Book 7: A Princess of Mars

I haven’t been looking forward to blogging about A Princess of Mars. Not much to say about it. I’m glad I read it. I’ve heard about it, of course, John Carter and everything. I don’t know how accurate this is, but this is the style I think of when I think of the original pulp sci-fi novels. It’s a planetary romance, which means that it has a ‘stranger in a strange land’ kind of narrative. John Carter shows up in a foreign land, goes through a sort of travelogue plot where most of the prose is dedicated to describing the people and the culture that he encounters. The planet of Barsoom (aka Mars) is definitely a character in this story. Despite the cheery, overwritten style, there is a lot that’s beautiful, like the final image of Carter holding up his hands to the sky, stranded on Earth and wishing he could return to Barsoom.

Here’s the thing. I just didn’t like this book. I don’t like to admit that about books, because I’m wary of insulting a story that someone else loves.

But it’s true. While I was reading it, I was just… bored.

I’ve been thinking a lot about book reviews, and comparing them in my mind to talking to people in person about books. I talk to a lot of people about books, about whatever books I’m reading or thinking about or thinking of reading. Those conversations never end with a recommendation, or a summary, at least not for me. Usually, it is me explaining just enough context to catch them up with whatever passage I’m thinking about, and then me going off on a long rambling thought that, in my mind anyway, relates to whatever book I’m talking about.

That’s how most readers are, I think. When people really love a book, they don’t tell you about the book. They tell you a page out of their lives and how this book made them notice it, think about it differently, something. They tell you a story — even if it’s only a sentence long — about this other story that they spent hours of their lives consuming.

That’s pure gold. For every dozen people who don’t really read, I manage to find at least one who can tell me something about a book they love.

I’ve got no story for A Princess of Mars. It didn’t mean anything to me. It’s a basic romantic adventure, with overwrought feelings and exaggerated shades of good and evil, nobility and depravity. It’s a book where good triumphs over evil inevitably.

It has a simple view of humanity, and that’s what bored me. For me, science fiction’s draw is the complexity of character, especially when it comes to morality. Give me a book like that, and I’ll have a dozen stories to toss back at you, probably before I even get to the last page.

From Amazon:
A Princess of Mars is a science fantasy novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the first of his Barsoom series. Full of swordplay and daring feats, the novel is considered a classic example of 20th century pulp fiction. It is also a seminal instance of the planetary romance, a sub-genre of science fantasy that became highly popular in the decades following its publication. Its early chapters also contain elements of the Western. The story is set on Mars, imagined as a dying planet with a harsh desert environment. This vision of Mars was based on the work of the astronomer Percival Lowell, whose ideas were widely popularized in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Barsoom series inspired a number of well-known 20th century science fiction writers, including Jack Vance, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, and John Norman. The series was also inspirational for many scientists in the fields of space exploration and the search for extraterrestrial life, including Carl Sagan, who read A Princess of Mars when he was a child.

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