Friday, June 7, 2024

Mars Read: Thuvia, Maid of Mars (1916)


So, I'm back on my Mars thing.  

I'm picking up here with the 4th book in the John Carter of Mars cycle, Thuvia, Maid of Mars.  

I also just found out that there are not 9 books, there's 11.  That's okay.  I can do this.

One does not come to these books for complex characters and deep introspection.  We are here to kick ass on Mars.  We're going to wear BDSM gear and use swords and, when someone crosses our path, we are either going to fight to the death or swear a blood oath of eternal friendship.  And, on Barsoom, all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.  Or would be, if they didn't hatch from an egg in their teens.*

It had been a while since I last read a Barsoom novel (the good people of what we call Mars call their planet Barsoom).  And I'm always kinda sorta embarrassed to read them.  They're the nutrional equivalent of slamming a 2-Liter of Coke while gnawing on Lik-M-Aid and Pixie Sticks.  

But, boy howdy, once you've finished that first bottle and have a face smeared in Lik-M-Aid, you're going to reach for the Pixie Sticks and pop open another bottle  (ie:  I am immediately going into the next book).

Mostly I'm just stunned someone sat in a room in 1916 and was cranking out visions of this world of monsters and men with a code of honor that's instantly understandable, and envisioning this world of high adventure in a language that never feels dated, exactly, because this is Martians speaking to Martians.  I can only ask "what came before this?"  Because I don't know how much "planetary romance" was made pre-Burroughs, or contemporary to ERB's scribblings.  

Also, it's hard to overestimate how much impact these books must have had on sci-fi to come.  There's a whole mid-section of this book that had to have been the inspiration for the classic Star Trek scrapped pilot/ 2-parter, The Cage.  And, honestly, I found these books reading about all the sci-fi and adventure material that inspired Superman.  

Now, if you've read any Burroughs, you know everything is a race to stop doom, everything is told breathlessly by the narrator, who cannot believe any of this came to pass.  

This book pivots from following John Carter, who appears only briefly, and picks up with Carter and Dejah Thoris' son, Carthoris, who loves the Maid, Thuvia, but she is betrothed to another - when Thuvia gets kidnapped and carried off by a third prince.  It's basically Carthoris chasing Thuvia down as the football that everyone wants.  So he has to kick monster ass, illusionist ass, and then Green Martian ass, and then Red Martian ass, while avoiding terrifying White Apes and Banths.

Every chapter is a cliffhanger, and the book, itself, ends on a pretty open question of "what next?" as a naval war breaks wages.  Oh, yeah.  Desert planet.  Well, our battleships fly, man.

I'm telling you.  This is wild stuff.

And, of course, for over 100 years, Barsoom has inspired some great fantasy art work that is pretty spot on for the vibe of the books.

By the way, yes, these books are the definition of "problematic", and I won't pretend otherwise.  It's a planet full of misogyny working under the guise of chivalry, murder is a solution to everything, the hero is a Confederate soldier and slavery is SOP.  And, obvs, I am not endorsing those things on our actual planet with actual people.  And, written in the very earliest 20th century, it is not written with 2024 standards.  Still, I think some of that is very fixable if someone wanted to make a movie or TV series.  Ain't no rule says Dejah Thoris can't be a fighting scientist and the most beautiful woman on a planet.

*no, really

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