Geoff Ryman on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “A Princess of Mars”

A Princess of Mars

UK Sci Fi Novelist Geoff Ryman has a nice piece at the SFX Book Club on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1912 “A Princess of Mars” which I think is worth sharing here.  Also read the comments — some good ones there.   Here are a couple of the comments, then the article.  The comments quoted here are about Burroughs’ writing, not the article per se.

Here’s one”

It has a real sense of adventure missing from a lot of modern fiction. The excitement is tangible. The whole thing reads like classic pulp (which I love) but is so intelligently written you feel a bit mean labelling it as such. It’s HG Wells meets Lester Dent.

And one more:

One of the nice things is the lack of the casual racism (and sexism) you get in a lot of books of that era. The Green Martians are weird-looking with unpleasant habits, but Carter regards them with interest and sympathy rather than as some kind of lesser species.

And now the article.


Geoff Ryman enjoys a buck-naked vision of life on Mars

Chicago is the secret creative capital of the USA. The Future was invented there – skyscrapers and elevated railways; Frank Lloyd Wright and L Frank Baum. From a Chicago suburb in 1911, Edgar Rice Burroughs sold the very first thing he ever wrote, the serial that became A Princess of Mars.

It used to work like this: from about age five you read the Oz books and, if you had a phantasmagorical turn of mind, when you got older, you read Burroughs. They formed a chain that led on to Wells, Verne and Amazing Stories.

A Princess of Mars starts out bristling with authority. A nephew remembers his mysterious uncle, who died and specified that he be buried in a vault that could only be opened from the inside. Chapter two starts with Uncle John Carter’s memoirs:

“I am a very old man: how old I do not know. Possibly I am a hundred, possibly more; but I cannot tell because I have never aged as other men, nor do I remember any childhood. So far as I can recollect, I have always been a man…”

I challenge anyone not to read on.

Read the full article


  • Great article! Though the writer over-plays the climate change (not man-caused in the novels) and nudity (about as sensational as a native tribe), the rest is brilliant!

  • An excellent article–but then again, I expect nothing less from SFX.

    The comments were also great–including the ones that pointed out just how much modern SF and Fantasy owe to APOM.

    Whatever one thinks of the film JOHN CARTER (and I liked it a lot, especially upon repeat viewings), one thing we should be grateful for is that along with the film, there have been re-releases of a lot of Burroughs’ works, including APOM and the Barsoom novels, as well as Tarzan. It’s also encouraged me to go and read Richard Lupoff’s EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS: MASTER OF ADVENTURE, which is a great look at ERB and his works, warts and all.

    And now, with many discovering JC on DVD and realizing that the film was not the huge piece of garbage that the critics claimed it was, perhaps they will be encouraged to go look for the Barsoom novels and other books written by Burroughs. A friend who liked JC had never read APOM, and so I gave him a copy for his birthday. He loved the book, and wants to read more.

  • That’s probably one of the best articles I’ve read on A Princess of Mars and ERB. I liked how Ryman admitted he didn’t think much of Burroughs’ writing when he was younger but now sees how good it is and the comments on the side were a nice plus.

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