A Princess of Mars – Edgar Rice-Burroughs

My reading this book is entirely down to having seen the film “John Carter”, I have to admit. I don’t normally like doing things that way round, and the reason why did plague me somewhat as I read the book: I kept having the pictures from the film in my head, rather than my mind making up its own, and worse, I kept thinking points where the book deviated from the film were /wrong/. Logically, I am aware that it’s the other way round. But there’s a bit of your brain that cannot be convinced. It gets very annoying.

Leaving that aside, there are a lot of other problems with the book. It’s pulp fiction, for a start… /really/ really pulp fiction. I’m not entirely sure I’d have finished the book had I not been incredibly bored at the moment. The writing style is… partly of its time, true, but also just not good. I’m partial to some late 19th/early 20th century literature. I mean, I like Sherlock Holmes, and that’s of the same time, and also originally serialised in a newspaper. But the way they write is worlds apart. Doyle has the fluidity and subtlety of an actual, proper writer. His stories knit together well and the style fits both the action and the characters very well. Burroughs doesn’t manage it. Even exciting, death-defying action scenes are conveyed in cold, dry tones. There is no change of pace anywhere, no excitement in the writing. In the story, yes, plenty… but as far as the writing is concerned, we could be continually explaining the social hierarchy of Barsoom in thorough and meticulous detail. Which makes it quite difficult to get excited about the plot, in parts.

Add to this that the characters are, even by the standards of pulp, not entirely convincing. I’ve watched enough Disney films recently (shush, I haven’t got anything better to do) to skim over the “falling in love in less than a day” business, mental though it be, but at least after that point, Disney films manage to do the love story convincingly. Even /Disney/. I don’t know if it was just the lack of pacing letting it down again, but I got no sense of the sort of love Carter professes for Dejah Thoris coming through anywhere. Even when he faces armies for her and all that sort of thing, it’s an effort of will to believe it.

I could go on for ages. There is so much wrong with this book it’s insane. It’s like the author’s slightly dirty fantasy that he decided to put on paper… it may work in his head, where he can watch the naked people in their metal ornaments, and the gorgeous princess falling in love with the earth man, but it falls a little flat when he has to put words around it. At least it made an ok film. The film managed to inject some fun and excitement in, which made the plot into the half-decent story it would have been with a decent author.

I haven’t decided if I’ll read the sequels. I have some on my Kindle (I bought the books as an omnibus, being cheaper) but I’m not sure I can work up the effort. It depends how much The Reality Dysfunction scares me off, I suppose.

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About readerofelse

A student of a redundant, useless and thoroughly interesting subject and reader of many books, particularly fantasy, science fiction and plenty else besides.
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One Response to A Princess of Mars – Edgar Rice-Burroughs

  1. Pingback: The Wind-Up Girl – Paolo Bacigalupi | A Reader of Else

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