The “Carson Napier of Venus series” was the last major series created by Edgar Rice Burroughs and nicely ties into his “shared universe” of Barsoom, Tarzan and Pellucidar. The first book in the series is Pirates of Venus which was serialized in Argosy magazine in 1932 and then two years later released in novel form.
In Pirates of Venus, much like in Burroughs’s other books, we get a narrator who gets his story in a rather unique fashion, and in this case it is through telepathy. The author is not given a name but he lives in Tarzana, California so we can assume it to be Burroughs, and he is visited by Jason Gridley whose exploits he wrote about in Tarzan at the Earth’s Core. The author is contacted psychically by Carson Napier who has plans to travel into outer space, he originally wanted to try for Venus as it is closer but all scientists agree that nothing could survive on that planet’s surface. So he switches targets to Mars and wants the author to use their psychic rapport to chronicle his adventures. Sure, why not.
His mission has quite the rocky start as in all their calculations they never took the moon’s gravitational pull into account and thus Napier’s rocket veers wildly off course, heads for the sun and certain death. Lucky for Napier his ship is caught in the gravity well of Venus and he is pulled toward the deadly green ball. I personally love Burroughs’s method for space travel between planets, no silly landing your craft with retro-rockets or some such silly sci-fi device, no our hero jumps out of the spacecraft as it plummets towards the planet’s surface and deploys a parachute so that he can safely descend. What’s great is that this wasn’t some last ditch effort to survive crashing on an alien, this was his plan all along for how to land on Mars. He never ended to return to Earth which is why he needed someone back home who could telepathically communicate with him to tell his story.
Lucky for Napier, Venus isn’t the unsurvivable hellhole that Earth’s top minds thought it was, in fact it is just teeming with life (unfortunately much of it will try and kill him). Napier parachutes into a forest of trees that reach thousands of feet into the air and are populated by dangerous creatures, one of which immediately tries to kill him. Men armed with spears arrive in the nick of time to save him and he is brought back to a city built in the enormous tree boles. He learns that he has landed on Amtor, as the Venusians call their planet, and is now the guest/prisoners of the Vepajan people. He learns that they are a race that discovered the secret of immortality and many residents are thousands of years old. All things aren’t so rosy as Napier finds out that the Vepajan people were once part of a greater society consisting of four classes and who lived happily by the millions on thousands of islands, that is until a criminal named Thor formed the revolutionary group Thorists. He preyed on the weak minds of the lower class and led them to attack the ruling class; many like the Vepajan fled to live in classless tree cities. The Thorists now have to hunt for Vepajan people as those hated upper class members were the best and the brightest while the Thorists consist mostly of unintelligent brutes and so they need to raid Vepajan cities to steal people to help keep their society running. Reading Edgar Rice Burroughs you certainly have no problem discerning just how he thought of communists.
While learning all there is to know about the people of Amtor he discovers that one of his next door neighbours is a stunningly beautiful woman, and he falls in love at first sight. If you guessed she’s a princess give yourself a cookie. What follows is your standard Burroughs adventure story; hero will encounter many dangerous obstacles to his love, one being the girl herself who is even forbidden to talk to him, our hero will save her life on several occasions (damsels get snatched a lot in these books), and he will start to re-shape this new world he now finds himself in. Deciding to be a pirate is certainly a unique way to shake-things up and that is exactly what Napier decides to do.
Will Carson Napier win the affection of the Princess Duare? Can he keep out of the clutches of the evil Thorists? Just why in the hell are birdmen not ruling this place instead of being the meek servants that Napier meets? All these questions and more will be answered in these exciting pages.
Pirates of Venus (1932)
Pirates of Venus is pure pulpy fun and though much of the plot structures of Burroughs’s books are similar it is the incredibly rich and well-constructed world that he creates that makes them so great.