Series: Barsoom #2
Published: 1913 Genres: Science Fiction
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Ten years after A Princess of Mars, Confederate veteran John Carter is once again returned to Barsoom and finds himself in a completely unfamiliar setting.
When Martians are ready to die, they take a voluntary pilgrimage to the Valley of Dor and follow the River Iss, where a peaceful afterlife awaits. However, when John Carter finds himself there, he doesn’t see any evidence of peace. Instead, he sees vicious plant-men and the deadly great white apes. The further he delves into the region, the more evidence he uncovers that the religions of Barsoom are a lie designed to sustain another secret civilization. He rescues a young woman named Thuvia, and together they plan their escape.
I enjoy the fact that Thuvia isn’t completely helpless. Yes, she’s been held captive for many years, but as soon as John Carter rescues her, she becomes a necessary part of his team. Without her mastery over vicious beasts, their escape would have been impossible. Of course, there are times where she’s the damsel in distress, but that’s part of the whole sword-and-planet aesthetic.
This is pulp fiction at its best, although like most older pulp, it can be a little bit un-PC at times. John Carter encounters the only black people on Mars, who happen to be bloodthirsty pirates. They’re also described in an almost homoerotic way, so we’ve got incredibly sexy bloodthirsty pirates, which were a lot of fun to imagine. Despite the stereotypical descriptions, one of the major themes in this book is that people can be good friends and comrades no matter what their backgrounds. One of the pirates, Xodar, becomes a crucial member of John Carter’s group.
In that little party there was not one who would desert another; yet we were of different countries, different colours, different races, different religions–and one of us was of a different world.
I’m actually a bit surprised at how progressive the themes are for 1913. In fact, I think that a lot of people in today’s world could stand to learn from them. Upon discovering empirical evidence that parts of the Martian religion were false, John Carter decides that it is his ethical duty to tell people about it, even though he knows that they might kill him for it.
Only thus may we carry the truth to those without, and though the likelihood of our narrative being given credence is, I grant you, remote, so wedded are mortals to their stupid infatuation for impossible superstitions, we should be craven cowards indeed were we to shirk the plain duty which confronts us.
He doesn’t want any more people to be torn apart by the plant men and the great white apes and then eaten by cannibals, which seems like a pretty reasonable position. He realizes that even though people have believed in the sacred pilgrimage for thousands of years, the duration of a belief doesn’t make that belief true. John Carter’s resolve is further strengthened when he learns that his beloved Princess, Dejah Thoris, has recently taken the pilgrimage in his absence. He vows to save her, although it is a race against time, and he fears that he is too late.
The science in The Gods of Mars is a bit silly, which is to be expected. I’m still baffled that John Carter and Dejah Thoris have a kid, because even though Dejah Thoris is humanoid, she lays eggs. And as I mentioned in my review of A Princess of Mars, nobody on Mars wears clothes, even though Mars is a lot colder than Earth is at night.
Just as a warning, the book ends on a cliffhanger, so you may want to have the next book in the series ready to read when you finish The Gods of Mars. Luckily, the books are old enough to be in the public domain, and are all free online.
I would highly recommend reading Burroughs’ Barsoom novels. The Gods of Mars was just as enjoyable as A Princess of Mars, and I’m excited to read more of John Carter’s adventures.