The Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

April 25, 2010

The Book:  The Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Originally published as a serial in 1913, the edition read was published by Ballantine Books in 1973.

The Setting: MARS!  Okay, okay…   BARSOOM!

The Story: John Carter returns to Mars and finds himself in the Martian afterlife.  He fights his way out and then back in again against: blood sucking tree men of Mars, white apes of Mars, white priests of Mars, black pirates of Mars, more black men of Mars, green Warsoon of Mars, red men of Mars, the black and the white men of Mars at the same time, and Issus the Goddess of Eternal Life and Death of Mars.  And maybe some other stuff.  He fights till he passes out, alone and with friends.  He finds his son, discovers his wife is missing, seeks his wife, finds her, then loses her at the very end.  WILL HE FIND HER AGAIN??

The Science:

  • The Blood Sucking Tree Men of Mars:  Carter encounters these fiendish devils first in this book.  They are bipedal with wiggly arms that graze the top of the tall grass, and end in mouths hungry for blood.  Also, they sprout new tree men from their arm pits.  I’ve got to say, these creatures are pretty terrifying.  Because they will pursue you and suck out all your blood.  And, scientifically, I think there’s a basis for them.  Not the bipedalism, mind you, but vegetables evolving mechanisms to catch animal prey is not unknown.  Additionally, plants move all the time anyway, even if we don’t notice it: they bend toward a light source.  So to imagine a vegetable that evolved a way of moving across the landscape while still alive is not unfathomable.  But I doubt they would have two legs – more likely a root structure wherein the plant develops new roots in a particular direction, abandoning those at the rear.
  • The Martian Year: In an important plot point of the book, Carter is positively giddy to remember that the Martian year is 687 earth days long.  And Burroughs did his homework, because that figure is correct.  Dull, yes, but accurate.

The Reaction: Pew pew pew.  Bang bang!   Biff pow whammo! Zzzzzz…  That’s what the book is: Fighting until you pass out from fighting.  And that’s fine by me!  Lots of fun, lots of action, a really quick read.  Burroughs was clearly feeling a little disillusioned with organized religion when he wrote this book; it shows.  And I really love how John Carter is straightforward about when he’s an idiot.  The one really tedious point was the “suspense” about who the young Martian was that turned out to be his son.  Burroughs was not so artful about that.  Carter: “Say, who’s your father?”  The boy: “My father is – ” They were interrupted by some ridiculous thing to draw out the suspense.  But it’s okay, I don’t mind too much with the rest of it being a rollicking good time.

The Cover: Art by Gino D’Achille.  Hey look at that!  Carter is hanging on the anchor of an airship wielding a gigantic sword while a black man wields a sword at him from above.  THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED IN THE BOOK.  Yes.  It did.  Really.  It happened at night, but I’ll forgive that.  It’s an exciting cover, except that Carter is posed like a 1940’s pin-up on the anchor, which is a tad ridiculous.

Next Up: Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs


One comment

  1. […] 2. The Gods of Mars […]

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