With the fourth and fifth volumes of the DIRE PLANET series, Joel Jenkins wraps up his epic pulp fantasy franchise, in which he demonstrates that he is, indeed, a modern day August Derleth. Well-heeled pulpsters and aficionados of the old school know that Derleth was the man who kept Lovecraft’s work alive not only through reprintings of H.P.’s works via Arkham House, a press created by Derleth originally for the strict purpose of making sure Lovecraft’s works stayed in print, but also via his canny pastiches of the great horror cynic. Derleth had a real knack for writing in the vein of his apparent hero and he also delivered literary odes to the stylizations of others, such as Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes. So, too, does Joel Jenkins prove his chops herein. With the DIRE PLANET series, Jenkins is helping to rekindle the spirit of the late, great Edgar Rice Burroughs. That pulp luminary is known most widely for his Tarzan novels. But he also made literary history with his space opera sci-fantasy fusion Martian series featuring Earthborn adventurer John Carter, subject of a recent Disney actioner which sadly fared poorly at the box office due, IMHO, to poor marketing. Lots of folks don’t know who the hell John Carter, let alone Edgar Rice Burroughs, are. Joel Jenkins knows. Boy, does he know. A dazzling and colorful array of characters fills the pages of Jenkins’ relatively lean books; today’s readers of mammoth tomes (and series of mammoth tomes) might be shocked to know that so many old fantasy books of the pulp world were skinny but packed with story. George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry had whole universes from which to cull their colorful characters. Jenkins, limited to Mars and Earth, doesn’t let the limitation, well, limit him. He invents a complex interweaving of tribal cultures, each with their own detailed rules of living. Footnotes abound – a literary conceit that harkens to prior authors who have built elaborate, annotated worlds, and, a nice touch. The footnotes also clue us in to numerous details involving language colloquialisms and various traditions. Beyond that, the notes deliver info on a variety of flora and fauna, demonstrating Jenkins’ thoughtful creation of a Martian ecology. The story that possesses all these wonderful things is a complex being itself. One would hope so for a simple story whose footnotes are more complex than itself might be disappointing. The story shifts back and forth in time, following multiple storylines, each storyline boasting more than one thread. It sounds more confusing than it is. In fact, I was able to jump in to the series in Book Four, STRANGE GODS OF THE DIRE PLANET, in which American on Mars Garvey Dire – now member of a Martian tribe – must struggle to save one of his wives from a vindictive council seeking to frame her for murder based on a justifiable homicide. But pushing back against a governmental body is the least of his sins. He and his allies must penetrate the verboten lair of the technopriests, cloistered elitists who guard ancient knowledge and technology. Despite being so far into the series and despite having a complex plot, STRANGE GODS posed little threat to my picking up the thread of the story. It ends on a to-be-continued note, but that’s just fine. Once caught up, moving on to the very next book is as simple as turning the page. LOST TRIBES OF THE DIRE PLANET, the denouement of the big, five-volume series, Garvey is facing the possibility of the very extinction of his adopted Martian tribe, to which he has sincerely sworn his fealty. Devotees of the great and terrible spider beasts, giant arachnid “centaurs” (body of spider, torso/head of man), are stirring up a grim threat to Garvey’s tribe; beyond their physical size and monstrous nature, these creatures are capable of debilitating acts of psychic aggression. The DIRE PLANET franchise is a treat for thirsty fans of pulp fantasy, particularly those who have a fondness for the classic wave of pulp fiction.