Title: A Princess of Mars

Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs

Published: 1917

Genre: Science Ficton

A Princess of Mars is the first of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom series. Full of swordplay and daring feats, the novel is considered a classic example of 20th century pulp fiction. It is also a seminal instance of the planetary romance, a sub-genre of science fantasy that became highly popular in the decades following its publication. Its early chapters also contain elements of the Western. The story is set on Mars, imagined as a dying planet with a harsh desert environment. This vision of Mars was based on the work of the astronomer Percival Lowell, whose ideas were widely popularized in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Barsoom series inspired a number of well-known 20th century science fiction writers, including Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, and John Norman, and was also inspirational for many scientists in the fields of space exploration and the search for extraterrestrial life, including Carl Sagan, who read A Princess of Mars when he was a child.

Setting for the Barsoom Series

Scientific basis
Burroughs vision of Mars was loosely inspired by astronomical speculation of the time, especially that of Percival Lowell, who saw the planet as a formerly Earthlike world now becoming less hospitable to life due to its advanced age, whose inhabitants had built canals to bring water from the polar caps to irrigate the remaining arable land. Lowell was influenced by Italian astronomer, Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli, who in 1878, had observed features on Mars he called canali (Italian for "channels"). Mistranslated of this into English as "canals" fueled belief the planet was inhabited. The theory of an inhabited planet with flowing water was disproved by data provided by Russian and American probes such as the two Viking missions which found a dead, frozen world where water could not exist in a fluid state.

World of Barsoom
A million years before the narrative commences, Mars was a lush world with oceans. As the oceans receded, and the atmosphere grew thin, the planet has devolved into a landscape of partial barbarism; living on an aging planet, with dwindling resources, the inhabitants of Barsoom have become hardened and warlike, fighting one another to survive. Barsoomians distribute scarce water supplies via a worldwide system of canals, controlled by quarreling city-states. The thinning Martian atmosphere is artificially replenished from an "atmosphere plant".

The world of Barsoom is divided by the territory of White, Yellow, Black, Red and Green skinned races. Each has particular traits and qualities, which seem to define most individuals within them. This concept of race is more like a division between species than ethnicity. The Warlord of Mars introduces the Yellow Martians, supposedly extinct, whom John Carter finds in secret domed cities at the poles. They are black-bearded, exceptionally cruel, and keep slaves, acquiring these by using a giant magnetic device which sends fliers off course, and allows the Yellow Martians to capture the occupants.[5]