Wednesday, 22 June 2011

A Princess Of Mars - Edgar Rice Burroughs

I first read this during a long summer in which I devoured books at a furious rate. Perhaps as a relief from A Level literature, I stuck to pulp and lightweight sci fi. Most notably, I waltzed through E E Doc Smith’s books and then happily lost myself in ERBdom. Tarzan. Pelucidar. And Barsoom. There were probably others, but I didn’t keep any of them so I can’t really remember.

What I do remember is that I enjoyed them Barsoom books without ever getting over excited about them. This probably had a great deal to do with the style in which they were written. At the time I was revelling in contemporary literature that was often ‘exploratory’ (an altogether more satisfying adjective than ‘experimental’, I feel). ERB seemed a little old-fashioned. Manly heroes, beautiful princesses, weird creatures. Yet even then I appreciated he had, in his way, produced exploratory work. And now...

I treated myself to the Barnes & Noble edition containing the first three Barsoom books. Beautifully presented (although shockingly copy edited), I have been able to wallow. Not just in a direct link to that summer, but in books that were much better than I remembered. Yes, there are manly heroes, beautiful princesses, weird creatures, and those gorgeous dying landscapes of Mars, but ERB knew how to put a story together and keep it moving with enough pace to satisfy those who wanted adventure and enough detail and craft to satisfy those who like a bit of depth to their entertainment.

And entertainment is what these books are. There isn’t much beyond that in the pages, but what there is sufficiently stimulating to lift these works out of the ordinary. ERB’s writing is workmanlike, clear, and only now and then prone to rambling attempts to give scientific explanations that inevitably sound flat these days. But he avoids the breathlessness that is a common fault of lesser writers in this area. And there were hundreds of them. Sensationalists rushing to get to the next cliff-hanger and leaving all semblance of story and character behind.

Great fun. And if the next generation of Martian explorers don’t find those long deserted cities, it’ll only be because they are looking in the wrong place.