A review in two parts.
Princess of Mars is a story about imperialism and how assuming indigenous cultures are ignorant savages rules by their superstitions just waiting for a white man to come rescue them is foolish in the extreme.
Wait, I think I may have things slightly wrong here. Let me consult my notes.
I’ve been informed that the above description of this classic pulp adventure is totally backwards. Let me try again.
A Princess of Mars stars a soldier who has recently taken part in a treasonous uprising. The revolt having failed, he decides to invade a sovereign nation in search of gold. Upon finding it, he is shocked to discover that the inhabitants take issue with his plan to rob them of their natural resources. Trespassing on sacred ground to avoid capture, he finds himself transported to Mars. There he protects the local settled, agricultural population from the nomadic Green Martians (race being the determiner of virtually all individual characteristics), rescues the (nude) princess and becomes a prince, using his superior strength and intellect to negotiate a truce between the Green and Red Martians. At this point I feel obliged to point out that this story was the inspiration for the movie Avatar.*
So it’s pretty much your standard colonialist white savior narrative that has been done ten thousand times. Yes, it’s an uncomplicated adventure story but at this point more than 100 years after its original publication there are so many other stories that don’t drip unexamined racism there’s not really any point to reading this for entertainment. It’s definitely valuable for its historical importance and those wanting to experience the history of the genre should check it out.
*I was incredibly disappointed when I discovered that it was not, as I initially thought, a movie about Krishna. The promotional stuff I initially saw only showed an eye on an apparently blue skinned face and I was really excited that there was going to be a big budget movie featuring the eighth avatar of Vishnu. That would have been an amazing movie.
So what about my earlier description? That’s more suited to A rose for Ecclesiastes, a story that almost didn’t get published because Zelazny, more than 50 years ago, knew that the “dying Mars” subgenre was outdated and somewhat embarrassing.
To describe A rose for Ecclesiastes as an anti-imperialist take on Burroughs isn’t really accurate. Still, Zelazny does an excellent job of subverting the standard planetary romance tropes while crafting the best example of the genre I’ve ever encountered. So read that instead.