Until last week, I had never read anything by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Please don’t take away my geek card.
I hate to admit it but as much as I love science fiction and fantasy television shows and movies, my literary experience in these genres is pitiful. I’ve read The Lord of the Rings, of course, but little else. Certainly not much beyond what normals would pick up and read; the casual ‘read it in an afternoon and forget it’ style that separates most of society from us nerds.
I have, however, recognized this grievous error, and done my best to rectify it as quickly as possible. To that end, I started reading Edgar Rice Burroughs, specifically the Barsoom series.
A Princess of Mars, first published in 1912 (the same year the first Tarzan book was published) is the introduction to the fantastic life of John Carter. An attractive, charismatic Virginia gentleman, Carter finds himself inexplicably on the surface of Mars. He is immediately surrounded by members of a strange Martian culture, the Tharks, and there begins ten years of war, love, and adventure.
A Princess of Mars is part space western, part fantasy, part romance, part science fiction, part pure adventure. The fight scenes are exciting, the romantic scenes are tender, the adventure scenes are intense. It’s a story that refuses to be pigeon-holed into a genre.
I loved this story, but… The book is far from perfect. The dialogue is rough – it feels forced most of the time, unrealistic, even for the overtly formal cultures Burroughs has created. Some of the exposition is brilliantly done, but some is so stilted it takes you out of the story. The characters have the potential to be deep, rich, real, and if you work really hard at suspending your disbelief, they are those things. You have to be willing to work, though.
There are certain parts where Burroughs goes into great detail, creating a world and several species of Martians that you can easily see in your mind’s eye. Then there are events of (what I felt to be) great significance that are given but a line or two, as so many details thrown in to tie up plot lines. Certain characters, who have been around since the first few chapters, just mysteriously disappear because that’s what the plot requires. As invested in this story as I was, I felt a bit cheated.
Overall, I give A Princess of Mars 3.5 out of 5 moons. The story is brilliant. The characters, cultures, and world are believable. It’s the excessively formal language that kills it for me. It takes a lot to pull me out of a story, and the ridiculous exposition did it several times. I would recommend it, but only to not-so-casual readers who will appreciate it as classic SF/F.
Final word: Sola – a character with a ton of potential who is woefully underutilized.
Next week: Psychosomatic by Anthony Neil Smith