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    Review of A PRINCESS OF MARS by Edgar Rice Burroughs


    Public Domain, 1912

    Trapped by angry Indians, Virginian John Carter retreats into a cave where he finds himself mystically separated from his body. Somehow shunted to Mars, Carter is discovered by a race of giant green men with six limbs. Because he developed under the stronger gravity of Earth, Carter is incredibly strong by Mars standards and quickly wins the respect of the green men. When the green men ambush a fleet of red men--whose shapes are similar to those of humans, though, Carter meets the beautiful Dejah Thoris--the Princess of Mars refered to in the title. The attraction between the two is instantaneous and Carter resolves to rescue the beautiful woman from the green men--but doing so proves difficult and nearly fatal.

    Author Edgar Rice Burroughs is best known as inventor of the Tarzan series, but his MARS series reflects the state of science fiction in the early part of the 20th century, and has become one of the inspirations for later works (along with other classics such as the Tolkien high-fantasy stories and Jules Vernes's early techno-thrillers).

    Perhaps surprisingly A PRINCESS OF MARS holds up fairly well nearly a century after it was written. The story relies a bit heavily on coincidence (Carter never seems to rescue anyone less than a prince and always learns the secret passageways needed for his purpose), and certainly a modern writer would make Dejah Thoris a bit more proactive in her own defense rather than relying so heavily on Carter to rescue her, but Burroughs manages a story of nearly non-stop action.

    Burroughs doesn't really do much with his alien green men. A race of beings who have, for hundreds of generations, known nothing of parental love, and who can advance in the world only through murder and assassination, have a lot of potential for exploration. Simply having Carter win their respect by being as violent as any shortchanges the possibilities. I also wonder if his solution to the Zodanga problem (the rulers of this city had kidnapped Dejah and blackmailed her into an unbreakable marriage agreement) seemed unduly harsh--especially as the average citizens of Zodanga had not approved of their government's policy.

    Both as an example of where science fiction began, and as a straightforward adventure story, A PRINCESS OF MARS continues to work. While perhaps not as emotionally strong as Burroughs's Tarzan series, the John Carter of Mars series is definitely a lot of fun.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 1/03/07

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