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Pirates of Venus
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Bison Frontiers of the Imagination/Univ. Nebraska Press, 314 pages

Pirates of Venus
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Edgar Rice Burroughs was born in Chicago in 1875. He attended several schools during his youth, later moving to a cattle ranch out west in Idaho. After about a year or so, his parents packed him off to the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, then to the Michigan Military Academy at Orchard Lake, graduating in 1895. He joined the army and wound up in the Seventh United States Cavalry, stationed at Fort Grant, Arizona Territory. In 1899, he moved to Chicago to work at his father's American Battery Company. By 1911, he was working as a pencil sharpener wholesaler. One of his duties was to verify the placement of ads for his sharpeners in various magazines. These were all-fiction "pulp" magazines and he thought he could do that. "Tarzan of the Apes" appeared in the October 1912 issue of All-Story magazine.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

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In the wake of the rise of Soviet Russia, the 1920s saw a rise in a Communist movement in the United States. Edgar Rice Burroughs, best known for his Tarzan and Barsoom novels, saw Communism as a threat and responded by writing up the adventures of Carson Napier, a man who has found himself caught in the struggle between conflicting social orders on a fanciful Venus in Pirates of Venus, the opening novel in a short and incomplete series.

Carson Napier may not be as well known as such larger-than-life Burroughs characters as Tarzan or John Carter, but he is much more human, given to making mistakes even as he emulates other characters. Like Carter of Barsoom, Napier of Venus falls in love at first glance with the Venusian equivalent of a princess. Like Tarzan, he is able to learn a foreign tongue in a ridiculously short period of time, although Burroughs does explain that the language of Venus is exceptionally easy to learn.

At its most basic level, Pirates of Venus is an adventure novel in which Carson Napier tries to use a rocket to fly to Mars, although a miscalculation results in his arrival on Venus where he is taken guest of the Vepajan jong. Over the course of the novel, which is more episodic than plotted, Napier falls in love, escapes from his comfortable internment in Vepaja, fights strange creatures, is taken captive, eventually turns pirate and rescues the Vepajan princess Duare. The novel affords Burroughs the chance to engage the reader's sense of wonder at the various marvels of Venus which will only grow in the subsequent novels (all currently, alas, out of print). Unfortunately, given its episodic nature, Pirates of Venus does not come to a suitable or satisfying conclusion, leaving Napier in a cliffhanger ending.

Burroughs provides Venus, which he calls Amtor, with an intriguing geography in which the lack of astronomy and a strange cosmological belief leads the natives to assume that the polar region is at the outer rim of a disc and the equatorial region forms the centre of the disc. Burroughs populates this strange world with human analogues and strange creatures as well as the aforementioned language and a recent political history which will allow Burroughs to lampoon the rise of Communist cells in the United States.

Although Pirates of Venus has an anti-Communist tone, which helps date it, it tends to be either subtle enough as to not interfere with the reader's enjoyment of the novel, or, occasionally, glaringly obvious (for example, one of the villains is named Moosko). The two sides of Burroughs arguments are represented by the Vepajans, who claim to lack a social hierarchy, although they have a king and a princess and anyone approaching the princess must be killed, and the Thorists, who are Marxists who have, according to the Vepajans, overthrown the correct order of things (Vepajan rule) in order to live high on the hog while preaching equality. In the first novel, Burroughs hardly shows any Thorists, and those he does present are incompetents and criminals.

While Pirates of Venus is not great literature and pales in comparison to much of the science fiction being published today, it is, nevertheless, an enjoyable book which manages to incorporate a message which does not hit the reader over the head. With luck, Bison Books, which has reprinted several of Burroughs's novels, will continue to publish the Carson Napier series and introduce a new generation of readers to the misted planet of Amtor.

Copyright © 2002 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver in one of SF Site's Contributing Editors as well as one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He is Vice-Chairman of Windycon 28 and Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. Steven is a Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer. He lives in Illinois with his wife, daughter and 4000 books.


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