After Mary Roach's fascinating but icky Packing for Mars, here's a book to get you fired up about space exploration again. Rod Pyle gives a thorough,...moreAfter Mary Roach's fascinating but icky Packing for Mars, here's a book to get you fired up about space exploration again. Rod Pyle gives a thorough, exciting overview of the great science that's been done on Mars for the last fifty years. He also includes bios and interviews of many of the scientists involved, doing a lot to humanize the subject. Even though we're sending robots, it's the people behind them who make everything work.
The problem with Mars exploration is that it suffers from Neil Armstrong syndrome. Everyone remembers Mariner and Viking, but most people probably aren't even aware of all the following programs (which have returned a lot more data than the earlier efforts). The book wraps up with a breakdown of all the experiments being sent on the Mars Science Laboratory, due to land this August - and I'm only now just hearing about it? NASA needs to hire better PR people, or maybe just get Rod Pyle and Neil DeGrasse Tyson their own talk show.(less)
With Warlord of Mars the original John Carter trilogy concludes. In this volume, Burroughs discards the complexity,...more2012 John Carter re-read, part 3 -
With Warlord of Mars the original John Carter trilogy concludes. In this volume, Burroughs discards the complexity, intrigue, and world-building that made Gods of Mars stand out in favor of a straightforward, rip-roaring action novel. From the beginning, John Carter is cut off from all of his friends and allies as he and his faithful Mars-dog Woola set out in pursuit of Dejah Thoris, now in the clutches of the few remaining villains left over from the previous book. It's a standard damsel-in-distress plot: a) Carter chases them to new exotic location, b) makes new enemies and/or allies, c) almost catches up to his quarry but they get away again, d) repeat as necessary.
Along the way you get aerial dogfights, jungle battles, a lost kingdom on Mars's north pole, and a couple of dungeon crawls. Burroughs also demonstrates that more than any other pulp writer of his age, he knew how to write a satisfying action climax. As a conclusion to a mad, three-book odyssey, Warlord of Mars sticks the landing and John Carter finally gets the happy ending Burroughs denied him in the previous books. (Spoiler? Not really.) However, by the end of the story John Carter has become such an invincible character that there's not much more ERB can do with him, leading to the (very wise) choice to shift the focus of the next few books in the series to other, less superhuman protagonists.(less)
Unlike A Princess of Mars, I'd pretty much forgotten the entire plot of the sequel, which is odd since it actually h...more2012 John Carter re-read, part II:
Unlike A Princess of Mars, I'd pretty much forgotten the entire plot of the sequel, which is odd since it actually has a plot, whereas Princess didn't. It's a daring one too, with some pretty nasty things to say about the nature of religion. Carter gets zapped back to Mars after a 10-year absence, only to find himself trapped in Barsoom's version of paradise - a blissful garden of Eden from which no Martian ever returns, because they're torn to shreds by carnivorous plant-men or made slaves by the white-skinned Therns who have been exploiting and encouraging the superstitions of the red and green races for their own benefit. Burroughs piles the ironies thick by adding even more layers of false belief, for the Therns themselves are as much the victims of their own superstitions as the reds and greens are of theirs.
All this, plus grueling fight scenes, titanic sky (and sea) battles, and another whopper of a cliffhanger to pull you into book three.
The one big flaw that Gods of Mars suffers is that while Burroughs's skill as a storyteller increases, his horrible ear for dialog begins to show. Princess was full of dry exposition, but it was mostly in the form of Carter talking to the reader. In Gods, the exposition comes from other characters giving long-winded speeches to Carter in a faux-Shakespearean dialect that's painful to read. Somehow I didn't notice when I read this book as a kid, so the 5-star rating stands.(less)
I've heard it said that "Those who read him at the right age owe a great debt of gratitude to Edgar Rice Burroughs." (Roger Lancelyn Green, according...moreI've heard it said that "Those who read him at the right age owe a great debt of gratitude to Edgar Rice Burroughs." (Roger Lancelyn Green, according to a quick Google search.) If I'd come to this book as an adult, I would have enjoyed it for what it was, then nit-picked it to shreds. It's a first novel and it shows, but for 1910's pulp fiction it's a fantastic first novel. The narrative is simple: John Carter, a chiseled, indomitable manly-man and Civil War vet, gets zapped to Mars after a mini-escapade with some bloodthirsty Indians. There, he falls in with a band of 15' green savages, falls in love with a beautiful, red-skinned bombshell, explores Mars, kills a bunch of guys, starts a war, and gets the girl. What's most interesting is that Burroughs denies his hero a happy-ever-after, but chooses to end on a bittersweet cliffhanger.
If I'd first read this today, I would have probably noticed all the contrivances Burroughs uses to keep the plot moving, and I might have been put off by what a homicidal maniac John Carter turns out to be. However, I first read this in Junior High, after finding out about this series on Carl Sagan's Cosmos, and I found the editions with the gorgeous Michael Whelan covers full of nekkid people.
In other words, it made my 13-year-old head explode. So: 5 stars.(less)