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Friday, 19 September 2014

A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Reviewed.

English: Cover art by Frank E. Schoonover from...
English: Cover art by Frank E. Schoonover from A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, McClurg, 1917. Uploaded by User:BPK2. Español: John Carter y Dejah Thoris en la cubierta de la primera edición de Una Princesa de Marte por Edgar Rice Burroughs. Illustrador: Frank E. Schoonover. Bajada por User:BPK2. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This classic, which I mistakenly thought I’d read in my youth, came up amongst some free books on my iPad. Once I started to explore, to see whether I had, in fact, read it, I was hooked.

The story is typical of the author, of course, and the style is dated, as you’d expect. But there is a quality to the writing that keeps the reader engaged. Full of what modern readers would perceive as politically incorrect attitudes, bursting with out-dated ideas about the Red Planet, it may be, but the story moves at a pace, with plenty of action to keep the reader interested.

There’s a good deal of imagination displayed in the solutions to various envisaged problems of living on a dying planet. And the wonderful exaggeration of an Earthman’s prowess on a planet with lower gravity is entertaining rather than irritating.

Written almost entirely as narrative, telling rather than showing and therefore breaking umpteen ‘writing’ rules, this story relies on its powerful plot and strong characters for its success. It may well be dated, but it still entertains. And I love the way the author refuses to be deflected from his tale by the sheer incredibility of his hero’s passage from Earth to Mars and back again. No explanation is given for this remarkable feat, and it’s simple acceptance as an inexplicable happening fits well with the story.

There are some wonderful examples of mixed moral stances, with all sexual references dealt with indirectly and under the covers. The violence and war, however, is accepted as perfectly normal. A reflection, perhaps, of the times and the land in which the author lived at the point of writing? Have things changed very much, I wonder.

I enjoyed this piece of old science fiction and recommend it to those who have grown up with the genre over many years. Younger readers might find the nature of the telling and the idiosyncrasies of the story a little too difficult to take, however.

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