Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Review: A Princess of Mars

A Princess of Mars

The first novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, of Tarzan fame.

A ripping yarn, a boy’s own adventure, but more…

The author’s intriguing foreword introduces us to our hero, the gentleman soldier John Carter, a brave, honourable and resourceful fighter (and probably the original Captain Jack!).

His character outlined, the strange circumstances of his “death” leave us wanting to know more.

Within a few pages of the curious narrative Carter left behind him, he has discovered a rich gold seam and attempted the single-handed rescue of his friend from “half a hundred red savages” in an episode of furious action that sets the pace for much of the book.

Escaping from pursuing Apaches, Captain Carter hides up in a cave, where a mysterious influence paralyses him. He escapes from his seemingly dead body and, by sheer force of will, is transported to Mars, where his real adventures begin.

We want to know about the landscape, flora and inhabitants of Mars, and the reader soon gets used to the long but beautifully written information dumps, which describe the alien world and it’s peoples.

Captured by Green Martian warriors, magnificent 15 feet tall warlike barbarians, Carter soon impresses them with his marvellous agility, due to the lesser gravity of Mars, and his fighting skills.

The Greens live in a Spartan warrior society in which everything except personal adornments and weapons are held in common. Hatchlings (The Greens, like all Martians, are egg-laying reptiles) are raised in common and there is no concept of family, compassion, or love.

However, they are not alone on Mars, and soon an airborne expedition of the technically advanced and (relatively) peaceful Red Martians is attacked; a battleship and our heroine, the beautiful Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, are captured.

It is love at first sight for Captain Jack!

There follow furious hand-to-hand combat, hairsbreadth escapes, the saving of Dejah Thoris from a fate worse than death, and a full-scale war, before the princess is reunited with her father.

In an interesting and important interlude, John Carter visits what is possibly the first terraforming (…er, Marsforming?) plant in SF.

By the end, Carter has the love of a beautiful (if oviparous) woman, staunch companions, both Red & Green, and a faithful hound. The stage is set for more adventure…

This is the kind of rollicking action novel which drew many a lad into SF : and as has been noted elsewhere, it lacks the racist and sexual unpleasantness which mar many of it’s imitators.
Great stuff.


Bibliothecary said...

Excellent review swlrir! People will be pleased to know that "Princess of Mars" is available via Project Gutenberg. The Barsoom novels (of which this is the first) have been acknowledged by such science fiction (and science fact) luminaries as Ray Bradbury and Carl Sagan as being major influences. There's a certain charm to early 20th century SF like this which seemed to be lost post World War 2. Although my own SF tastes lean heavily towards the cyberpunk, I do have a soft spot for stories like these and after this I may be prompted to revisit some of the old classics! BTW, did the Princess of Helium have a really squeaky voice?!

swlrir said...

Good question! that hadn't occurred to me!

But the Princess on the book jacket
is definitely a mammal!

michael said...

I'd like to offer congratulations: the first thing I did with this month's SFX was to turn to the reading group page. Lo and behold, swlrir strikes again!