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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Prisoner of the Planet Mars

Gustave Le Rouge

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To purchase Prisoner of the Vampires of Mars

Title: The Prisoner of the Planet Mars
Author: Gustave Le Rouge
Genre: Novel
Written: 1908 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 192 pages
Original in: French
Availability: in Prisoner of the Vampires of Mars - US
in Prisoner of the Vampires of Mars - UK
in Prisoner of the Vampires of Mars - Canada
in Le prisonnier de la planète Mars - Canada
in Prisoner of the Vampires of Mars - India
in Le prisonnier de la planète Mars - France
  • French title: Le prisonnier de la planète Mars
  • Published together with the sequel, The War of the Vampires, as Prisoner of the Vampires of Mars
  • Translated by David Beus and Brian Evenson
  • With an Introduction by William Ambler
  • Previously published in Brian Evenson's translation in The Vampires of Mars (2008)

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Our Assessment:

B : stylish and inventive

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 6/4/2016 Pippa Goldschmidt

  From the Reviews:
  • "(T)he novel exhibits enough inventiveness and energy in its description of the battles between the French hero and aliens in the exotic Martian landscape to warrant being read on its own terms." - Pippa Goldschmidt, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The early twentieth-century science fiction novel The Prisoner of the Planet Mars is, on the one hand, a simple man-goes-to-Mars story. Yet much of the fun of this novel is found in how it veritably drips with tropes and devices from the popular literature of the time, making for a well-executed genre-transcending grab-bag of much of the popular (European) writing of that time. Adventure ! Mystery ! Spiritualism ! Hard science ! Industrial fortunes ! Romance ! Exotic places and races and species ! The novel has it all.
       The adventurous scientist and inventor Robert Darvel is the central figure; among his recent projects was an attempt to communicate with Martians (he's certain that there is life on Mars), but that didn't quite work out, and as the story opens he finds himself back in England. He meets his old friend, the naturalist Ralph Pitcher, and they catch up a bit. Pitcher is there when Darvel receives a mysterious summons for that evening -- and when his friend goes missing after that sets out to figure out what became of him.
       What happened, of course, was that Darvel went to Mars, fulfilling that: "tremendous dream of scientists, poets, and madmen". Not immediately, as there was considerable preparatory work necessary for the voyage, but that took place in distant India. Soon enough, however, he realizes:

     "I am the first man ever to set foot on the planet Mars !" he shouted, filled with pride, and dread.
       The Martian atmosphere turns out to be remarkably earth-like, and there is water on Mars, as well as plant and animal-life. Darvel can survive quite comfortably -- after all:
     Above all, Robert was a man with a creative imagination; he had brought with him from Earth neither a container loaded with rations and tools nor a case filled with instruments of the latest design. But he had a deep understanding of chemistry, mechanics -- all the capacities of the inventor -- and he looked, with good reason, on this intellectual arsenal as something more precious than an entire flotilla of provisions and machines.
       He manages reasonably well -- until he discovers that there are also predators on Mars. Terrifying human-sized blood-sucking creatures that lead him to picture: "himself on the ground, dismembered alive by a swarm of beings with blinking eyes and thick, bloody lips in livid albino faces". The Erloor pose a great threat -- but Darvel figures out how to handle them.
       Darvel discovers a local civilization, too -- one terrorized by the Erloor -- and quickly adopts the saviour-colonialist role. Bringing them fire and toppling their idols he quickly improves their lives -- and they are of course all tremendously grateful. The Erloor, on the other hand -- not so much.
       Meanwhile on earth, Pitcher continues to try to figure out what happened to his friend -- helped by Darvel's one-time fiancée and now industrial heiress, the devoted Miss Alberte Teramond.
       Le Rouge really packs it in. On earth, the story ranges from the Victorian England setting of the opening scenes to a collection of Indian fakirs to determined young industrialist Miss Alberte, employing the wealth at her disposal for higher ends. On Mars, Le Rouge shows a similar range -- and considerable inventiveness in imagining this other world and alien civilizations: yes, Darvel seems more like a Verneian explorer in some exotic terrestrial locale -- the terrain, as well as plant- and animal-life, are all very unusual, but aren't beyond what many writers have imagined might be found on earth -- but it's still well-conceived and presented. There's good adventure, as the Erloor are an unusual (and crafty) foe; there's a variety of mystery; there's even romance, Miss Alberte and Darvel determined to be reunited, despite what separates them.
       The Prisoner of the Planet Mars concludes inconclusively, the story continued in The War of the Vampires (the two books helpfully published in a single volume). but it's a lively and quite well-written tale that offers most of the basic entertainment-satisfactions. It almost does too much, which dilutes the impact of the central Martian tale -- but given that, from a modern perspective, so much of this is implausible (or at least completely unscientific) the earth-bound scenes actually prove practically as interesting and compelling.
       The spirit of the book is best summed up in the observation:
     In any case, Robert had always believed that, for the simple reason that our brain can imagine them, all the conceptions of our minds, even the most absurd, must exist somewhere.
     Every creation of our imagination, every affirmation of our reason corresponds to our reality.
       Le Rouge, his mind bubbling over, can get carried away -- or torn in too many directions -- by that, but the result still impresses (and amuses). It's all good fun, in any case.

- M.A.Orthofer, 11 August 2015

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The Prisoner of the Planet Mars: Reviews: Other books by Gustave Le Rouge under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Gustave Le Rouge lived 1867 to 1938.

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© 2015-2016 the complete review

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