Book Review: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

A Princess of Mars (Barsoom, #1)A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Edgar Rice Burroughs, the writer who gave us Tarzan, published this novel first as a magazine serial and then released it as a completed novel later on. It’s always an interesting experience to read classic sci-fi, especially when it’s this classic. This pulp legend is loaded with so many tropes it might make the modern reader toss it aside in disgust; except that none of these were tropes when this book was written. And why are they tropes? Because they were amazingly successful and popular, and thousands of writers who succeeded Burroughs tried to imitate what made the John Carter books what they were. These, along with C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, were the primordial space operas.

John Carter, ex-civil war soldier and Southern gentleman, is mystically transported to the planet Mars in a fashion that feels more like fantasy than science fiction to the modern reader, except that almost everything that happens after that is sci-fi to the core. John Carter finds that as a denizen of Earth he is considerably stronger and can leap incredible distances compared to the native Martians, who are adapted to Mars’ lesser gravity; which, of course, would be exactly what would happen by all laws of physics and biology, if Mars were actually inhabited (though this is also ignored in some places; for instance, Martian riding beasts have no trouble carrying John Carter, although he is certainly more dense, and therefore much heavier, than the people of Mars, which is called “Barsoom” by its inhabitants.)

Carter initially finds himself among the savage green men, who are twelve to sixteen foot tall green, four-armed aliens with great tusks like orcs; where he, through a strange combination of coincidences and misunderstanding of social custom, finds himself both a prisoner and a chieftain; and he teaches the green men about friendship, loyalty and benevolence, which are qualities they have forgotten because limited resources on the dying world of Mars have demanded a more savage way of life of its denizens. Then he ends up meeting the more human-like, more technologically and culturally advanced (but smaller and weaker) red men of Mars, where he meets the princess who motivates him to acts of heroism that read like mythology; which of course also make the John Carter books the primordial planetary romance.

As a modern reader I found that I was impressed by much of the implied technology, which included but was not limited to anti-gravity vehicles, terraforming, and the rudiments of nuclear power and plasma weaponry (described as being powered by radium or something similar.)

Aside from the fact that this standard story formula has become the essence of the default science fiction plotline and setting (clearly guiding, among other things, the standard plots of the original Star Trek series,) I can see so many direct influences in many other ways. The Gor novels are essentially Barsoom updated, kinkified and taken to the extreme; the Dark Sun novels borrow the “savage world of limited resources” setting whole-hock, and I think we even get the fact that Mork hatched from an egg from this novel, since the people of Barsoom are born thus. We even get our scantily-clad heroes and heroines from Burroughs’ work; the Martians wear jewelry and combat harness, but not clothing.

There is much to irritate the modern reader if you allow it to. Racism and sexism is rampant, as is the hypocritical logic of Colonialism, and as I’ve said, it’s full of what have become tropes. The writing of the time is prone to contrived plot conveniences and dei ex machinae. There’s a lot of telling and not showing, which of course is considered bad writing by modern convention. And yet it’s a damn good read that keeps you pressing on to the very last page. It took me only a day to burn through it even though I don’t have as much time to read as I would like on working days.

Refreshing, however, to the modern reader, is the fact that despite his Colonialism, John Carter is a man who tries always to do the right thing as he sees it at the time, and in this age of dystopias and anti-heroes, this is like a breath of fresh air. And the style is an easy read that is appropriate for everyone from teens to octogenarians and up.

Everyone who considers themselves a sci-fi or fantasy fan should read this book, whose influence is clearly underrated. Despite, or perhaps especially because of, the tropes.

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Les grands courants philosophiques à travers les Sphères Connues

Les voyages de Deryn Naythas

meteors-circling-the-planets-fantasy-hd-wallpaper-1920x1200-6684

Si les peuples qui vécurent durant l’Âge des légendes semblent devoir posséder des motivations incompréhensibles pour les espèces plus jeunes, et que les Âges sombres ne soient finalement qu’une succession de conflits à une échelle sans précédent, c’est bien durant l’Âge spirituel que se développent et s’affirment de grands principes qui vont rapidement exalter les ancêtres des Syndarh, des Mordd et des primitifs Valoriens.

Le Point d’Equilibre, la pensée mystique

MindsEyeSous la guidance des Sharood, les Voies de l’Esprit sont développées en opposition au règne de la magie Reigar. Bien des élus de pratiquement tous les peuples d’alors sont initiés aux pratiques psioniques, afin de pouvoir par la suite dresser les leurs contre une tyrannie mystique qui n’existe déjà plus. A travers ce conflit que souhaitent initier les Sharood apparaît cependant le fondement d’un mode de pensée qui amènera la région des Sphères Connues à s’affranchir régulièrement du joug d’un…

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Book Review: Brothers of Earth by C.J. Cherryh

Brothers of Earth (Hanan Rebellion #1)Brothers of Earth by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book because I’ve been meaning to read C.J. Cherryh for some time, and also because I was doing a challenge to read 15 space opera books by the end of the year. However, this book is not space opera. It’s a planetary romance. That being said, it’s a really good planetary romance, centered on a fascinating alien culture with about 17th century technology that reminded me very much of an Indus Valley sort of culture, with lots of formalities and strange social customs and caste systems and interconnecting (and internally clashing) racial divides. The plot? Picture Avatar if things had gone poorly.

Admittedly it uses some time-honoured sci-fi tropes that the artsy sorts would tell you immediately mean that it must not be taken seriously, but keep in mind it was written in 1976, first of all; and secondly, I say so what? I think people are far too hung up on being original, and they try so hard that they often lose the elements that make a good *story*. Cherryh is much more interested in character and story than in making sure that her universe obeys hard science, which is downright refreshing in the midst of the modern obsession.

Above all the strongest part of this book were the incredibly well-realized characters. I loved each and every one of them, despite and maybe because of their flaws, and even the villains are empathetic. Cherryh remembers that old saying that a story is something happening to someone you care about, and she has made me care about these characters. Enough that the ending annoys me somewhat, since it is clear that there will be more books to follow this one. I understand there are sequels; and therefore, quite a lot remained unresolved.

It’s a chewy read; the kind of thing you have read in pieces to fully grasp the nuances. You can’t just sit down and devour it. To be honest, with time running out in my late-begun reading challenge I selected it in part because it seemed a thinner book than many others I have and I thought it would be a quick read. Don’t you believe it. But it was worth it.

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Book Review: Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

Out of the Silent Planet (Space Trilogy, #1)Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have found that in looking at descriptions of this book, it is often “dismissed” as “theology.” I think that does this book a grave disservice. Certainly there are theological themes; it is well known that Lewis was a devout Christian, wrote about it, and his fiction also often focused on Christian themes. But one never hears his classic Chronicles of Narnia being *classified* as “theology,” although of course the main tale is the retelling of Biblical themes in many ways. No one hears that about Lord of the Rings as written by his friend J.R.R. Tolkien either; though literary critics point it out. And in the realm of science fiction, while literary critics, again, do not miss the references, no one *classifies* Ender’s Game or Dune as “theology.” Perhaps this has something to do with the rest of the trilogy, which I have not read, but taken alone I don’t understand this.

Out of the Silent Planet is among the most awesome science fiction books I think I’ve ever had the pleasure to read, and I think the only reason it’s not considered a classic in the field is because of the bias of “pure reason.” Keep in mind that this book was written in 1938, so one cannot expect that it should conform to modern science in the wake of the Space Age. But its science is actually spot on when founded in scientific theories that were, as yet, untested at the time of this book’s writing; much like Frankenstein and War of the Worlds.

The protagonist, a professor of languages named Ransom, finds himself kidnapped in a misadventure to be taken to Mars (called by a different name by its inhabitants) to be offered to those inhabitants as a sacrifice. It turns out that this is not what the inhabitants want him for and a fantastic adventure ensues. I expect that why it’s often interpreted as “theology” is because Lewis uses the Christian mythology as a framework for an extraterrestrial cosmology that involves beings that might possibly be described as “extra-dimensional”. That this extra-dimensional understanding involves godlike beings who are the “lords” of the worlds they inhabit, and that this is fairly consistent as an extraterrestrial interpretation of Christian cosmology, is almost incidental; the moral cautionary tale, however, is not. But if you’re going to not consider a book seriously because there’s a moral cautionary tale hidden in it, you might as well give up on the genre.

Lewis’ Martians are among the most interesting aliens I’ve ever had the pleasure to read about. The cultures he created, and the difficulties in a human trying to understand, and be understood by, an alien culture, is the stuff that we geeks read this genre for. Ransom spends a great deal of time among the Martian cultures and learns their ways and their language (remember that he is a professor of languages) and he develops a close friendship with one member of the three sentient races that inhabit Mars, while in the meantime he is pursued by the two men who brought him to the planet in the first place; one of whom views himself as a man of intelligence and reason who wants to ensure the immortality of humanity — at all costs, including that of the sentient species who inhabit Mars and any others that might exist — and the other of which is interested solely in money. Unlike many other books in which the “peaceful primitives” are overwhelmed by the warlike humans that invade them, thus requiring defense by a violent action-hero protagonist, the Martians find the humans incomprehensible and ultimately silly. This does not make them any less a danger to Ransom, however.

Lewis’ vast alien Martian landscape, as imagined by a man who had only seen a blurry pink image with dark blotches and ice caps on it through a telescope at that point, was an absolute delight. And solar radiation was more potent outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, gravity was minimal and artificially created and air was limited in the spaceship, and Mars was cold, had lesser gravity, and thin oxygen at its higher elevations. Lewis’s low gravity Martian landscape was truly fantastic, more like the crazy surface of comets as we are currently familiar with them. I was taken by its beauty and the scope of its imagination.

In short, read it. It was amazing.

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Kuaj-Pyoroon, les mines okilonn

Les voyages de Deryn Naythas

Planets & Asteroids wallpaper

Type de monde : Planétoïdes rocheux

Taille : Un de Taille C, dix-sept de Taille B

Echappée : 3 rounds

Rotation : Aucune

Révolution : 1 122 jours

Lunes : Aucune

Population : 96 487 Syndarheem, 69 547 Okilonn

Trame magique : Vacuu resserrée, magie divine dominante

Si la région est bien une ceinture d’astéroïdes s’étirant sur une large ellipse autour du Vortex, Kuaj-Pyoroon est plus communément le nom donné au plus gros planétoïde connu dans le système de Dreyk. Monde aux dimensions modestes, il n’en reste pas moins un domaine convoité, où une certaine gravité assure le développement des peuples séjournant à sa surface.

L’influence du Vortex est atténuée par la distance, mais une flore singulière s’est néanmoins développée dans les entrailles de Kuaj-Pyoroon, offrant des lieux propices à la Vie. Certaines variétés coralliennes natives de Magim-Lahsaan ont pu s’adapter aux conditions souterraines et entretiennent une enveloppe d’air, cependant limité à cette…

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Monstrous Arcana: The Illithiad (2e) at RPG Now!

Click on the link to get it!

The Illithiad is a visually stunning tome that details important information on mind flayers, their mental powers, and their dire plans to control the multiverse.

This “complete book of illithids” covers:

  • The anatomy and physiology of the mind flayer.
  • The terrible truth about the mind flayer life cycle.
  • Illithid-kin, undead mind flayers, and new’ flayer-kin monsters.
  • A balanced look at illithid psionic powers.
  • a detailed description of a typical mind flayer community
  • Unique mind flayer psionic abilities and items.

The Illitiad is the third volume in the popular Monstrous Arcana game accessory series and is indispensable to DMs who want to add these terrifying creatures to their campaigns. The Illithiad supports the mind flayer adventure trilogy: A Darkness Gathering, Masters of Eternal Night, and Dawn of the Overmind. Continue reading

Les Thual’kreen {les Seconds Faiseurs}

Les voyages de Deryn Naythas

Thual'kreen by derynnaythas

Guidés par les Sharood durant l’Âge spirituel, les Thual’kreen sont les premiers de leur espèce à développer les Voies de l’Esprit. Loyaux vassaux de leurs maîtres, ils s’adaptent rapidement au Vide et patrouillent à bord de grandes nefs organiques, les Ruches T’l’k’m. Mais leur serment les opposent à bien trop d’ennemis puissants, et après de trop nombreuses batailles, les Thual’kreen ne seront plus à même de servir les Sharood, qui finalement les abandonnent à leur sort, tandis qu’apparaissent les puissantes civilisations qui règneront durant l’Âge des Conquérants.

Durant de nombreux millénaires, nul n’entendra plus parler des Thual’kreen, qui auront migrés en masse dans les Anciens Domaines Reigar, où de nombreuses colonies auront prospérées en poursuivant leur étude des Voies de l’Esprit. Plusieurs de leurs pondeuses engendrent là-bas des lignées très similaires à celles des Stellaires, et par d’étranges procédés, assimilent les capacités de créatures étrangères, à l’instar des légendaires Xix…

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The Unhuman Wars as Allegories of History, Part 2

Elven Navy Officers.  Image from the Spelljammer comic.

Elven Navy Officers. Image from the Spelljammer comic.

Since I have already likened the elves to the British in my first article in this series, which focused on the similarities between the Unhuman Wars and the World Wars, it would be consistent if I could say that the Elven Imperial Navy was an allegory for the British Royal Navy; and I believe I can.  The Unhuman Wars represent the major historical conflicts of the British Royal Navy; namely, the Anglo-Spanish War and the Napoleonic Wars.

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SJA4 Under the Dark Fist (2e) at RPG Now!

Click on the link for the download!

Few creatures inhabiting the realms of Greyspace, Krynnspace, and Realmspace know (or even dream) of each other’s existence. Fewer still understand the celestial bonds they secretly share.

As the worlds of men and elves, dwarves and dragons are about to discover, no less than twelve unknown spheres stand poised for wars. . . a war as unexpected as it will be devastating!

Twelve spheres against three?hardly fair odds. But then again, Emperor Vulkaran the Dark, Master of the Twelve Spheres and Ruler of All Known Space, doesn’t like a fair fight. He’s never fought one yet!
Under the Dark Fist, a 64-page adventure for the Spelljammer setting, provides enough material to wage an intergalactic war across 15 spheres! It can be used as an epic stand-alone adventure or easily incorporated into an existing campaign. This challenging adventure is recommended for experienced players and referees.

This adventure is designed for a party of four to eight characters, levels 10 to 14. Continue reading