I have something of a taste for historical fiction, although one wouldn’t know it from reading my high school book reports – I contorted every which way in a desperate attempt to avoid reading anything resembling a classic novel, with the result that now that I’ve graduated college I find myself less “well-read” than I would sometimes prefer. (Star Trek and Star Wars not counting towards “well-read” even in my book.) Slowly I’m catching up, when the whim arises; it helps that the Gutenberg Project has converted an entire library’s worth of older works into ebook format (for free) so that I can read on the Kindle. (It has the handy function of being able to look up, without leaving the page, the definition of any word I’m not familiar with, and even a proper name I was curious about, once. Helps a lot when reading hundred-year-old books with archaic vocabulary.)
The reason I started reading the John Carter novels was, of course, the recent release of the movie (which I still have not seen) and the various online discussions thereof. From what I read, I figured I’d give the movie a pass until it comes out on Netflix, and then went to Amazon and picked up the first three books of what is a much longer series. (I am informed by a review that only the first three have to do with John Carter himself; after reading the three, I can say that the third ties everything up quite satisfactorily and I feel no need to continue the series at the moment, since I do have other books to read!)
One of the most interesting commentaries I read was this one, from Ric’s Rulez. Ric himself is an older gentleman whose ability to interpret the pulp fiction themes of hundred-year-old works I regard as greater than my own, since I’m a young whippersnapper without enough experience in the field to pull out anything from the text but the most obvious. I dislike my own shortcomings in that area quite a bit; I’m a firm believer in the necessity of understanding cultural context in literary interpretation. Anyone who tries to interpret any literature from a generation (or longer) ago through a modern lens should suffer some severe karmic punishment, receive F’s on all her assignments, and/or be kicked permanently out of academia, unless such interpretation is only used to disabuse the uneducated of erroneous judgement of the work in question. I get enough poor kids in SAT prep who have trouble interpreting reading passages from books talking about the sixties; the one passage from a hundred-year-old novel might well have been written in Greek, for all the student could get out of it. I’d say, “What do they teach in schools these days?” except I know that the more accurate question is probably “Do they teach in schools these days?” Sigh.
In any case, the few works of Edgar Rice Burroughs that I’ve been reading lately are quite good, and I definitely recommend the Carter trilogy to sci-fi fans!