Decembarsoom: Week 1 Recap

(originally posted here and here)

What an introduction! Edgar Rice Burroughs goes for the classic Literary Agent Hypothesis framing story (“I found this story and here I am publishing it for you”) and basically says that John Carter is immortal. Pretty ostentatious way to start the story!

I love cowboy comics. I’m a longtime fan of Jonah HexBat Lash and other western comics. I grew up in Texas; cowboy stories are part of my childhood. So I really got into the beginning of this book, though I was a bit perturbed as I was expecting, you know, SCIENCE FICTION. Chasing down natives in the moonlit Arizona desert is great and all, but there are no rockets or lasers there. Then our hero has a bit of an out of body experience—neat, still no robots though—and suddenly he is drawn to Mars.

It’s time to reevaluate our definition of Science Fiction for this book. It does not appear that there are going to be any of the traditional elements of science fiction herein: Robots look doubtful. The space travel is metaphysical in nature. No mention of lasers yet. But we do have incredible biology—the native Martians, their mounts (epic or otherwise), their, uh, pets and some heavy foreshadowing of battling Martian white apes. So, if you were reading this with hopes of sassy droids or space duels, well, it’s time to adjust your expectations. This was written in 1917 and it’s going to be much more of a classic pulp adventure on a foreign planet than it is going to be about any star wars.

Speaking of space travel, the description and effect of the lower gravity on Mars sounds (1) super cool and (2) pretty prescient for being written roughly fifty years before anyone set foot on another celestial body. Certainly this will factor into John Carter being a great Martian Basketball player.

I must admit to somewhat immersing myself into the media surrounding this book. In my defense, it’s been out for nearly a century—there are dozens of comic book versions (many archived on princessofmars.org)—as well as the upcoming film (directed by Andrew Stanton), which literally inspired this book club. So, swimming as I have been through John Carter media, I was pretty unsurprised by the descriptions of the Martians. They’re certainly not little green men—green yes, little not so much—and they have impressive-sounding extra limbs and tusks. I’m surprised that they’re not similar to other science fiction characters that I’ve seen or heard about, to be honest. You’d assume that a book of this age and level of influence would have spawned some imitators, but I honestly can’t think of any major sci-fi species with six arms or prominent tusks. A little surprising.

What did you think of the first few chapters? Totally bummed about the lack of space ships? Surprised that, up to this point, John Carter is still butt naked on another planet? Please comment here on Tumblr or on Facebook or on Twitter using #decembarsoom

I realize that the chapters are short and it’s easy to read quite a bit in a relatively short amount of time, but I am considering that a feature, not a bug.