Okay, so I reached the end of ‘A Princess of Mars’ Sunday morning, while taking my morning walk and getting Cadbury Creme Eggs from the 7-11. 🙂 And though I really enjoyed it – I have to comment on a few items that struck me as strange from near the end.
Spoilers follow, obviously.
Dejah Thoris and John Carter have an egg. This was dropped in so off-handedly, yet it startled me for a couple reasons. The author had gone into great detail about the egg-laying life cycle of the not-really-human-like Green Men of Mars, and had dropped some hints about true mammals being very rare on Barsoom, but didn’t really say anything definitive about the very-human-like Red people, (of whom Princess Dejah Thoris is one,) until the end here. But the fact that the Red people lay eggs wasn’t really what startled me, it’s the fact that John Carter talks about it as if it’s his own.
I know that humans being able to interbreed with humanoid aliens from other worlds is an established Sci-Fi trope, but I can’t be the only one who finds this easier to believe when the aliens generally match humans in the manner that they breed, can I?
And then there’s the whole Atmosphere Factory thing. John Carter blundered up to the Atmosphere Factory for all of Barsoom, starving and on the run from a particularly nasty tribe of Green Men, and the caretaker lets him in, but John manages to find out a few secrets about the Factory that are supposed to be only for the caretaker and his apprentice to know, including how the doors work. The caretaker is about to kill him to protect the secret, but John uses the doors himself to slip out and keep running.
After ten years of happily-ever-after with his Princess, John and the nobles of the City of Helium find out that the caretaker and the assistant have tragically died at the same time, without training anybody else in the secrets of the Factory. A party has been dispatched to drill through the doors, but that could take months and there’s only enough air for three days. So what does John do? He gets ready to die in a noble and stoic fashion, showing an example to the people of Helium so that they don’t panic in their last hours.
On the last day, something Dejah says reminds John of the secret and he goes tearing back across the planet to get the doors open at the last possible moment – and in the process he strains his astral body or something and winds up back on Earth, forever seperated from his Martian love, or so it would seem until the sequel at least.
It seems to me that the whole sequence is a bit poorly structured, especially in that as a reader, I was yelling at John to clue in and suspecting how it would play out long in advance. More than that; with his beloved Princess doomed to die along with the rest of Mars, I couldn’t believe that John would have been quite so content to lead in a good death by example, or quite so clueless as to think that there was absolutely nothing he could do to help.
Now, I can understand the conceit of him having forgotten the secret to opening the blast doors. I could even, I suppose, accept that after so many adventures on Barsoom, he couldn’t clearly remember that he once knew the secret.
But for crying out loud, I should think that at least, when somebody remembered the Factory, that he’d remember that he’d been there, that he’d actually been brought inside. It would be clear enough from listening to the Helium nobles talking that that was unusual, and for a guy like John Carter, who’s portrayed as being street-smart if not book smart, what’s the obvious thing to do?
Fly over to the Atmosphere Factory as soon as you can, talk to the guys while they’re on break from drill duty, and see if anything jogs the old noggin!
As writers, we’re told to check the conflict in our book and our character’s reactions for ‘Too stupid to live’ syndrome. I guess John Carter just got ‘too stupid to stay on Barsoom.’