Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Martian Tales Trilogy by Edgar Rice Burroughs

(Book Review)

Like “The Vampire Blood Trilogy”, this is actually 3 different books that have been republished as one volume for marketing reasons. Because they came packaged in the same volume, I’ve decided to review them all as a group because this blog has been getting cluttered enough with book reviews as it is.

Also like “The Vampire Blood Trilogy”, this volume contains 3 separate stories, but isn’t technically a trilogy because it’s actually part of a much longer, 11 book series. The 3 books in this volume are “The Princess of Mars” from 1912, “The Gods of Mars” from 1913, and “The Warlord of Mars” from 1914.

This is the first volume I’ve ever read by Edgar Rice Burroughs, although I’m familiar enough with him by reputation. The master of pulp fiction, he wrote several different pulp series, the most famous of which is his “Tarzan” series. The Martian Tales is perhaps his second most famous series.

Despite a rather pompous introduction likening “The Mars Trilogy” to classical mythology, these books are pulp fiction at their pulpiest, from the age when pulp fiction was still literally printed on pulp paper. (Comparison to classical mythology has got to be the laziest way to bootstrap anything into legitimacy. The themes of classical mythology are so broad that some sort of parallel can be found in any story. Any war story can be compared to the “Iliad”, any sort of journey can be compared to “The Odyssey”.)

As with my review of “The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu”, I think this book is more valued for it’s historical and cultural significance than for it’s actual literary quality. These books created the “Sword and Planet” genre which was imitated by many later writers. Adam Strange, from DC comics, was based off of these series. And the formula of a hand to hand fighting in outer space combined with beautiful red skinned aliens was used in the original Star Trek series. Wikipedia has a whole article on the legacy of these series.

From a literary standpoint however these books are pretty awful. I doubt they could even get published today. Burrough’s doesn’t pause for any description at all. The whole book is one long fight scene. It reads like something a 12 year might write:

“So there I was, stuck on Mars. All of a sudden all these green men attacked me. I fought bravely, and I had almost beaten them all, when all of a sudden a giant spider came out of the ground and attacked us. I battled the spider until these giant birds descended on us and tried to eat me....”
I exaggerate, but not by much.

Actually 12 year old boys would be the ideal audience for these books, if they could somehow get their hands on them. (I never knew these books existed when I was 12.) They would have to get past the Victorian era prose (these books are roughly contemporary with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Fu-Manchu), but it’s nothing most of them couldn’t do. My brother tells me he had a classmate in middle school who wouldn’t shut-up about these books, and if I had discovered these books back in middle school, I probably wouldn’t have been able to shut-up about them either.

However, from the perspective of 28:
Like a lot of old science fiction, there’s a lot of fun to be had just wallowing in the sheer cheesiness of these books. By the second book the plot begins to thicken a little, and I started to actually get interested in the story. But by the 3rd book, the whole story has degenerated into one long chase scene.

I’m not sure if I would recommend anyone go out and buy the whole trilogy like I did. Go to your local library and just get the first book, “The Princess of Mars.” That will give you a fair taste of what the trilogy is like. There’s probably no need to read the whole thing through to the bitter end.

According to Wikipedia, a film based on these books is currently in development. It will be interesting to see how that turns out

Useless Wikipedia Fact
"Revolution 1" (the album version) contains a notable lyrical difference to the version released as a single: Lennon's vocal for the track adds the word "in" following the line "When you talk about destruction/ don't you know that you can count me out". Lennon stated in interviews that he was undecided in his sentiments toward the song's theme so he included both options.

Link of the Day
The Gerald Ford Deference Ritual

Ford Left Scars As Well

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hoity-toity artistic covers are yet another way to bootstrap Burroughs' Martian tales into legitimacy. This is what I saw in drugstore stands when I was a 12 year old, and you can bet that's what I read. Haven't picked it up since then, mind you.