If you’ve read a science fiction book or seen a sci-fi movie, odds are you have some familiarity with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars even if you don’t know it. Published almost one hundred years ago (1917), A Princess of Mars is a classic pulp adventure story and its DNA flows through the veins of countless great works that have come after it.
The story follows the travels of John Carter – yes that John Carter – as he is mysteriously transported to Mars and becomes involved in a great interracial war on the red planet.
Considering the book’s age, its language is still fresh and accessible although the simplicity of the book’s narrative and characters has not aged quite as well. Carter’s story is violent and action packed but its characters seem rather thin and insufficiently formed; a great deal of character background information is provided in bulky info-dumps that seem extraneous to the story.
As science fiction die hard, I enjoyed my reading of A Princess of Mars (it helps that I’m a sucker for a nested, faux-historical sci-fi novel), but the book is not without faults, particularly its handling of race and gender (problems also faced by the book’s great great grandchild, Avatar). Given the book’s age, maybe that’s not a surprising problem, but it certainly detracted from how much I enjoyed my time on Burroughs’ imagined Mars.
Ultimately, A Princess of Mars is an engaging read full of action and alien violence but in light of its thin narrative and characters and the racist/sexist implications of its universe, I don’t know that I’d recommend it to anyone outside of my fellow sci-fi aficionados.
2 thoughts on “A Princess of Mars”
Solid review. I agree with your thoughts on the writing, I thought the book would be dry since it was very old but was pleasantly surprised at how accessible it was. Same for the racist stuff- it seems like a lot of the pulp stories written by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E Howard have badly slanted views on race that definitely makes you uncomfortable reading and recommending even though the stories themselves are mostly pretty good
Thanks for reading, Joey. The handling of race and gender has historically been a real problem for sci-fi and fantasy which makes reading – and critiquing – early genre works a tricky affair.