PIRATES OF VENUS
by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Edgar Rice Burroughs’s most popular characters may be Tarzan of the Apes and John Carter of Mars, but I’ve always had a particular fondness for the exploits of Carson Napier of Venus, who appeared in only four (and a half) novels. I recently re-read Pirates of Venus to see if it stood up to my recollections.
In many ways, it is a typical Burroughs novel. An human finds himself in an alien setting and must learn its ways while he battles against strange beliefs and creatures. Carson Napier is a loner, but also a leader of men, embodying everything wholesome in Caucasian men of Anglo-Saxon descent. However, Napier has his own flaws which have a strong influence on his travel to Venus and his subsequent adventures.
Napier’s antagonists once he reaches Venus are of the same human stock as his allies. Rather than taking part in a racial war of übermenschen vs. untermenschen, Napier finds himself taking part in an sociological battle between the Marxist Thorists and the aristocratic Vepajans, upon whose side Napier finds himself. This conflict creates a mirror for Burroughs’s society in the 1930s when the novel was first published and allows the author to lampoon some of the social agenda of Marxism. The Vepajans are shown to be more egalitarian than the so-called egalitarian Thorists, although they definitely have a social hierarchy even when espousing the idea than no individual is better than any other. Burroughs gives the lie to this by his description of the jong and the jong’s daughter, Duare, who no man may see or speak to.
Any plot in Pirates of Venus is strictly an afterthought as Napier finds himself stranded on Venus, made a guest of the Vepajan jong, goes on a hunting expedition which results in his capture and the eventual mutiny which establishes him as a pirate chieftain. The novel ends with him sending his lady love off to safety but in the midst of dire straits himself.
Pirates of Venus does not stand on its own very well. Written episodically, it ends without any conclusion, the story being continued in the following novels. At the moment, none of the sequels are in print, although they should all be readily available at used bookstores or at on-line used book sellers. Subsequent books in the series continue Burroughs examination of the evils of Marxism. Plot never takes a precedence in any of the novels, with Burroughs instead simply trying (and succeeding) in engaging his reader's sense of wonder.
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