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(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

With the publication of A Princess of Mars, his first novel, Burroughs began a series that would have a profound effect on the development of the genre of science fiction. Each volume originally was serialized in a popular journal, and Burroughs did not alter the episodic quality of his Barsoom stories when they were published as separate works.

The record of the deeds of John Carter and his family have endured partly because the reader encounters ideas and concepts that are usually the purview of philosophers and theologians. Many of the carefully crafted details in the stories might initially shock, but as a whole they become essential ingredients in the creation of a vision of another world that still captures the imagination. Burroughs is as successful as Jules Verne in predicting the shape of things to come, and his vision of the moral dilemmas that haunt his own century is both extraordinary and frightening.

Having deposited his hero on the surface of Mars, Burroughs casually mentions that Carter is naked—in fact, all Martians, male and female, prefer that state. The only accessories they wear are decorative harnesses and belts that provide protection and denote their status and accomplishments. By discarding the external adornments that occupy significant attention in other works of science fiction, Burroughs is able to concentrate on the internal habiliments of his characters. He is more concerned with the psychological than the fashionable. Because Carter accepts nudity as normal, the reader also tolerates this altered state of being. Burroughs also deals with Martian sexuality by revealing the fact that the women of Barsoom do not bear their young alive but instead lay eggs that take years to mature. Sex for the average Martian takes a poor second to the favorite preoccupation of violence.

Peace and tranquillity are almost unknown to the inhabitants of Barsoom. The moment they fight their way out of their shells, they are ready for conflict. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of brutality in each and every story. Slavery is an accepted part of life. It is nonracial and is the potential fate of both sexes and all ranks, from rulers to commoners.

Carter embraces the life of the warrior and revels in it...

(The entire section is 573 words.)