A Princess of Mars – Book Review

A princess of Mars is the first of eleven books in the Barsoom series. I’ve also heard it called the John Carter of Mars series.

This is a classic Science-Fantasy, published in 1912. Like other Mars novels from that time, almost all its scientific assumptions about Mars have been disproved.

This novel created and still personifies the Sword and Planet Genre.

The author, Edgar Rice Burroughs, is best known for his Tarzan series. However, his science fiction has had an influence that can still be seen in newer authors. He had an amazing way of mixing science fiction and fantasy without making it feel forced. His influence can be seen in many of the “New Wave” science fiction authors like Laguin, Zelazny, or Moorcock.

Below is my review. For more information on how and why I review books read my post here.

Characters

This book only has two main characters. John Carter is veteran of the American Civil war and possibly many others, he refers to himself as a Virginian Gentleman. He’s a fighter and an impressive one. He looks thirty and has lived at least a hundred years. Interestingly doesn’t remember his childhood.

Where John Carter is impressive, his character arc isn’t. The only thing that changes is his understanding of Mars and his relationship status. That being said, he is an interesting and entertaining narrator/character. There is no doubt that he is a hero and he’s an entertaining guide to Barsoom.

The second main character is Mars, or as the natives call it Barsoom. There is more ink dedicated to her than to anyone else in the novel. A dying world with interesting and detailed cultures, the real character arc is Mars’. She goes from a war torn, segregated, and dying world to a united(ish) kingdom, but still dying. It’s a beautifully described world. At some points I preferred the world building and Martian history more than the actual story.

There are plenty of secondary characters some of which are fun others are down right boring. Overall, they feel unimportant next to John Carter.

The weakest character, as in most adventure stories from this time, is Dejah Thoris. Or the love interest. She’s less of a person and more of a goal for the protagonist. He treats her well but she has all the personality of an inanimate object.

I give it a 3 out of 5 for characters. Even though most of the characters are uninteresting, they are also unimportant next to the awesome John Carter and the brilliant Barsoom.

Writing Style

The book is written in first person, John Carter is writing his memoirs in the form of a letter to a friend. With few exceptions we are always dealing with John Carter and the way he sees the world(s).

The style is dry and at times, a little disconnected. When I say dry, I mean it felt academic. It’s a feel and style that was used a lot in that time and he does make it interesting.

One of the things that kept the book from feeling like a long Barsoomian discourse on history was the fact that it was so disconnected. The story would get a little dry and suddenly we’d be learning the history behind the Green Martians firearms. I’d get bored with the history and suddenly John Carter is kicking someone’s ass. It was a nice way of keeping the reader interested and informed.

I give the style a 3 out of 5. I guess I’m just a sucker for a first person narrative.

Story

It’s difficult to tell which tropes the author is using and which he invented. At its base, this is an “Other World” novel, sometimes called “Portal Fantasy” or “Trapped in another world”. It’s a common story structure with immense customization. I’m not sure you can say it was influenced by The Time Machine or by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland but they are definitely pulling from the same source material. Most likely, whether the authors did it on purpose or not, these stories are heavily influenced by old fairy myths.

Once John Carter arrives on earth (after an extremely bad portrayal of Native Americans) the story becomes a loose narrative of his journey around Barsoom. The only story motivation is survival. In the third act he is moved to action and almost single-handedly changes the face of Mars.

There are a lot of coincidences throughout the book that stretch believability along with John Carter’s inability to make a mistake. Other than the typical “White is right” and “Women are only good at being pretty” this book does have a few interesting messages. It’s definitely championing emotion, especially love, as what makes us human and what makes the difference between right and wrong.

An interesting essay could be comparing the cruel, barbarity of the Green Martians with that of the Humans in Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World and trying to associate it with their similar reproductive methods.

It could change with the rest of the series but the weakest part of this book is the story. I give it a 2 out of 5.

Fun

Was this book fun? Yes, Yes and yes. Maybe it’s the little boy in me (I’ve been meaning to get that removed) or the adventure lover but this book was a joy to read. It helped that it was tiny by comparison to other books of it’s genre. It made the bare-bones plot and history lesson seem quick and move along without getting dull.

A few modern Authors could learn something about Story/world-building from Burroughs I give it a 5out of 5 for fun

Overall

Overall, if you like swashbuckling and classic science fiction than I’d recommend you read A Princess of Mars. However it does suffer from it’s age and wouldn’t make it into my top ten best books.

I’ll probably pick up The Gods of Mars at some point and see what happens to John Carter. Most of the novels are available from the Gutenberg Project for free, can’t go wrong there.

Overall it was enjoyable but not amazing. I give it a 65% enjoyability score.

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Book Reviews

Why am I writing reviews

I love to read. I wouldn’t call myself a heavy reader. On average, I only read one or two books a month. Since I love reading and I love writing. I’ve decided if I can coherently assess the books I read, than maybe I can understand why I like or dislike them. Giving me insight for my own writing.

Why you should care

If you’ve read my blog and liked what you’ve seen than it’s logical that you’d like the same things I do.

As far as my qualifications, I have

  • a Bachelors degree in Media Communications from the University of Ottawa,
  • a second, mostly finished, Bachelors degree in English Literature and Film Studies from the University of Ottawa,
  • two completed novels and one almost finished (so far unpublished),
  • over four years experience writing and Game Mastering the same group of players,
  • my wife and I own over two thousand books, and
  • of those two thousand books, I’ve read at least a quarter

It’s not the greatest list of qualifications but I hope its enough to keep you reading.

How it’ll work

I’ll be reviewing four aspects of each book I read. These for aspects represent things that I find important in my books. I’ll give each aspect a rating out of five and at the end give the book a rating percentage.

I am not reviewing if a book is good literature, or social commentary, etc. I am reviewing whether I enjoyed the book. I might do some literary analysis but most of it will be personal not scientific.

Characters

To enjoy a book I have to care about the characters. That doesn’t mean they have to be nice, good, or awesome. I just need them to be interesting and relatable.

Writing Style

This is an extremely personal aspect of books. I have certain styles I can’t stand and some that I love. A writing style can elevate a mediocre story into a great read and vice versa.

Story

I’ll be honest. I don’t believe in an original story or idea. I do believe that there are original ways to put story elements together. There are themes, character arcs, plots and subplots, and multiple other elements that go into a story.

Fun

You could call it the X factor, but sometimes it makes all the difference. A novel could be bland in every other way but still fun to read.

Opinion

As my wife can tell you, I’m not always right. Everything I say here is my opinion. If you disagree or want to discuss my points, feel free to comment.

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Crochet Cell Phone Cases

Crocheted Cell Phone Case shaped like a tardis

My wife has been making awesome crochet cell phone cases.

There’s a Tardis, a Jayne Hat, and soon star trek uniforms.

Check out her store at Etsy: http://www.etsy.com/shop/JenEricDesigns

Crocheted Cell Phone Case shaped like a tardis  Crocheted Cell phone Case that looks like a Jayne Hat

We took awesome pictures this summer at Disney world of a large stuffed Tardis she made. It’s awesome and you can follow it at: http://crochettardis.blogspot.com/

A stuffed Tardis

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Crochet Cell Phone Cases

My wife has been making awesome crochet cell phone cases.

There’s a Tardis, a Jayne Hat, and soon star trek uniforms.

Check out her store at Etsy: http://www.etsy.com/shop/JenEricDesigns

Crocheted Cell Phone Case shaped like a tardis  Crocheted Cell phone Case that looks like a Jayne Hat

We took awesome pictures this summer at Disney world of a large stuffed Tardis she made. It’s awesome and you can follow it at: http://crochettardis.blogspot.com/

A stuffed Tardis

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A glimpse forward…

Her fluorescent purple hair glowed in the dying evening light. It was a warm evening, sticky with the promise of rain. She wore a low cut top showing the silhouette of a bird tattooed on her collar bone. The tattoo calmly flapped its wings, vainly attempting to escape a prison of skin and digitized ink.
The buildings shine and glimmer in vibrant colours. A backdrop for ghost images appearing in the corner of her eye. Each advertised the store, service, or persons residing inside the building.
She smiled as she passed a young man dressed in a classic white t-shirt and jeans. As he walked his information appeared next to his head. Name, age, sexual preference, relationship status, favorite quote and a silly picture.
She winked at him, it served the double purpose of “Liking” his profile, and the more traditional way of showing him the same thing. She could have chosen any eye trigger to accomplish the same digital ends, it was the intentions that counted not the interface.
Reaching home she dimmed her hair with a thought and unlocked her door in the same way.
Interfacing with the house told her that she had mail, the old fashioned kind, the oven was pre-heated, and the tofu for dinner was de-frosted. She put supper together, she added real veggies from her miniature garden and in les then ten minutes, sat down to eat.
As she sat down to eat she interfaced with her home network and streamed a home repair show. During the commercial she thought, “I wonder want the future will be like?”

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Awesome Juicy Burgers

500 g of Extra Lean Ground Beef (Unfrozen)
1 egg
1/8 cup Crushed Crackers or Bread Crumbs (I recommend Ritz Crackers, Rye bread, or Pumpernickel)
1 tbsp of BBQ Sauce
1 tsp of Thyme
1/2 tsp Crushed Pepper
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 cup of Finely Chopped Mushrooms
1/2 tbsp Soya Sauce or Worcestershire Sauce

First thing you should do is take the meat out of the fridge and place it in a big bowl. This way the meat will be less cold on your hands later. If you’re using medium or regular beef instead of
Extra lean, I recommend doubling the amount of Crackers or Bread Crumbs.

Finely Chop the Mushrooms. They should be around the size of a pea. Any bigger and they will fall out of the meat, any smaller and they’ll turn it into mush.

Put all the ingredients into the bowl with the meat. With clean hands, mush it all together. Make sure that everything is well mixed.

Once everything is mixed together, you’ll be tempted to stop working the meat. Don’t. The longer you work the meat the more it’ll stick together when you cook it. This should take a minute or two of extra time with the meat.

Roll the meat into a large ball and split it into two smaller balls. Take the Two smaller balls and split them into two even smaller balls. Finally take your four smaller balls and split each one in two for eight meatballs.

Roll your meatballs in the palm of your hand and flatten it in the same way you would dough. Make sure to flatten well. They’ll retract and try to become balls again when you cook them.

If you want thicker burgers, split your meat into six instead of eight.

Cook on a BBQ, Griddle, or in a pan for around 3-5 minutes per side until they’re brown throughout. Don’t squish them with your spatula, or you’ll have dry burgers.

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Childhood Home

It changed. All of it changed. Somehow, without my knowledge, or permission, my childhood home changed.

I had never truly understood the meaning of, “You can never go home again”. Now I think I get it. It’s not that you aren’t capable of returning to childhood homes but that it will never be the same.

Almost ten years have passed since I had last seen the little blue house where I grew up. It seemed smaller, so did my little town. The houses seemed older and the trees shorter. Everything was the same but felt different.

I brought my wife to see it, to see all six streets of it, that small northern village. She’s a big city girl, and she marvelled as I gave her the sentimental tour. I showed her were the old convenience store was the one my mother and I rented a Nintendo. That first gaming system started my Mother’s love of video games.

I pointed out the old tavern. When I was very young, they had a vending machine that effectively microwaved French fries. They were the best fries, not because they tasted good but because they came from a machine and that was cool.

I showed her what was left of the grocery store. Once it seemed larger then life. I remember getting caught stealing sour gum. The clerk gave me a firm talking too and I never did it again. Latter I worked with them folding envelopes and working with Excel. My first real summer job.

Moving on I showed her the small white two-story building which hosts the bank. My mother had lived in the apartment above it when she worked as a waitress.

I showed her the new convenience store. I worked there part time in my last year of high school. The money was ok but the free vhs rentals were amazing. I watched more movies that year than I had my whole life.

I pointed out the old blue house. Not really that old, I remember my mother’s excitement as we would drive by as it was being built. She would say, “Let’s go visit our hole.” It still has the flowering crab apple tree that she planted twenty years ago when we moved in. I worked hard pruning and cleaning that tree. Picking the small bitter apples.

We drove up the steep road where my cousin and I would sit on our skateboards and fly down it. It was a monolithic hill. It really wasn’t. Somehow, overtime it had levelled itself out.

We passed the small white church and the still large Baseball field. Turned around in the old school yard. All the play structures I remembered were gone. Replaced with plastic, safe versions.

Of all the memories the old school brought back, it wasn’t the pranks, old friends, or bastard teachers that I remembered, it was my first kiss. I was in high school and she was visiting me for the day. My brother was home with his girlfriend and her son. The small blue house felt small and we escaped for a walk.

It was dark, maybe seven at night, and we walked to the old school. I was determined to kiss her, I had been paralyzed with fear for too long. I can’t remember why kissing terrified me but it had and now after almost a month of going steady, I was determined to kiss her. We went around to the old gym doors and there, under the orange glow of a light, I made my move. The kiss was sweet, soft and wonderful. I didn’t marry her and we ended badly but that moment was wonderful.

My wife and I drove down the last road in our tour. Both sets of grandparents lived on this road when I was young; they even lived across the street from each other.

That was the tour, it seemed so sad to me that such a big part of my life was suddenly so small. How could a place that felt so wrong feel so right? So many of my memories and experiences came from there and I love the place, but it’s not my home anymore. It has lost some intangible quality that made it my place in the world.

After some time thinking about it I realise, it isn’t smaller, it didn’t change, I did.

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Elizabeth

I’ve had a story stuck in my head for the past few years. At first I thought it would make a cute picture book but lately I’ve been thinking of writing it for older children. I started it as a picture book and it didn’t feel right.

In the original version, below, I had originally planned to have Elizabeth be wrong about the wizard, one of those over active imagination stories. The more I think about it the more I realize that it’s an idea much more suited to a form of Urban Fantasy. I’m toying with the idea of making it into a Detective novel.

I’m still having trouble deciding what age group to write it for. I like the idea of the Middle-Grade story but I’m worried that’s too young. I could do Young adult but I’m not quite sure if I can handle writing a teenage girl. I’m also not very sure of the difference between the two genres.

Tell me what you think?

* * *

Elizabeth saw the mittens on the ground. Every day in winter there would be a new one somewhere in the city, all alone in the cold. She wondered what it would be like to be one of those mittens lost on the ground in a Canadian winter.

It was just such a day as she passed a pretty pink mitten that she wondered what if the mitten was a little girl like her? What if there was an evil wizard turning children into mittens. It scared her and she decided not to think about the poor pink mitten.

One day Elizabeth’s best friend Sean wasn’t at school. She asked Misses Coderre, her teacher, “Where’s Sean?” and the teacher told her, “I don’t know Elizabeth, maybe he’s sick? You should call him and see how he is when you get home.”

The day passed very slowly and Elizabeth had a bad feeling that something had happened to Sean. At lunch she asked all the other kids in the yard, “Do you know where Sean is?” and no one knew.

Just as the lunch was finishing she saw a lonely brown mitten, which looked just like Sean’s lying on the ground. “Oh no,” she thought, “The Evil Wizard changed Sean into a mitten.”

Sean was her best friend and she couldn’t leave him outside, she took the mitten and placed it in her pocket. He would be safe there and he wouldn’t be cold.

She went to see Misses Coderre again and showed her the mitten as she said, “Misses Coderre an Evil Wizard turned Sean into a mitten and I don’t know what to do.”
The teacher looked and Elizabeth and then at the mitten she was holding, “You’re right Elizabeth that does look a lot like Sean’s mitten. You should tell him he lost it tonight when you call him.”

* * *

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The Runaways

“Let’s runaway” my mother told me two years ago. Her rotund face framed by false blond curls, was aglow with excitement. She had said such things before but this time was different. If only I had known how different it would be.

“We’ll jump into the car and drive. No direction just you me and the open road. We haven’t been on an adventure in years and look how beautiful it is outside. The leaves are changing the air is crisp. Get your camera and we’ll go now.” The mask of her excitement cracked for only a moment, showing just enough worry that I had to say yes.

Before I had even finished nodding she was packing a sandwich lunch. Her homemade purple dress flapped and danced around the kitchen like a tiny purple culinary tornado. I ran to get my camera.

Being in my early twenties and having moved away from home meant I was no longer required to pretend I was too cool for these trips. I had always found them exciting. She called it “Running Away” but we rarely went far and on the rare occasion we did, we were home within a week.

I had a head start on the running away, I had flown it the night before. Running away from my life and growing up. I had just finished University with a degree in English and teaching. My mandatory Term of Service with his Highnesses Royal Army, started in a few weeks and after that I had a ready made, pre packaged life ahead of me. I’d return from service be wed to my genetically compatible husband or wife and teach the school I was most needed. It scared me, I felt like my freedom and life, were ending. Pushing away my worries, I concentrated on my last week of freedom and the only person I wanted to spend it with.

“Do you think we’ll see a T-Rex this time? I can’t believe I missed the picture last time.” I said as we got going. She smiled at me and took my hand, squeezing it and laughed. The one and only time I had seen the endangered species I was twelve and my shock and awe at actually seeing one made me forget to take a picture before it had run back into the trees.

[…]

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