Barsoom Series - A Sword and Planet Drama
Getting to the Men of Mars series, what I like most is the way Boroughs has managed to create a complex alien culture consisting of the red men, the green men, the yellow men, the white men, black men and Kaldanes. Writing a story set in the real world is a challenge as one has to research a lot and connect your story to the real life places and events. On the other hand fantasy/science fiction is altogether a different challenge. Here you need to create worlds with their own consistent history, economy, politics, religion and technology. And then if it is an alien world, probably one has to create the world's own flora and fauna and intelligent life. Edgar Rice has managed to live up to this challenge, he has in fact done a much better job than many of the later science fiction/fantasy writers who usually try either to create a purely human world or try to set their stories in worlds created by other writers. He has especially done a great job with creation of the terrains and landscapes, the structures and the insentient life. He has also tried to give it a ring of reality by making Mars a dying desert planet going along with some of the scientific theories of the time which suggested Mars might have been an inhabited planet where life had died out before life began on Earth.
This series introduces lot of interesting ideas that are explored in depth in later science fiction/fantasy stories. One of them is the possibility of old world Gods being powerful aliens whose powers were thought to be supernatural and men according to them status of Gods. This is seen in ‘Thuvia, the maid of Mars’ and ‘War lord of Mars’. It is an interesting allegory of the real world society where religion is used as a tool to consolidate political and economic power. We see this idea of powerful aliens playing Gods over younger races fully developed in the television series ‘Star Gate’. One more key concept in Star Gate probably originated from this series - the concept of intelligent species with only brains developed and limited physical development using bodies of other beings as their crafts, living as a parasite. This is seen in ‘Chessmen of Mars’. In the book ‘Chessmen of Mars’, Boroughs has managed to create a fascinating game called Jetan with its own complex rules. Quidditch of Harry Potter probably was not the first game invented by an author for a story.
If the reader is looking for convoluted plots and subtle development of character, they are in for disappointment. Most of the stories in this series follow more or less the same pattern of a cow boy hero undertaking hazardous journeys fighting his way through obstacles posed by the terrain and monstrous life forms culminating in a battle of good versus evil. The goody good hero triumphs over the callous villain and rescues the damsel in distress. The journey ends in lovers meeting and they live happily ever after. Amen.
This series is an ideal read for the casual reader and those who enjoys mindless action and a slug fest. However a serious science fiction/fantasy reader would be making a serious mistake by choosing to ignore this work. This series scores for its sheer depth of imagination. It can be considered a pioneer for the more complex future works: a must read for any die hard science fiction reader. The one who can give it a miss is the highbrow literary reader who turns his nose down at sci-fi.