Pirates of Venus – Edgar Rice Burroughs (1932)
‘The shimmering, cloud-covered planet of Venus conceals a wondrous secret: the strikingly beautiful yet deadly world of Amtor. In Amtor, cities of immortal beings flourish in giant trees reaching thousands of feet into the sky; ferocious beasts stalk the wilderness below; rare flashes of sunlight precipitate devastating storms; and the inhabitants believe their world is saucer-shaped with a fiery center and an icy rim.
Stranded on Amtor after his spaceship crashes, astronaut Carson Napier is swept into a world where revolution is ripe, the love a princess carries a dear price, and death can come as easily from the blade of a sword as from the ray of a futuristic gun.’
Blurb from the 2001 Bison Books edition
We see in this novel, a rather more mature Burroughs (in the sense that any of Burroughs work could be called mature) in that his hero, Carson Napier, is rather more flawed than his previous oak-thewed action men. It is also a book which says rather more about Burroughs and his beliefs than those of the protagonists, but we’ll come to that later.
Napier is a young man of adventure, one who learned telepathy from an Indian mystic as a child and so is able (as Burroughs tells us in the obligatory explanatory prologue) to tell his tale to Burroughs by projecting it telepathically through space to Earth.
The prologue itself is interesting incidentally as Burroughs exposes – sometimes with a wry wit – some of his own problems and preoccupations of the time, a subject which is explored in depth in F Paul Wilson’s introduction to the Bison Books edition.
Napier, a man of good breeding and blonde and blue-eyed, finances the construction of a rocket by which he plans to fly himself to Mars.
Unfortunately the complex calculations he has made fail to take into account the effect of the Moon’s gravity and very soon he Napier finds himself heading for the cloud-shrouded planet Venus.
Burroughs was well aware that scientific research of the time had more or less proved that conditions on the surface of Venus were incapable of supporting life, yet chooses to dismiss this with a few short sentences regarding other occasions when scientists were proven wrong.
Nevertheless, Napier arrives on Venus in a land of giant trees a thousand feet in diameter whose branches house the secret city of a humanoid race; the Vepajans.
The Vepajans inhabit a feudalistic society run by jongs (more or less the same as jeddak on mars). They believe that their world (which they call Amtor) is a flat disc which floats upon a sea of molten rock, since the clouds which cover the world do not allow them to see the sun or the stars, and from this deduce something of the nature of the universe.
Their enemies are the Thorans; a society which has undergone a revolution and replaced benign hereditary rule with incompetent tyranny. it is not difficult to deduce that the Thorans are essentially Communists. One of the leaders of the Thorans is called Moosko; a name which surely confirms Burroughs’ allegorical intentions.
The usual Burroughs formula is employed in the plot, what there is of it. Napier sees a woman in the city with whom he falls instantly in love. He rescues here from kidnappers, but she is oddly ungrateful and hostile when he tells her he loves her. The kidnappers later return and this time succeed.
Meanwhile, on a hunting trip with his new best friend Kamlot, they are captured by bird-men and taken to be slaves on the Sofal, a Thoran ship.
Napier organises a revolt and the ‘pirates’ take over the ship, shortly afterwards capturing another and in the process rescuing Duare, Napier’s mysterious woman who turns out to be (it will come as no surprise to anyone) a princess.
The princess is kidnapped once more. Napier sets off pursuit and rescues her and a bird-man from a tribe of savages. He then sends Duare, carried by the bird-man, back to the ship, sacrificing himself to capture by the Thorans…. To Be Continued.
It is a standard Burroughs formula, although it would appear the he is using this story as a platform for his own beliefs. It is well-known that Burroughs was a supporter of the concept of Eugenics and here mentions that that the Thorans often attempt to kidnap Vepajans in order to add more clever genes to their gene-pool, which was depleted when they rid their society of their ruling classes.
The Soldiers of Liberty – a secret cabal which Napier initiates among the prisoners held on The Sofal – goes by the Venusian name of ‘kung kung kung’; a name which was usually contracted to its three initial letters. Burroughs even labours the point by making the connection within the text to another organisation with the same initials back home in the USA.
Whether or not Burroughs approved of the Ku Klux Klan is not known, but it would seem odd to deliberately invent a name with those initials if there wasn’t a good reason for doing so.
Ultimately it hardly matters as Burroughs’ landscapes and societies are so outlandish as to bear little resemblance to our own lives, and if anyone ran off to join the Klan on the basis of having read ‘Pirates of Venus’ then I’m sure the Klan would be welcome to them.