20 September 2012

Book 17 of 2012

17) A Princess of Mars (John Carter of Mars #1) by Edgar Rice Burroughs
My wife and I are both huge fans of the TV show Friday Night Lights and generally give anything the creators or actors from that show do a shot. Sometimes they hit (like the movie Super 8 or NBC's Parenthood), but more often than not, they miss, proving that Friday Night Lights is more of an exception than a rule. Taylor Kitsch, Riggins from Friday Night Lights, played John Carter in the movie of the same name, and, despite the punchline it became in the press, we really enjoyed the movie, flawed as it might have been. There was plenty of action, lots of colorful characters, and Kitsch, given the right material, plays a pretty decent southern dude. Plus, Woolah, the giant Martian dog, is adorable.

John Carter, the enigmatic main character from 1860's Virginia, finds himself mysteriously transported to Mars, known as Barsoom to the native population. Inexplicably, Carter also explains that he's kind of immortal, as he has always been a man who appears to be in his 30's yet he doesn't remember his childhood. Fear not, though, as his immortality is never really a plot point that is ever addressed again over the course of the entire story. The weaker gravity on Mars gives Carter tremendous strength, speed, and agility, which he uses to lead the various forces on the red planet against one another and win the heart of Dejah Thoris, the titular princess.

The great thing about e-readers like the Kindle, Nook, or iPad is the tremendous reserve of the public domain, and the copyright for first five novels of the Baroom series expired a while back. Since I enjoyed the film so much, I figured that I couldn't turn down a free book, let alone the first half of a series of them.

Unfortunately, being previously unfamiliar with pulp novels, I found I wasn't a fan of Burroughs' writing style. Since each chapter was originally published by itself in a serialized format, the idea is that every section ends on a cliffhanger to entice the reader for the inevitable next installment. For a story that's set on a fantastical world with several different alien species and technology that was years ahead of its time starring a character that has legitimate super powers who's also immortal, Burroughs sure does give John Carter a Sahara dry personality. The exciting aspects of what he experiences are glossed over for the sake of one boring expositional speech after another.

Plus, and this may just be my anachronistic view of looking at a story that's almost a century old, but it's totally racist, right? The valiant white hero saves the natives from themselves and proves to be better than they are at their own customs, eventually becoming ruler of the entire planet. And let's not forget that the character fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. What's the rule on something like that, by the way? Am I supposed to ignore it or over look it because of the time period or does it skew my interpretation? I'm leaning towards the latter.

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