surface below. With night and day, it was a question whether the inhabitants were constrained by time as on the outer surface." I would take rotating "in an exact parallel to the surface below" to indicate that the same side of the moon is always facing the surface of Pellucidar. But that's not what this means, because that would mean one side of the moon is perpetually in darkness and the other perpetually in the light. What this actually means is what Burroughs explained in Pellucidar: "I saw that it was revolving upon an axis that lay parallel to the surface of Pellucidar, so that during each revolution its entire surface was once exposed to the world below and once bathed in the heat of the great sun above."

If I stop to ponder it, I cannot quite grasp what "parallel" means in relation to the inside of a sphere. In any case, the moon of Pellucidar has day and night. Whether these are the same length as Earth's day and night is not mentioned. Perhaps these questions of impossible orbital mechanics are best left alone. I will just read the story and enjoy it.

The names are odd. Why do the men of the Race have Bible names? Jehoida and Othniel are straight from the Old Testament. But then Ee-la-nah is a totally different naming style. If you're going to have the men and women of a race named with completely different styles, that needs to be addressed and explained.

The problem of Salome
Then there is the problem of Salome. Again, a Bible name--but this time, a Greek name from the New Testament instead of an Israelite name from the Old Testament. Further, we never learn who Salome is, where she came from, or what her story is. But worst, she's killed off casually and brutally. Murdered by the Race. I know this isn't an Edgar Rice Burroughs story, and we want to show how evil the Race is, but I had a visceral and negative reaction to her callous demise. The proper fate for a selfish and disloyal woman in a story like this is to pair her off with a pompous and cowardly dilettante.

Framing device
I appreciated the framing device in the Prologue. It makes the story feel authentic.

First person
The story is written in first person. That's fine. Edgar Rice Burroughs does that sometimes. I gather that it's frowned upon, and most books are written in the third person. The third person viewpoint allows for the author to show different characters and different parts of the action, and can sometimes be better for the overall plot. A strict first person story is only going to show a single point of view, unless we have internal narrators who tell their own stories.

I found the parts that poke fun at Edgar Rice Burroughs to be genuinely funny. I laughed. For example:

Jehoida rushed to me and I gave him a boot in a place no self-respecting Edgar Rice Burroughs hero would strike.

"I will help you because I wish Ee-la-nah to escape also. My name is Othniel."

I was immediately suspicious. "Why do you wish this?"

"She is my sister, you big ugly below-worlder," he stated. I was at once relieved. Had this been an actual Burroughs tale, I might have gone for a long time thinking he was a rival lover."

However, that humor may not work unless it is consistent. Either the whole book is a parody, or the whole book plays it straight. Don't get me wrong, I loved it, truly. But a mostly-serious book with a few gags slipped in is OK for intense fans like me, but not for the general reader.

The Title is a Problem
The title Moon Maid at the Earth's Core makes me think this story is related to Edgar Rice Burroughs's Moon Maid books. It's not. There's nothing about it except that Ee-la-nah's name is suspiciously similar to Nah-ee-lah from the Moon Maid book, but that is apparently just a coincidence. I'm going to suggest changing Ee-la-nah's name so that it doesn't feel like a link to the Moon Maid series, and pick a title with less potential for confusion.

Perhaps A Princess of Pellucidar (and then make sure the heroine is a princess.) Or, A Pilot of Pellucidar, or A Flying Man of Pellucidar. Or World War at the Earth's Core.

Just cut out the Moon Maid references.

Missed opportunities: Salome
I was disappointed not to learn more about Salome's backstory, and how she and Ee-la-nah met.

Missed opportunities: New creatures
One of my favorite parts of an ERB story is the variety of fantastic creatures that he invents. Thoats, calots, banths, zitidars. Tandor, tarag, trodon, thipdar. I'd like to encounter some new ones in this story. Surely the moon of Pellucidar would have unique wild animals.

Missed opportunities: the pendent moon
Another favorite part of an ERB story is the curious little civilizations he invents. They are little science fiction experiments, and it's fun to see the hero thrown into a new society and be taught the strange and arcane customs. In Moon Maid at the Earth's Core the hero doesn't get to spend nearly enough time on the pendent moon. That section could be expanded greatly, giving time to fully explore different aspects of the Race and their society.

Missed opportunities: Mahars
There appear to be some clues left regarding the Mahars, perhaps setting up a sequel to this story. I am intrigued. Could this be incorporated as a side-adventure before Byron travels to the moon? Or maybe after? Perhaps he seeks out some Mahars, or some long-lost Mahar ruins, to gather technology or material to be used in the defense of Sari. Hey, maybe the Mahars would make good allies against the Race.

I'm just very interested in a more fully developed Mahar subplot. The one Mahar in the book really caught my imagination, in a good way.

Nitpick: the altimeter
The story says "My altimeter suddenly changed radically. It shot from 10,000 to 20,000 feet and kept climbing. The air pressure didn't differ, however." I'm not certain, but I suspect that the altimeter on the P-38 operated on air pressure. It couldn't show a different altitude but the same air pressure. Now, a radio altimeter would show altitude calculated via radar, so that wouldn't depend on air pressure, but was the P-38J equipped with one? And would it be used at this altitude? I could be wrong on this one, but it bothered me enough that I had to stop reading and search for answers.

Nitpick: the P-38J
I'm going to take it on faith that the P-38J was used for Arctic patrols. The J model seems like a pretty late model, probably introduced late in the war, so would a pilot who enlisted right after Pearl Harbor get to fly it? Wouldn't he end up flying an earlier model? When exactly is this set, anyway?

Ah, I'm probably overthinking this. I have no real expertise in World War II aircraft beyond once owning a set of spotter cards.

Nitpick: a tiger cub has a mother and a father
Nuclear family groups in prehistoric tigers seems unlikely. Today's tigers are solitary. That doesn't mean prehistoric tigers were, but it should at least be commented on. (What does ERB say about tarag social structures?)

OK, now I'm way out in the weeds. I'm second-guessing the author's choice of social structures for prehistoric tigers living on the inside of a hollow earth.

Nitpick: some typos
Occasionally Ee-la-nah is referred to as Ee-lah-na or Ee-na-lah. Salome is spelled Solame nearly half the time. (Maybe it is supposed to be Solame?) There were a few other typos too, I think, but I didn't make note of them.

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