In 1911, Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950), a failed businessman who had been working in a series of various dead-end clerical jobs and was desperate to feed his family, submitted a story to the then-popular pulp magazine All-Story under the pen name of "Normal Bean" (changed by somebody in editorial to "Norman Bean"). The story, originally titled Under The Moons of Mars, was picked up and serialized by All-Story in 1912 and became a popular hit with readers, resulting in a successful literary career for Burroughs (whose third novel was Tarzan of the Apes in 1914, having also been serialized in All-Story two years before). Under the more familiar title A Princess of Mars, Burroughs' first story also inaugurated the popular "Martian" series of adventures when first published in book form in 1917.
Even without all that background, A Princess of Mars is still an exciting (if scientifically inaccurate and somewhat politically incorrect) action-adventure/fantasy tale.
Beginning in 1866, Civil War veteran and prospector John Carter, while escaping from Indians, is inexplicably transported, apparently serveral hundred centures in the past, to the planet Mars. Falling in with the green-skinned, four armed warriors the Tharks, Carter (who discovers that the natives' name for their planet is "Barsoom"), finds he's developed amazing strength and abillities due to the planet's atmosphere and quickly proves his worth as a fighter and eventually, with help by Tharkian Tars Tarkas, rises in the group's hierarchy.
However, the Tharks' capture of a beautiful red-skinned, human princess named Dejah Thoris gets Carter all inflamed by passion. Carter frees Dejah while making their escape from her captors and then becomes imbroiled in palace intrigue between the Red Martians of Helium and the Tharks as well as battling the forces of neighboring Zodanga. Eventually Carter settles down with Dejah and becomes Prince of Helium. But then, just as things look good...
A good old-fashioned swashbuckler (Carter and the various Barsoomians use swords because...well, read for yourselves) romance, A Princess of Mars (click here to reserve a copy) was and still is an influencial work of the science fiction/fantasy genre. It also has a terrific "sweep" style of storytelling, with Burroughs constantly moving Carter and the other characters from one situation to the next with barely a chance to breathe. Burroughs also masterfully succeeds in creating fantasically detailed backstories and customs for the Barsoomians. And the nail-biting cliffhanger ending is Burroughs at his best.
Aside from the first two sequels The Gods of Mars and The Warlord of Mars, Burroughs's other Martian novels are currently out-of-print. Here's hoping the upcoming Disney film adaptation (due in 2012) changes that situation!