It has been a spell since a Throwback SF Thursday post! A while back I won a complete set of hardcover Barsoom/John Carter omnibuses through a giveaway hosted by the inestimable Bookstooge. I have been using the Barsoom books as one of my main comfort reads in these trying times (lately as a palate cleanser between Wheel of Time books). Under the Moons of Mars collects the first three Barsoom novels, A Princess of Mars, The Gods of Mars, and The Warlords of Mars (overall, the last of the individual novels I finished was Thuvia, Maid of Mars).
This is my first time digging into an ERB series. I previously picked up the first Pellucidar and Carson of Venus books but haven’t continued with either series. Based on four Barsoom books and the first book in those two series, Barsoom is definitely my favorite, although the quality of the individual books varies.
A Princess of Mars
I would put A Princess of Mars on par with the first Pellucidar book. John Carter, though, far exceeds the protagonists of the Carson of Venus and Pellucidar books. He is just so unabashed about fighting and being a hero, and it absolutely works. To be honest, I probably would have liked this book more if I hadn’t seen the Disney John Carter movie several times before I ever read it. ERB has such a fecund imagination—the worldbuilding is a big part of the joy of reading his books. But I had already been exposed to a lot of the worldbuilding by the movie.
4 of 5 Stars.
The Gods of Mars
I loved this book. It is just jam-packed with worldbuilding despite being the second book in the series, not the first, and more of that worldbuilding wasn’t covered in the first book. There is also a lot less throat-clearing and origin story. The actions starts hot and heavy early and often and it never lets up. The pacing is perfect, with twists and cliffhangers that were propulsive, that kept me turning the pages. I was a little miffed at the cliffhanger at the end, but in general The Gods of Mars is the epitome of everything that is right with pulp fiction.
5 of 5 Stars.
The Warlords of Mars
ERB’s Barsoom books were massively influential. Watch the John Carter movie and the original Star Wars trilogy and the influence is obvious. But the Barsoom books didn’t just influence science fiction, they were also hugely influential for superhero stories (John Carter was a sort of proto-Superman) and comics storytelling. If The Gods of Mars is the epitome of everything that is right with pulp fiction, The Warlords of Mars is emblematic of everything that frustrates me about ultra-serialized storytelling, especially comics. In The Gods of Mars, the characters’ actions turn wheels that turn other wheels, with everything magnified. In The Warlords of Mars, the characters are on a hamster wheel. There is a lot of running, but the plot never seems to go anywhere, no matter how much geography gets covered. It is frequently bad storytelling to add powers to move the plot along, but it is a much worse sin to hobble your hero without explanation to prevent the plot from moving. ERB does a lot of that here. I still enjoyed it, though, and it didn’t stop me from moving on to Thuvia, Maid of Mars, which I liked plenty.
3 of 5 Stars.
The five ERB books I’ve read, ranked:
- The Gods of Mars
- A Princess of Mars
- At the Earth’s Core
- Pirates of Venus
- The Warlords of Mars