John Carter of Mars by Edgar Rice BurroughsJuly 7, 2010
The Book: John Carter of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Consists of two stories published under the name Edgar Rice Burroughs. “John Carter and the Giant of Mars” was published as a Whitman Big Little Book in 1940 and then in Amazing Stories in 1941. The story was written by Burroughs’ son Jack and possibly revised by ERB. “Skeleton Men of Jupiter” was published by Amazing Stories in 1943. The two were combined into the book John Carter of Mars in 1964. The edition read was published by Ballantine Books in 1973.
“John Carter and the Giant of Mars”
The Setting: Mars
The Story: Dejah Thoris is kidnapped by a synthetic man with a synthetic giant. John Carter goes to rescue her, gets in trouble, gets out of trouble, saves Helium (his city) from an army of the horrible white apes.
The Science: There’s more genetic engineering in this book, but this was a Big Little Book story, so aimed more at kids. My favorite moment of science in this book is when John Carter is about to be crushed by sliding glass walls, he remembers that he is wearing a diamond ring and that diamond will cut glass. So he etches a circle in the glass and punches through. This is accurate. Diamonds are the hardest natural substance. Way to go, elementary earth science!
The Reaction: OMG. This story was so not written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and if he edited it, he did so very lightly indeed. It has the ingredients of a John Carter story, but it lacks art. It’s in the third person, so there’s no delightful John Carter internal dialogues. The writing does a lot of little things ERB never does, and it’s just not as much fun. It’s like fanfic written by an inexperienced writer for an inexperienced audience…. oh….
“Skeleton Men of Jupiter”
The Setting: Mars and, you guessed it, Jupiter
The Story: The skeleton men of Jupiter have conquered their own planet, and now they want to take over Mars, so they kidnap John Carter to make him tell them all his military secrets. Needless to say, he refuses, Dejah Thoris gets kidnapped to Jupiter too. There’s fighting and escaping and the ending is sort of up in the air.
The Science: In the story, Jupiter has an enormous surface lurking below the clouds. The planet is lit and heated by constantly erupting volcanoes. The gravity is actually less than that of Mars because of how fast the planet rotates. All this is wrong, according to science. Jupiter is actually a gas giant with little or no solid core and a gravity that would be about 2.4 times greater than that of earth. But Burroughs heads this all off with John Carter spending a full page and a half talking about how fickle science is and how often he’s proved it wrong. Good for a story, bad for science.
The Reaction: Just fun. Especially after reading the prior story which was not much fun. John Carter kicks ass and takes names, what more does a girl want? I just wish that Burroughs had lived to finish writing the story. The end is not really a satisfying ending – apparently this was supposed to be part of a story arc like that of Llana of Gathol.
The Cover: Cover art by Gino D’Achille. Looks like we’ve got a planet, a snake dinosaur duck footed monster, Dejah Thoris, and John Carter. John Carter, are you wearing socks with your sandals? Tacky. Also, I have no idea where that monster comes into play. There were a couple random mentions of reptile monsters, so… maybe?
Etc: Here ends the John Carter series. And all I can see looming large in the future is Ray Bradbury, short story upon short story.
Next Up: “R is for Rocket” by Ray Bradbury.