Tag Archives: mars

Book Review: A Princess of Mars

250px-Princess_of_Mars_large Meet John Carter. Gentleman of Virginia. Civil War veteran. Fighter, adventurer, treasure-seeker. Did I mention he’s also been to Mars? Well he has. He’s rather famous there, too. All things considered, this guy makes Indiana Jones look like a couch-potato with a fedora fetish.

Mr. Carter gets his introduction in A Princess of Mars, the first in an eleven book series by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The author’s name may not ring any bells for you, but you’re probably familiar with his work. He’s the writer behind Tarzan of the Apes, and his Barsoom series – which began with A Princess of Mars – went on to inspire the likes of Bradbury, Heinlein, and Clarke. Whether you realize it or not, E.R.B. has left a giant Tharkian footprint on science fiction. I for one am mighty glad he did.

The story opens with a lengthy narration by Carter, as he explains how he went from hiding in cave in Arizona – he ran afoul of the local Apaches, it seems – to waking up on the fourth planet from the sun. It’s actually a non-explanation (the details of this weird transportation are never fleshed out), but that’s something you’ll have to get used to if you read A Princess of Mars. Sometimes things just happen. Deal with it. Once the story gets going, you won’t care much about how John Carter ended up on Mars; you’ll just be happy things worked out that way.

In no time at all our hero is picked up by the Green Men of Thark and held as prisoner. Carter isn’t exactly suited to captivity, though, and he soon earns a reputation among his “hosts” as someone not to be trifled with (having a body count on your resume will usually help with that). His strength and skill eventually gain him a high position in the tribe, and he becomes the friend and ally of Tars Tarkas, a noble Thark chieftain.

All this is but a prelude to the real story: the one involving Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, captor of John Carter’s heart. Throw in some political intrigue, lots of derring-do, a touch of romance, and a sense of humor, and you’ve got yourself one of the most shamelessly entertaining popcorn novels ever written. Grab your favorite beverage and prepare to watch a plucky little sword-wielding Earth-man wreak havoc on another planet (Barsoom, as the natives call it). It’s good pulpy fun.

Burroughs is a great writer, and his vibrant descriptions of the Martian landscape lend the story a firm sense of place, bringing the planet and those who dwell there to strange but exciting life. The story is about as straightforward as they come; it’s not stupid, and it’s not Heinlein – it’s just entertaining. And frankly, in a literary scene dominated by cynical, world-weary protagonists, there’s something refreshing about a hero as square and unironic as John Carter: loyal friend, fearsome enemy, determined lover, helper of the distressed. I read one review which described him as “egotistical in the extreme,” but I never found this to be true. The man is simply confident in his abilities. Perhaps we’ve forgotten what that looks like in a hero. I’d love to see more of it.

Book Review: Red Rain

Government regulations said they had no choice. Seventeen-year-old Philadelphia must stay on Earth in the hands of complete strangers while her father is sent to Mars to work on a top-priority science project.  When a Martian leader pulls some strings at the last moment and allows her to accompany her father, she knows she must keep her head down or be sent back to Earth. Unfortunately, things seldom go as planned…

When a search for her deceased brother’s belongings causes her to stumble into a hallway that isn’t supposed to exist, Philadelphia is faced with a question she doesn’t want to answer – the choice between returning to Earth or destroying it.

Aubrey’s Hansen’s debut novella Red Rain burst onto the scene in early September to favorable reviews. My interest in the premise – coupled with the fact that I’m fairly well acquainted with the author – compelled me to read the story for myself. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Red Rain takes place in a futuristic dystopia, where Earth is run by a single, worldwide government: “United”. Christians are regarded as outcasts, marked for persecution and discrimination. Most are forced to attend special “re-education” camps. Those who choose to compromise are welcomed back into society; those who don’t are subject to greater hardship than ever. “Assimilated or removed,” as the saying goes.

It’s a superb backdrop for an interesting tale, and Aubrey handles it all quite well. The plot is briskly paced, cutting from one scene to the next with economic precision: kudos to the author for keeping the story on track and not allowing herself to be distracted.

The small cast of characters is well-rounded and memorable, from the young heroine Phillidelphia to the coniving Dr. Nic. The prose is generally tight, clean, and devoid of clutter; and Aubrey demonstrates a remarkable talent for crafting smooth dialogue. There were some lines here and there which came across as a bit melodramatic, and one or two scenes which I thought could’ve used polishing; these, however, are minor complaints when considering the overall excellence of the book.

The primary theme of the book is the danger of compromise, as Phillidelphia is tempted multiple times to renounce her faith and choose the “easier” path. I appreciated Aubrey’s inclusion of this, as it lent the story substance and gravitas that would otherwise have been lacking.

I might add that there is nothing – no indecency, no bloody violence, no cussing – to make this book unsuitable for younger readers. I enjoyed it, and yet I would have no reservation about handing it to my 9-year-old brother. It’s an all ages type of read.

In conclusion, therefore, I highly recommend Red Rain. It’s a fun, clean, and engaging little piece of fiction – the perfect way to spend a quiet afternoon with a cup of tea and your own imagination. Rumor has it there are a couple of sequels in the works. I hope such is the case: Aubrey Hansen has shown us why we should pay attention to her, and I look forward to reading more from her pen.