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Book Review: A Princess of Mars

Artist’s impression of Mars four billion years ago

Science fiction novel brings life, diversity to image of desolate planet

[/media-credit] The book cover of “A Princess of Mars” in 1917 shows medieval attire, revealing Burrough’s view of science fiction culture.

Few writers possess the ability to craft science fiction writing as well as American fiction author Edgar Rice Burroghs. Burroughs, creator of the character Tarzan, also created the universe of Barsoom, the setting of A Princess of Mars.

In this tale, Burroughs’ imagination transports the reader to another world of war, culture and mystery. A Princess of Mars explores the precipice of human creativity and the possibilities of science when an individual asks “what if”.

The beginning of this book starts in Arizona during the 1870’s. John Carter, a former Confederate soldier, ventures on Apache native land looking for gold. While there, John’s business partner dies by the hands of the infuriated Apaches. John finds refuge in a cave, but shortly after falls unconscious to the gases of the cavern.

John wakes up to view his own unconscious body. Confused, he walks outside of the cave and looks up at the night sky. Through some unknown means, he appears on the surface of Mars. Due to Mars’ lower gravity and less dense atmosphere, his earthly muscles propel him further and more forcefully with less effort.

Soon after his strange arrival, John encounters the green people of Mars. The green people stand up to 15 feet tall. They boast six appendages, two arms, two legs and a set in between the arms and legs that function as either. This race rides giant mounts called “thoats” and tame ugly creatures called “calots” which behave as a dog.

This fierce warrior race retains no value of familial relationships. Their humor consists of an unnerving, boisterous laugh when one slaughters another in single combat.

Disheartened by the presence of this seemingly foreign race, John attempts to back away, propelling himself dozens of feet into the air. The green men are entertained by John and take him back to their camp.

A green Martian woman named Sola becomes John’s “babysitter”. She teaches John the culture of their tribe (the Tharks), as well as the language of Mars (or Barsoom as the natives call it). He soon develops respect for the Thark Chieftain, Tars Tarkas.

One day, the Tharks raid a flying ship from the city of Helium, a capital city of the red people of Mars. The red people closely resemble humans excluding the fact that their skin boasts a dark red hue of a brick. After looting the ship, the Tharks take prisoners, one of them being the princess of Helium, Dejah Thoris. In an act of betrayal against the Tharks, John frees Dejah Thoris and attempts to flee to Helium with the Tharks on their trail.

[/media-credit] An artists impersonation of a green martian which includes multiple limbs to convey the savage nature of Barsoom.

This book appeals to my creative side by providing information on every element of the martian culture that Burroughs dreamt of. Rules of combat, native flora and fauna and even courting rituals of Barsoom are included in this book. However, due to the fact that Burroughs created the names of all these otherworldly aspects, the reader sometimes forgets the meaning of specific terms.

The culture of the different races of Barsoom resembles the lacking aspects of the human race. Each culture flourishes in one capacity, but fails in another. For instance, the Tharks developed their society around their manufacturing and their war mongering. However, they lacked love and affection in their culture, something that hindered them from growing to full potential.

The Red Martians of Helium presented a different problem. From my perspective, they lacked courage. Helium built high walls and boasted advanced weaponry and technology, but they refused to use those resources to counter possible threats. The Red Martians willed themselves to hide and play it safe rather than consider their options.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Burroughs also made the Martians live more honorably compared to humans. On Barsoom, almost all martians abide by a strict code of conduct when fighting each other.

The standard weapons of a soldier consists of a short sword, a long sword, a pistol and sometimes a rifle. Whatever weapon an enemy attacks with first, the soldier under attack may only use a weapon of equal or lesser power.

I believe Burroughs wrote this book as a blueprint of what he believes humanity might become and what humanity could achieve. Some of his works actually predicted some things humans ended up accomplishing. These included organ transplants and giant flying war machines. I don’t expect much time to pass before more of Burrough’s writing comes true.

This book can be purchased on Amazon for $4.90 or on Kindle for free.

For more reviews, read Book Review: The Escape Artists, and Book Review: Goodbye Darkness.

Brayden Iest can be reached via Twitter and email.

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