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Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Princess of Mars (Barsoom/John Carter of Mars #1) by Edgar Rice Burroughs

A Classic Sci-Fi Novel

Originally published 1912 in a magazine serial. (1917 in book form)

Since the movie John Carter is coming out in a couple of months I decided to go back and re-read the original of the 11 books that Burroughs wrote about Mars (or, as he calls it, Barsoom).
I originally read the entire series, or at least most of it, nearly 30 years ago, when I was in high school. I must admit, I was struck by the art of Michael Whelen's cover more than anything else when I first picked it up and my circle of friends read at least some of them.

I remembered them fondly but found myself very vague on the specifics. I remembered the Princess was very beautiful and there were multiple races on Mars and that some had four arms and that Carter, a former Confederate soldier, traveled from Earth to Mars in some kind of psychic manner and that there was a lot of fighting.

Turns out, what I took as a poor memory was actually pretty accurate. The Princess is beautiful, there are multiple races of Martians and the green Martians have four arms and Carter does travel to Mars in some sort of psychic way. I had totally forgotten that it happens while he is being hunted by a group of Apache in Arizona at the time, but that really is not germane to the rest of the story.

Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950)

The story is supposed to be the writings of John Carter himself (who is ageless and cannot remember his childhood). Carter told his nephew not to publish it until he had been dead for 21 years. The plot is mostly Carter's descriptions of his adventures told in first person with little conversation. There are lots and lots of battle scenes since Mars is a very violent place. Then again, Earth is not much better with Carter making a name for himself in the Civil War and in the first few pages being involved in a running battle with the Apache.

Short on character development and long on description and action, A Princess of Mars was not as good as I remembered it but I am very impressed with Burroughs and his imagination. In a time before science fiction was a normal part of the national psyche, he created an entirely new world, peopled it with aliens with new customs, languages and animals and made the world work in an interesting way. Some of his science is rather silly (the generator that creates the Martian atmosphere comes to mind), but it is a classic and a trendsetter.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

I rate this novel 4 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on January 8, 2012.

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