Series: Barsoom #1
Published: 1912 Genres: Science Fiction
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Several people have asked me what my thoughts were on the John Carter movie and how it compares to the original books. Of course, I hadn’t read “A Princess of Mars,” and I hadn’t gone to see the movie, and so I was at a complete loss. I was delighted to find that “A Princess of Mars” is available as a free Kindle e-book and bumped it to the top of my list.
The story is told from the perspective of John Carter, a Confederate veteran who went West after losing the Civil War. He ended up being chased into a scary cave by some Indians and was knocked unconscious. He woke up naked on Mars, known asBarsoom by its inhabitants. Because of the the difference in gravity between the two planets, John Carter is basically superhuman and is capable of heroic feats of strength.
At first I was a bit turned off by the fact that no explanation was given for John Carter’s abrupt teleportation to Mars, or why John Carter could be teleported but his clothing could not. I wanted a bit more detail, or at least a plausible theory as to what happened. However, as the story progressed I just went with it and started enjoying John Carter’s adventures as he endeavored to win the hand of the equally naked Martian princess Dejah Thoris. You see, nobody on Mars wears clothing. It makes for a better story. You’re not just imagining John Carter fighting off dozens of men in hand-to-hand combat… that’s too easy! He has to be completely vulnerable while fighting to make his feats mean even more. And Dejah Thoris… we know she’s hot because we’re imagining EVERYTHING. The Michael Whelan cover above provides a very modest depiction of her charms.
The writing in “A Princess of Mars” reminded me a lot of H. G. Wells as far as the general style goes. Today’s sci-fi and fantasy novels tend to be written in the third person. “A Princess of Mars” is told as if John Carter is talking to you while having a glass of scotch by the fireplace.
This is the kind of book that you read as a fun adventure, not really for deeper meaning. There’s a bit of a critique of collectivism, but it seems to be there mostly to create a difference between two different races of humanoid Martians. If the book were written a few years later, I’d assume that it was a jab against the Soviet Union, but Burroughs wrote this in 1917. The book is mostly about the action and it follows the general hero-rescues-damsel-in-distress model, but the obstacles John Carter faced on Mars were pretty creative.
I’d recommend the book to anyone looking for some classic sci-fi, and I’m planning on continuing to read the series.