Friday, January 6, 2012

Audiobook Review: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

"In one respect at least the Martians are a happy people; they have no lawyers." -- John Carter, A Princess of Mars

A Princess of Mars (1917) by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Genre: Science fiction romance
Length: 7h 26m
Audio publisher: LibriVox, 2008
Read by: Marc Nelson
Download audiobook from LibriVox
Download ebook from Project Gutenberg

Story: After ending the War of Northern Aggression on the less than victorious side, Captain John Carter of Virginia traveled West to look for gold. In Arizona he found a strange cave where he passes out and later wakes up on what must be Mars. John is then taken captive by its mysterious green inhabitants. Luckily, due to the limited Martian gravity, John possesses extraordinary strength, speed, and the ability to leap tall buildings. John spends his time learning the language and customs of the green Martians until the day they take another prisoner, this time a red Martian who looks almost human and happens to be a princess.

Thoughts: A Princess of Mars follows John Carter through his various Martian adventures. The beginning spends a lot of time describing the green Martians' way of life: their social structure, class system, methods of reproduction, manner of education. Even though these digressions are pretty dry, I came to enjoy them since they're very detailed and well thought-out. The group of Martians that finds John Carter is well described, but the other types of Martians, especially the red Martians, are not as well-formed. The red Martians look like humans and are more technologically advanced than the green, but I wasn't sure how their social structure differed. Mars is a very violent place.  Everyone is obsessed by war, and all conflicts are solved by killing. Sometimes John Carter comes up with a clever instead of a violent solution, but these are few and far between.
Usually he just uses his fists. And his superpowers.

My favorite parts of the book were the descriptions of the Martian technology, especially their oxygen creation system. I would have liked to learn more about those aspects and less about hand-to-hand combat.

I wasn't prepared for the very dense writing style in A Princess of Mars, but I loved it. Here's an example:
I do not believe that I am made of the stuff which constitutes heroes, because, in all of the hundreds of instances that my voluntary acts have placed me face to face with death, I cannot recall a single one where any alternative step to that I took occurred to me until many hours later.
The whole book is written like that. It's fun to listen to, but I could only handle it for short stretches. I missed a lot of the beauty of the phrasing by listening to the audio since I was focused on the words' meaning instead of their placement, but I don't know if I'd have been able to power through the visual version. I can barely get through that sentence.

I also had a few issues with continuity. There are said to be no mammals on Mars, but everyone sleeps on furs. More confusing was John Carter's ability to read minds, which came and went. He's also the only person who can lie, but then meets up with other liers, so maybe it's only green Martians who tell the truth. I did like how they were all vegetarians.

Reading: Marc Nelson did a fabulous job. I can't imagine reading some of that text silently, never mind aloud. He flawlessly delivered every run-on sentence and compound prepositional phrase in a way that brought out the meanings of the words and made them fun.

Final thoughts: While I'm glad I listened to A Princess of Mars, I'm not clamoring to listen to its many sequels.The story is interesting for historical value, and it has a lot of great ideas scattered through, but the emphasis on mindless violence turned me off.

Grade: 3.5 out of 5

This book qualifies for several challenges as a science fiction classic:
Vintage Sci Fi Sci Fi Science Fiction Experience Sci Fi Readers

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