In the first novel, we begin with John Carter being inexplicably teleported to Mars, known as Barsoom among the Martians, following an unfortunate incident involving native Americans during the American Civil War. One can forgive Burroughs for the wonky beginning, as this isn't your hard-edged sci-fi novel. A Princess of Mars, like all the other 10 novels that make up the series, is pure escapist fun.
So John Carter finds himself in Mars, encounters those gigantic, many-limbed, green Martians, and marks his place among the locals because of his strength, owing to Mars's decreased gravity. But Mars isn't all about green aliens. In the planet, there are apparently two groups of people -- the green-skinned alien-looking Martians and the humans, whose red skin will make you think of native Americans. And one of these humans is a princess named Dejah Thoris, whom John Carter falls in love with.
All the elements of an adventure story are in play here: from the brutal, up-to-death battles among the green Martians, who apparently have no sense of friendship, compassion and love, to narrow escapes from prisons, where John Carter and Dejah Thoris find themselves in after being captured by rival Martian communities. And yes, the romantic angle is highlighted throughout the novel as well.
What makes A Princess of Mars fascinating though is Burroughs's gift of detail. The topology of Mars as described in this first novel is very vivid, allowing you to feel the barrenness and hostility of this strange world. Burroughs also flexes his world-building prowess as he tells of the culture and the physiology of his Martians. Fascinating stuff, I tell you.
So I guess it's a good thing that Hollywood, out of its hunger for material, will usually turn to time-tested stories and adapt them as screenplays. A Princess of Mars is wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, that you'll simply turn a blind eye to its scientific inconsistencies and just revel in its plot and narrative. It's definitely one of my most enjoyable reads this year.
Read this book if:
- You've always been fascinated by the red planet.
- You love escapist fiction.
- You read the novel first before the movie comes out.