A Princess of Mars
(The Barsoom/John Carter of Mars series, Book 1)
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Public Domain Books
DESCRIPTION: When the Confederate States of America fell at the end of the Civil War, Captain John Carter of Virginia was one of the many soldiers left with little means and no vocation. Unsure of what to do, he headed to Arizona to try his luck at prospecting... but instead found himself at the beginning of a journey he cannot explain. While fleeing Apache attackers, he finds himself lost in a strange cave, where he is detached from his physical body and transported to the red planet Mars. Here, he must learn to survive amid strange beasts and hostile natives on the surface of a dying world.
REVIEW: Yes, another free-for-Kindle download, admittedly inspired by previews for the upcoming movie adaptation of the franchise. Like many older sci-fi stories (such as Jules Verne's works), it's more about the bizarre, otherworldly settings and situations than about any semblance of plot or character coherence. Also like many older stories, the white civilized hero has little to no trouble making a place for himself among the ignorant savages, generously imparting the wisdom of his superior culture upon them for good measure. Never mind that conditions on Mars are so totally unlike Earth that our ways may not be the most effective means of survival. Never mind that these are aliens, with an alien brain attuned to an alien mindset, even if the "higher" Martians are essentially egg-laying humans. (And never mind that our supposedly civilized protagonist deals out death on a dime when it suits his purposes.) John Carter's the hero, unquestionably and unequivocally, and hero status trumps all else. There is, of course, a love interest, the titular Princess of Mars, who seems to exist primarily to inspire Boris Vajello paintings: the nude, sexy girl constantly threatened by hulking monsters in a vaguely erotic fashion. (Again, why a six-limbed giant green alien would be physically attracted to a puny red-skinned woman is never questioned; human females are evidently a universally lusted-after object.) The dialog, like the action, tends to the grandiose and overblown. Once you get through the cardboard characters and stereotypes, though, Burroughs presents a highly imaginative alien world, full of intriguing mysteries and pseudoscientific marvels... enough to earn it the extra half-star in the ratings. (Well, that and I tend to cut older stories a little bit of slack; you can't really fault Burroughs for being a product of his time, after all.) I don't expect I'll read much further in the series, though; all the mind's-eye candy in the world can't entirely overcome the thin characters and generally tedious plot.