Book Review: A Princess of Mars
Of all the other planets besides Earth, Mars is probably the one most often featured in science fiction. I’m not sure when this trend began, but A Princess of Mars is probably one of the first and certainly one of the best.
Tracking the adventures of the unforgettable John Carter, “gentleman of Virginia” and civil war veteran, A Princess of Mars is a brilliantly imagined mixture of the early American “rough and ready” pioneer spirit with fantastic and exotic otherworld beings and civilizations. The societies and customs here are so believable and so well fleshed out that one half wonders whether or not Burroughs really might have made the interstellar jump along with his iconic hero.
Flying airships, strange technologies, vicious aliens, this scifi classic has it all when it comes to action and adventure. The characters are memorable and intriguing, not least among them the haughty princess herself. She is a paragon of beauty and virtue and Burroughs does a wonderful job making her come across as the mixture of prideful royalty and tender hearted woman that she is.
If the novel has any flaws it would be that it spends a great deal of time setting up the world and then delivers a story that is over far too quickly. The ending certainly leaves one in mid-stride as it were. Even some of the battles are rattled off in summary fashion leaving far too much to the imagination. Also missing are more reflections on how all of these events on the red planet fit into the larger scope of Carter’s life and the universe as a whole. The alien Sola’s story and the communal nature of the Tharks are noticeable exceptions as are the romantic passages.
Still, for all its brevity and the short shrift it gives to larger, grander themes, A Princess of Mars is a delight to read. One could easily have stayed on Burroughs version of Mars much, much longer but I suppose the subsequent novels in this series will satisfy that craving.