A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
I finished reading A Princess of Mars just before New Year. I’ve read this book as one of my reads for the Little Red Reviewer’s Vintage Sci Fi event and also Stainless Steel Droppings 2015 Sci Fi Experience.
I’m glad I finally got round to reading ERB and whilst I don’t think this is going to be one of my all time favourites it was a good read.
This is like an adventure story really, there’s plenty of action and fighting, a damsel in distress, aliens and war – all set on a different planet that is slowly dying.
The plot – in a very summarised way is: John Carter is a gentleman and soldier out of Virginia who, at the conclusion of the war turns to prospecting and then in the most unusual circumstances finds himself transported to the planet of Mars (Barsoom). Here he falls into the captivity of a strange race of aliens called Tharks. The Tharks are a tall race, up to 15 feet apparently, with green skin. They value fighting and strength above all and have little value for feelings, compassion or love. Carter befriends one of this race called Tars Tarkas and in fact begins to gain a reputation as a warrior as his muscles and strength are greatly increased upon Mars due to the change in gravity. Carter, at first bides his time. He learns a little more of this race from Sola – a member of the race who is charged with looking after him, and also guarding him along with a strange, dog like creature called Woola. As time progresses Carter’s standing within the community changes and he almost has free will to roam (within reason) but all changes when the Tharks capture a young woman, a princess of Helium called Dejah Thoris. Helium is populated by a human like, red skinned race who appear to be the dominant factor on Barsoom. They live in great cities and appear organised unlike the Tharks who are portrayed as uncivilised, savage and warlike. Carter finds himself rather enamoured of the Princess and following this the main thrust of the story is one of rescue, escape and recapture! I won’t go overly much into the plot as it’s already fairly well discussed elsewhere.
The story takes the form of a travelogue narrated by Carter. I enjoyed the writing and particularly the detail concerning the planet and it’s inhabitants. There was certainly never a lack of action and the story was taken forward at a fairly rapid pace swiftly moving from one fairly unique situation to the next.
In terms of the characters I confess myself a little perplexed. I wouldn’t say they made a great impact on me really which is an unusual feeling to have – particularly when the main aim of the story revolves around our hero of the piece rescuing the object of his affection – I just felt oddly detached from both characters. I’m not saying I disliked them, because I didn’t, they just came across a little bland somehow – in fact that’s probably a little harsh sounding as I think that the plot and the adventure feel definitely took centre stage. For me personally, I felt like Tars and Sola came across with more personality and I found I enjoyed their personal stories. Curiously I also found myself liking and caring for the strange dog like creature called Woola who had become very attached to Carter during the time he was in the Thark’s captivity.
On the whole I found this an enjoyable and easy story to read. I think you need to pick this up with the age it was written clearly in mind as the writing and storytelling that we are now used to has definitely evolved. And, curiously, if you normally avoid sci fi stories – as I tend to do a little, usually because I think they’ll go over my head! – well, you’ll have to forgive me for saying the sci fi element is a tad skimpy, I mean, okay, it’s set on Mars and there are different races involved but if you’re expecting any eye openers in terms of different technology – or for that matter the whys and wherefores of how and why Carter found himself mysteriously transported to Mars – then you may be disappointed. I can’t say I suffered the lack of such detail but just thought I’d chuck this in there for your general consumption.
Overall I thought this was an entertaining read, I didn’t love it but I enjoyed the narrative style and I certainly had no problems in completing the book. I would definitely recommend this – I think it’s worth reading for a number of reasons, not least of all the impact it has since had on sci-fi fiction.