The Gods of Mars: A tremendous feat of imagination

the gods of mars by edgar rice burroughsThe Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice BurroughsThe Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The Gods of Mars, #2 of 11 in Burroughs’ JOHN CARTER series, is a direct sequel to the classic A Princess of Mars, and a reading of that earlier volume is fairly essential before going into this one. The Gods of Mars was first published in serial form in All-Story Magazine in 1913, and comprises one of Burroughs’ earliest works.

It is amazing how much action the author manages to cram into the book’s 190 pages; on just about EVERY page there is some kind of incredible happening or colorful bit. The book really is hard to put down, and yet, at the same time, the end of just about every paragraph could serve as a cliffhanger! The pace of the plot is brisk and relentless, and really carries the reader along to another great cliffhanger at the conclusion.

In The Gods of Mars our hero, John Carter, returns to Barsoom after a decade’s absence, and goes to that planet’s “heaven.” But heaven turns out to be anything but, and our man gets caught up in battles with plant men and white apes, lost civilizations, religious taboos, the plots of an evil “goddess,” duels in the arena and on and on. There are two action set pieces that Burroughs really puts over well. One is the slave revolt that takes place halfway through the tale; the other, a bravura, four-way air battle between the forces of the black, white, red and green men of Barsoom. Both of these sections are thrilling in the extreme; better than anything in the first Barsoom novel. It’s also nice that Carter, an Earthman on Mars, fights alongside men and women of varied races, colors, and religious beliefs in a common cause; there’s some kind of message there — one for tolerance and brotherhood — that we could all avail ourselves of today.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsHaving said all this, however, I must admit that there are problems in The Gods of Mars that prevent me from giving it a top grade. These problems mainly take the form of fuzzy writing and internal inconsistencies. Burroughs, in this novel, does not do well in describing geography; his depictions of the Valley of the Therns, for example, are almost impossible to visualize (for me, anyway). A map of this planet (such as the one provided in LeGuin‘s EARTHSEA books) would have greatly helped, given Burroughs’ inability to clearly set out his world.

As for the inconsistencies: Burroughs, the “editor” of the novel, says he first read Carter’s manuscript (for Book #1) 12 years previously; but if he had really obeyed Carter’s will (that the manuscript not be opened for 11 years), then he would have only first seen the text of A Princess of Mars ONE year before! Tars Tarkas is said to be grieving over his kidnapped daughter in one section of this book; then, a few scenes later, he learns of this kidnapping for the first time. Huh?!?! The scene with Carter on the black-pirate cruiser contains many inconsistencies. Carter is said to be fighting five of these men; he kills three of them, and then three are left. Huh?!?! Six pirates are killed, all told, but later in the book, the number is said to be seven. Carter is said to have killed all these men single-handed, although the Thern princess, Phaidor, had helped him. These pirates are all asleep in the cruiser when Carter comes upon them, although they had been sacking the Thern temple scant minutes before. Does this seem likely? Inconsistencies such as this can drive an alert reader crazy. And don’t even get me started on the redundant expressions such as “haven of refuge” and “craven cowards” that pop up all the time. Burroughs improved with age, but these early books are rife with problems that a good copyediting should have weeded out. Still, these minor problems are easily overlooked when one is caught up in the sweep of the story, and this story is as exciting as they come. It really is a tremendous feat of imagination, and one that any lover of swashbuckling fantasy should hugely enjoy.

Barsoom (John Carter of Mars) — (1917-1941) Let the adventures begin, as Captain John Carter finds himself transported to the alien landscape of Mars — where the low gravity increases his speed and strength exponentially. Taken prisoner by Martian warriors, he impresses them with his remarkable fighting skills, and quickly rises to a high-ranking chieftain. But the heroic Carter’s powers thrust him right in the middle of a deadly war raging across the planet — and a dangerous romance with a divine princess.

Edgar Rice Burroughs 1. A Princess of MarsEdgar Rice Burroughs 2. The Gods of MarsEdgar Rice Burroughs 3. The Warlord of MarsEdgar Rice Burroughs 4. Thuvia, Maid of MarsEdgar Rice Burroughs 5. The Chessmen of MarsEdgar Rice Burroughs 6. The Master Mind of MarsEdgar Rice Burroughs 7. A Fighting Man of MarsEdgar Rice Burroughs 8. Swords of MarsEdgar Rice Burroughs 9. Synthetic Men of MarsEdgar Rice Burroughs 10. Llana of Gatholfantasy and science fiction book reviews


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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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