Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Book Review: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Have you ever wanted a book about naked people? Wait, no don't answer that. Have you ever wanted a book about people on Mars and it's kind of like Rome but everyone is naked and also there's this one guy that's the coolest, specialest dude ever?

Disclaimer: Nudity not actually included in illustrations.

I know, that's rather specific. But that's exactly what this book is.

The book starts out with a letter from some guy who went to visit his Uncle Jack, only to find the dude dead. He's left a lot of manuscripts to go through, and also wants to be buried in a special tomb that unlocks from the inside. Totally not creepy, right?

See, Uncle Jack is Captain John Carter, who did his duty for Virginia during the Civil War then moves out west to do some mining. When his buddy gets into some trouble with the locals (read: the most stereotyped Native Americans that ever native'd in a book), he finds himself trapped in a cave.

Mystical things happen. Mystical things that aren't really explained at all. There's a light, his pursuers freak out and run away, and John Carter has an out of body experience. He is naked. In his nudity, he looks up at Mars, and thinks, "Gee, sure would be nice to go there." And then John was on Mars.

Look, I don't make the rules here. He's on Mars, and that's how it works, and you just have to deal with it.

He is confronted by some green Martians who are monstrous in appearance, but also conveniently naked except for some armor and decorations. He is able to jump great distances due to the lower gravity of Mars, and they take him as a prisoner/pet. He befriends on Martian, Sola, who doesn't appear to be as violent and psychotic as the others, obtains a dog, and beats up enough people that he becomes a chieftain. And a prisoner. Look, I don't make the rules here, the green Martians do, and they're too busy stabbing things to really think about them.

While he is swanning around in the city, an airship flies over, manned by red Martians. They take a prisoner, the princess of the red Martians of Helium. No, she does not talk in a funny, high pitched voice. Yes, she is also naked, and the hottest chick on Mars. Naturally, John Carter falls in love with her.

He and Sola, the product of a forbidden love union, because the green Martians straight up hate love, hatch a scheme to get Dejah Thoris home, and into Carter's bed. I mean, that part's totally implied. The heist goes wrong, and while Dejah and Sola ride into the hills, Carter is kidnapped by another tribe of green Martians, who send him and a red Martian into the Not!Roman stadium. They hatch a scheme to escape from that, which leads Carter to finding the place responsible for keeping Mars' atmosphere from disappearing (and conveniently unlocked via telepathy), and then to the court of Zodanga, Helium's political enemy, where Dejah has become engaged to the prince. The only way to marry her now is if someone who isn't Carter kills the prince, who, for the record, has done nothing but fall in love with the hot chick. Look, I don't make the rules here, the red Martians do, and they are ridiculous.

Carter gathers up a huge army of his green Martian buddies and they attack Zodanga and return Dejah home. Carter marries her, they get "pregnant" (see: egg laying mammals), and then the atmosphere factory breaks! In their final hour, Carter telepathizes the doors open, but alas, he himself dies.

And wakes up in the cave. He goes home and broods, and figures, well, if the last time he died he went to Mars, maybe it'll happen this time.

This is the most ridiculous, pulpy science fiction book ever.

AND IT IS GLORIOUS. You spend the book hearing, from Carter himself, how super incredibly awesome he is, and how he brings peace and joy and love to Mars via stabbing and shooting people, and you don't care because this is a fun book with great action and melodrama. And, really, there is a thread of optimism about the human spirit of endurance and the power of friendship. (Also, for the record, I fully endorse the idea that Randolph Carter is John Carter's great nephew. Except Randolph Carter has to be rescued all the time. Awesomeness isn't always genetic.)

Don't run, jump a nonsensical length to get a copy. (Or just get it from Project Gutenberg while sitting in your comfortable home, away from Mars. That's what I did.)

Moral of the story? Our clothes are disgusting and we should all be naked. Like I said, I don't make the rules.

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