>Mars is heaven

>I’ve travelled many times to Mars, courtesy of Bradbury and Dick and Baxter et al, but never to Barsoom. It’s a shameful gap in my reading and one I’m now plugging by reading Edgar Rice Burroughs’s A Princess of Mars.

I’m about halfway through and it takes me right back to when I was a kid and lapping up Burroughs’s Pellucidar novels. It’s energetic stuff, and the hero John Carter, in this case is always ready to let fly with his fists – or whatever weapon comes to hand for the sake of saving the beautiful princess-in-peril. Mars – AKA Barsoom – is an unlikely version of the real thing, a planet carpeted in moss and peopled by four-armed green men and more recognisable red ones, as well as all manner of beasties that are neither wee nor timorous.

But the thing that strikes me most as I enjoy the book is the very real sense of being transported to another world. That may seem an obvious thing to say, but think about it a minute. From a 21st century perspective this book is clearly ridiculous. The science is nonsense, the scenarios contrived and the characters mere stereotypes. But …

As a writer of speculative fiction, I’m constantly trying to devise new ways to, well, speculate. And that can be a tough job when we’re all already living in the future. And when all the old fantasy tropes are so darned familiar. Why do you think we now have terms like “slipstream” and “genre-bending” and (still good for a few years) “post-modern”? But reading Burroughs again has reminded me of something it’s easy to forget: the simple urge of a reader to escape. Where? Anywhere really. Let’s just have some fun here.

And fun is what I’m having, reading A Princess of Mars. I’m not here to critique it, or place it in its historical context, simply to express a reader’s pleasure in spending a few hours in an entertaining fantasy that is, above all other things, comfortable. Next week I might be reading something that bends my brain and challenges my philosophies, and that’s fine too, but that’ll have to wait, because the beautiful Dejah Thoris has got herself in trouble and needs rescuing again. And there’s only one man for the job.

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