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A Princess of Mars

So, some of my gaming ideas have been drifting to things like retro futurism, planetary romance and of course, hanging around in the background, the ever present influence of pulp. In line with this I was scanning Amazon for books, initially Steampunk, but that didn’t really go anywhere and I ended up getting an omnibus of the first three John Carter novels.

A bit of planetary romance for my three quid.

I’ve recently completed A Princess of Mars. Did I enjoy it? Yes. It was a bit drawn out in parts, and the fact everyone gets called by there full name, possibly along with arcane titles, does get frustrating, but other than that, it was a book I read with pace and wanted to know what happened next.

The story follows a familiar high level approach, the man from Earth gets transported to an alien world (Mars) and through the fact he’s different he becomes embroiled in and important to immediately critical events, acting as an agent to drive change. He rapidly becomes respected by two Mars species and two city states, albeit one city state becomes an enemy which he destroys. He even brings peace between two species that have been at war for ages. Obviously, he also has superpowers, the differences between Mars and Earth making him fitter, stronger and capable of jumping around (which works better than in the film for some strange reason).

You don’t expect deep characters in this sort of fiction but it doesn’t do too badly. John Carter is the typical, out of place hero. Dejah Thoris is the exotic, beautiful princess that has an almost preternatural allure. Some of the best characters are among the Tharks, especially Tal Hajus and his daughter Sola. There is an assortment of other characters but they’re largely part of the large supporting cast, all with alien names. The Tharks and their society come across much better in the book. The book also does a very good job of creating a grand vista both in terms of its setting and the action.

It reminded me I’ve touched upon the planetary romance genre before, during the short run of Thrilling Tales. One of the characters had an on and off planetary romance with Princess Aliara Starfire of the Hollow Earth (though it was more a different dimension). This was exactly like the John Carter set-up, it even had a lot of airship action going on. That got me thinking a bit and some of those ideas, ‘lost’ once Thrilling Tales ended, may find a new home in slightly different ways. It’s also a good sign, as I really loved that element of that aborted campaign.

I have to discuss the film at some point, so here it goes. Keep in mind I’ve only read A Princess of Mars. In a lot of cases the film is very similar to A Princess of Mars. For a while, the film and book follow each other blow for blow. John Carter’s first experiences on Mars and how he meets the Tharks. The entrance of Thoris. The fact he has a fast running lizard creature. The story of the leader of the Tharks and his daughter. All the same. It also differs. The strange energy controlling beings aren’t in A Princess of Mars at all.

I thought the John Carter film was nowhere near as bad as many suggested, but I can’t help but think it could have been simpler? The approach taken for the film looks to be an adaptation of A Princess of Mars with elements of the future books pulled in (I’m guessing). It may have just been better going for a streamlined, focused, gloriously rendered version of A Princess of Mars? This would have had the advantage of keeping the more ‘is this film on drugs’ plot elements, as far as the typical cinema goer is concerned, out of the first film. It would have reduced the overload many people experienced with the film.

Looking forward to the next book. I’m expecting them to get stranger, but that’s based entirely on the John Carter film. I may be completely wrong.

About Ian O'Rourke

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