An Earthman finds himself stranded on an alien world peopled by multiple, warring races of men and strange non-human creatures. Armed with courage and wit, trusting in his charisma, combat ability, and survival skills, and guided by compassion and a will to unite the men of this new world, he finds himself exhilarated by the adventure of this new planet.
Along the way he recruits allies, first among them the chief of a barbaric, warlike people. He takes up the sword, rescues and woos a beautiful princess, then liberates a city. He soon finds himself elected leader of this united group.
No, I’m not talking about John Carter of Mars, but Adam Reith, the hero of Jack Vance’s Planet of Adventure series.
Ok, so many of these observations may only apply at surface level. For instance, John Carter is primarily a fighting man, where Adam Reith is a scout – a sort of jack-of-all-trades survivalist, it seems. JC, if memory serves, warms up pretty quickly to Barsoom and puts down roots. Reith is determined to find his way off the planet and return home, if only so he can marshal the forces of Earth to liberate the scattered and yoked men of Tschai.
I’m only just about finished with the first Planet of Adventure book (of four total), so I’m sure it will continue to diverge with the Mars series more and more as I progress. Even so, I’m struck by the similarities between Carter and Reith, and Barsoom and Tschai.
On this latter point, both worlds are vast and filled with strife. Ruined cities dot the landscape. Great metropolises with proud peoples bound the otherwise lawless wilderness, where weird, powerful, dangerous creatures roam.
While I haven’t been able to find anything online to explicitly support me on this, I can’t help but feel that Vance was greatly inspired by Burroughs in crafting this series (it’s been noted that Burroughs was one of his favorite authors growing up, so this possibility isn’t a stretch). And so far I’m really liking what I’m reading.
If you’ve not read any Burroughs, A Princess of Mars makes an excellent starting point. Please – try to discard any preconceptions based upon certain movies you may have seen!
If you’re like the me of three or four years ago and never really looked at much older scifi/fantasy beyond Middle Earth and Narnia, maybe because of the old, dated covers, or maybe because there’s so much stuff out now (it must be better, right?), I hope this testimonial will at least agitate an itch in your mind.
Maybe someday you’ll be at a bookstore and notice a nicely-bound copy of the John Carter books on sale. “Eh, why not?” you think. Some guy on the internet said it is good.
Then you win, sir or madam. Once you see the quality of Burroughs, you may begin to open your mind to the scifi/fantasy greats of the early-mid 1900’s. As I’ve said before, it’s an embarrassment of riches.
And if you like(d) the Barsoom books, or if you’ve come across Jack Vance by another path and enjoyed some other work of his – pick up Planet of Adventure. Seriously, you won’t be disappointed.