Decembarsoom: The Last Half of the Book

(originally posted here)

The Last Half of the Book (Chapters 19-28)

What a wild group of chapters (and a wild few weeks for me—sorry for the delay, dear readers). The book seems to veer in three or four directions from the midsection to the end, as if Burroughs was unsure what he wanted to do with the rest of the story. Here’s basically what happens:

  • Chapter XIX: Battling In The Arena – Gladiator battles! Friendship! Deception!
  • Chapter XX: In The Atmosphere Factory – Completely out-of-place science fiction compared to the rest of the book! Psychic locks! Wonder if that’ll come up later!
  • Chapter XXI: An Air Scout For Zodanga – Carter is skilled in anything he tries! Military might!
  • Chapter XXII: I Find Dejah – Our heroine found! She’s promised to another! Some stuff finally gets explained re: her behavior earlier!
  • Chapter XXIII: Lost In The Sky – Plans! Flying!
  • Chapter XXIV: Tars Tarkas Finds A Friend – We unexpectedly happen upon the green Martians from earlier! Everything is so much better with them! Let’s build an army!
  • Chapter XXV: The Looting Of Zodanga – Down with Eurasia! Bloodthirsty warriors = great!
  • Chapter XXVI: Through Carnage To Joy – Dénouement! Everything is perfect forever!
  • Chapter XXVII: From Joy To Death – Ten years later! Remember that random part from earlier?!
  • Chapter XXVIII: At The Arizona Cave – What a crazy dream thatwas!

The book as a whole was…interesting. Plot-wise, it was kind of a mess, spending a lot of time at the beginning with exposition, and a lot of time at the end with action—it flowed kind of like a Michael Bay movie. The scenes and chapters a sometimes hardly joined together collections of events, though this is likely due to the book’s origins as a serialized story.

It seems like everything happens just to set up Carter as a nigh-invincible hero. To me, there was very little real peril in the book; either John Carter’s great skills or some deus ex machina would pop up at an opportune moment to save him every single time. I realize that this is simple pulp fiction, but there was pretty much no character development on John Carter’s part. He learned some of the Martian culture, but the entire book was structured on his excellence and how he changed all of Mars singlehandedly with relatively little effort.

The ending works perfectly to set up the further adventures of John Carter. Being taken suddenly back to the beginning, to a world that now seems alien to Carter, leaves us thirsty for more of his Martian adventures. Ten years of greatness and happiness on Mars is a long time to mine for pulp adventure stories, and since the prologue sets up the assumption that Carter made his way back, it’s no surprise that there are so many sequels to this legendary piece of fiction.

The next book, should you be interested, is The Gods of Mars. It’s available for free everywhere that the first book is, and I might even consider blogging through it. We shall see, dear reader. We shall see.

Decembarsoom: Week 3 Recap

(originally posted here)

Chapters 12-18

Is it just me, or does it feel like this book still hasn’t really started? I have certainly enjoyed all of the exposition we’ve received in the last seven chapters—the impenetrable wooing customs that Dejah Thoris expects and John Carter understands about as well as us, Sola’s parentage, the political structure of the Tharks and the Green Martian race—but I keep waiting for the main story to start. Perhaps it is generally episodic in nature whereas I’m expecting a full-blown novel. Plenty of stuff to talk about though.

First off, it seems like John Carter is into Dejah Thoris. Like, really into her. Obviously, he spends what feels like several chapters talking about (and foreshadowing like crazy) his need to be with her. He makes grand sweeping statements to her, pledging his eternal allegiance to her and promising vengeance against anyone who looks at her funny. And then, in his overwrought devotion, he says something which sets her off and she refuses to speak to him until he risks life and limb to rescue her from horrible torture. What he says exactly is implying that he has fought for her and thus won her hand—she takes great offense to that implication and refuses to speak to Carter for several chapters.

It is during Dejah Thoris’ silent treatment that we learn about Sola’s parentage. She, unlike every other Green child, was conceived in love and born in secret. It is strongly implied that she is the only compassionate Green Martian. She was raised nightly by her birth mother for an entire year, which seems to have made all of the difference. The revelation of her father is perhaps not entirely a surprise either. Tars Tarkas has been the only Green chieftain who has shown anything approaching kindness to Carter. Quietly, and with a minimum of interest, he has made sure John Carter is taken care of and taught the culture of the Tharks. Tarkas has aided and advocated for Carter from the start. When Carter refers to his relationship with Tarkas as something approaching friendship, Tarkas puts him off of that way of thinking, though much less so than any other Green Martian likely would. So, Tarkas as the redeemable father of a secret love child certainly sets up some excellent comeuppances later in this story.

Speaking of comeuppance, the Green Martian society is all about assassination as political advancement. This isn’t news, considering last week, but it’s interesting that this goes all the way to the top of the political order. I’m not entirely clear on whether Tal Hajus is the leader of all the Thark tribes or of all the Green tribes, but I suspect it’s the former. We encounter the far more war-like Warhoon tribe, who seem all about killing all of the time. We see a bloody coup minutes after John Carter regains consciousness and then he is thrown in a dungeon in preparation for the gladiatorial games that have been hinted at since early in the book.

Other bits worth discussion:

  • Why are the Tharks a nomadic people? Is it certain tribes or all Green Martians who are nomads?
  • If Woola could track the escaping Carter, Thoris and Sola so easily, how come the Tharks couldn’t?
  • John Carter is head over heels for Dejah Thoris and it certainly seems like she is indifferent towards him (until the end of chapter 17). Ain’t that always the way?
  • I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty excited about the chapter called “In the Atmosphere Factory” next week. Maybe there will be SCIENCE in this fiction.

See you next week—the recap will be posted Christmas Eve, and Christmas day is a skip day, though you’re certainly welcome to read on the 25th if you’d like.

Decembarsoom: Week 2 Recap

(originally posted here)

For such an upstanding southern gentleman, I couldn’t help notice that maybe John Carter is just a little bit racist. He keeps excusing some of the barbaric activities of the Green Men of Mars by saying, in essence, that they’re just not smart. And they only love killing. And they’re irredeemable barbarians. Except that one lady who is taking care of him—she’s cool and stuff. He portrays the Green woman who is assigned to him as the ONE forward-thinking member of her race, who is also brilliant, but he mostly relegates her to the role of servant.

(I just had to get that out—it’s easy to forget that this was written in 1917, until you get to the amazingly melodramatic, overwrought dialog and almost humorously backwards attitudes towards women [the phrase “feminine thinking” is in the last few chapters at least twice] and men who aren’t white like John Carter. Admittedly, this is a classic pulp, not a piece of Great Literature, but still, the casual racism and misogyny is better addressed than overlooked completely.)

In these chapters we also learned more about the bizarrely well-structured reproductive process of a barbaric, nomadic, communist people, read about our hero killing heretofore unknown creatures (the elusive albino Martian space-ape) with almost no explanation, and AIRSHIPS. I was, I’m going to be honest, really excited about the airships. Which were then chased off/destroyed.

Finally, we are introduced to the titular character, Dejah Thoris, THE princess of Mars. She’s, like all of the characters in this book, totally naked except for some tasteful accessories. She is being kept alive by the chieftains for some terrible purpose—I’m thinking gladiator battle, based on how much the Greens enjoy death. She’s saved by our hero, who has just learned the language of Mars (it wasn’t terribly complex because everyone is telepathic there, including John Carter!). It also turns out that now he is a chief, because he has so brutally and efficiently taken down two higher up members of the tribe. He is allowed to decamp to a new place—with more “pretentious” architecture—with Dejah, servant Sola, Sola’s ward, and Carter’s new and (we know this thanks to his heavy handed foreshadowing) incredibly loyal pet Woola. We learn more background about the incredibly advanced but now almost completely forgotten white people of Mars.

Some more critical bits, for discussion:

  • Carter threatened to kill a female Martian. It’s mentioned that there is an honor code about mixed-gender killing, so I expect something about that to come back.
  • It seems the red humans, the last descendant of the various human races on Mars, sustain life (particularly air and water) on the planet. What remaindered technology are they using to sustain the planet?
  • The airships were the first brush with technology-based science fiction in the story so far. I loved the airships. Hopefully we’ll see more of that.
  • The Green society is portrayed as almost completely communistic—everything is shared, from property on down to child-rearing. It’s also perceived as a completely unloving and violent society. Is ERB suggesting that to love, people must have their own personal property? It seems a bit like he is.

The picture up top is the cover of a current Marvel series retelling A Princess of Mars. The cover is by Skottie Young, and the series is written by Roger Langridge.

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.

Decembarsoom: Reading Schedule and Sources

Reading Schedule (originally posted here)

We’re starting on a Thursday, but the reading week will be Monday through Saturday with a recap here on Sunday afternoons.

  • Thursday, December 1 – Sunday, December 4: Introduction through the end of chapter 4
  • December 5-11: Chapters 5-11
  • December 12-18: Chapters: 12-18
  • December 19-25: Chapters 19-24 (that includes a day off for Christmas)
  • December 26-31: Chapters 25-28

Sources for A Princess of Mars (originally posted here)