For sheer fun and adventure there is nothing better than Sword and Planet fiction. Exactly what is Sword and Planet fiction, which is sometimes called Interplanetary or Planetary Adventure? Well, Edgar Rice Burroughs (ERB) created the prototype for it in 1911 when he wrote A Princess of Mars, which featured an Earthman named John Carter who is mysteriously transported to Mars, called Barsoom by its inhabitants.
The basic Sword and Planet story involves an earthman on a strange world where he must use his wits, his muscles, and his sword against a host of human and nonhuman foes. The hero is chivalrous and the setting is an exotic alien world, often with multiple suns or multiple moons, populated by a variety of strange plants, animals, and intelligent beings. Magic is virtually non-existent, but there may be elements of “super-science,” such as swift flying vessels or even ray-guns, although the latter take second billing to the blade. The emphasis is on swashbuckling adventure—sword fights, wild escapes, and desperate rescues.
Burroughs wrote ten, and started an eleventh, John Carter adventure. He also wrote four novels and began a fifth set on Venus (or Amtor as it was locally known), with Carson Napier, another Earthman as the hero.
Though the Moon is not quite a planet, its interior (Va-nah), provided the setting for yet another ERB Sword and Planet tale, with Earthman Julian 5th battling to and fro across its decaying inner core. Two sequels quickly followed, but they took place on Earth itself and are thus excused from further mention in this introduction to Planetary Adventure.
Lastly, as far as ERB at least, he wrote one book that took place on Poloda, 450,000 light years from good old Terra Firma. Another Earthman hero, Tangor, (his real name is not revealed), battles his way across this planet’s war-ravaged continents. ERB probably planned to write more stories of Tangor's exploits but, sadly, never did. (This was left to Mark Gillies, almost forty years later.)
With his Mars and Venus stories, as well as his two solo efforts, ERB started a publishing juggernaut in the Planetary Adventure genre that only ran out of steam in the early 1980s.
The Mars/Barsoom books, in order, are: A Princess of Mars, The Gods of Mars, The Warlord of Mars, Thuvia--Maid of Mars, The Chessmen of Mars, The Master Mind of Mars, A Fighting Man of Mars, Swords of Mars, Synthetic Men of Mars, Llana of Gathol, and John Carter of Mars, which included two longish stories, "Skeleton Men of Jupiter" by ERB himself, and "John Carter and the Giant of Mars" by Hulbert Burroughs. The Venus/Amtor books are: Pirates of Venus, Lost on Venus, Carson of Venus, Escape on Venus, and The Wizard of Venus (which also contains the unassociated Pirate’s Blood).
The Moon/Va-nah novel is titled The Moon Maid while its two non-Interplanetary Adventure sequels are: The Moon Men and The Red Hawk.
The annals of Tangor on Poloda and Tonos (both in the Omos solar system), are described in Beyond the Farthest Star, with the later sequel by Mark Gillies being entitled Astride the Farthest Star).
A book that some believe influenced Burroughs was Gulliver of Mars, (Originally Lieutenant Gulliver Jones), by Edwin L. Arnold, published in 1905. Gulliver Jones gets to Mars by flying carpet but has many adventures that suggest a possible influence on ERB. The book is interesting, but mostly because of its possible relationship to ERB’s work.
One of the first writers to follow in Burroughs' footsteps—indeed a contemporary of ERB—was Otis Adelbert Kline (OAK), who wrote both a Martian and a Venusian series. His Martian heroes, Harry Thorne and Jerry Morgan, are Earthmen who are telepathically transported into the bodies of Martian nobles. Similarly, Kline’s Venusian heroes, Robert Grandon and Borgen Takkor (the latter actually a Martian), exchange their original bodies for those of princes of Venus and have many rip-roaring adventures. Kline published only two Mars books, The Swordsman of Mars and The Outlaws of Mars. Tragically, the manuscript for a third novel, The Hunters of Mars, was lost in a fire and never saw print. There are three Venus books and a short story by OAK, Planet of Peril, Prince of Peril, The Port of Peril (originally, Buccaneers of Venus) and A Vision of Venus. These stories are pretty decent and conceivably could take place in the relatively unexplored northern hemisphere of Burroughs’ Amtor. This theory has been espoused by Den Valdron at ERBzine 1511 .
Like ERB, Kline published an interior moon (Ma Gong) novel as well. It is Maza of the Moon, with Ted Dustin representing Earth and battling her enemies at the Moon's core.
Kline was an agent as well as a writer and one author he represented was Robert E. Howard, of Conan fame, who also wrote a barbaric Sword and Planet adventure entitled Almuric (the distant planet on which the action takes place). It is atmospherically different, but makes for very good reading. So good that we deem it a shame that REH never further explored this genre, though Mark Ellis will (hopefully) be releasing a direct sequel in 2012, Lost Gods.
Esau Cairn is a typical Howardian hero (extremely tough and with a dark side), but there is a mystery about the book’s last chapter, which does not appear to have been written by Howard himself. Some think Kline wrote it, but there are other candidates who have been proposed for that authorship, with Otto Binder getting the probable nod. Morgan Holmes has written as essay, "The First Posthumous Collaborator," in support of this position, from Forgotten Ages # 's 57 & 60 and in the final issue of The Cimmerian. Both are difficult to locate but this and other REH-related essays by Morgan will be collected and published via Lulu in the print on demand format, hopefully in the forseeable future.
J. U. Giesy wrote a Burroughsesque trilogy as soon as the Great War ended in 1918, that relates the adventures of Jason Croft on Palos, circling its sun Sirius. The three books are: Palos of the Dog Star Pack, The Mouthpiece of Zitu and Jason, Son of Jason. Astral projection was the means of transport from Earth to Palos.
One of the best early Sword and Planet writers to follow in ERB's footsteps was Gardner F. Fox, who wrote two excellent books about Alan Morgan, an Earthman who finds war and love on the planet Llarn. This duology is comprised of Warrior of Llarn and Thief of Llarn.
Yet another early practitioner of Sword and Planet fiction was Edmond Hamilton, a pro writer who churned out dozens of books in many different genres. His best Sword and Planet series involved an earthman named Stuart Merrick, who is transported to the world of Kaldar in the Antares binary star system. There were three Kaldar stories, and only two appear to have been reprinted from the original pulp format. Kaldar, World of Antares was published in a wonderful Sword and Planet collection called Swordsmen in the Sky, which also contains a Kline story, "A Vision of Venus." That Ace anthology was edited by Donald Wollheim and is well worth picking up. The second short story, "Snake Men of Kaldar," was published in The Magic Carpet Magazine anthology. There are plans in place to include these two tales plus "The Great Brain of Kaldar," in an Edmund Hamilton collection from Haffner Press.
A number of writers who are popular or well known today also started their careers with Sword and Planet novels. These included Michael Moorcock, who, as Edward P. Bradbury, wrote three ERB-type adventures set on Mars and featuring an Earthman named Michael Kane. These were republished later under different titles and with Moorcock’s name attached. The original titles were, City of the Beast, Lord of the Spiders, and Masters of the Pit. The reissues were Warriors of Mars, Blades of Mars, and Barbarians of Mars. These are not quite up to the quality of the John Carter books, or to Moorcock’s later Elric and Count Brass books, but they certainly do entertain!
Michael Resnick, an award winning writer of SF today, wrote two Sword and Planet novels in the 1960s set on Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon. These are The Goddess of Ganymede and Pursuit on Ganymede, which feature an American soldier of fortune named Adam Thane. They are unremarkable but still of interest to serious fans of the genre.
Andrew J. Offutt, perhaps best known today for his Sword and Sorcery, also wrote Sword and Planet adventure. Chieftain of Andor is told in a straightforward adventure tone and is quite good, as is the sequel, Clansman of Andor. His Ardor on Aros, on the other hand, is a satire with sexual undertones, though very restrained undertones by today’s standards. It’s fairly weak.
John Norman is the most infamous writer of Sword and Planet fiction. His books about an Earthman named Tarl Cabot who is transported to the Counter-Earth of Gor, which is located on the other side of the sun directly opposite to Earth, are well known today for their portrayal of female sexual slavery. We called them the “women-love-their-chains” books. Although the sex and slavery aspects became more and more dominant in the series as it continued, and eventually made the books unreadable, the first few volumes have only a little of this and are pretty good Sword and Planet adventure. There are now thirty Gor books, with more forthcoming, but the best of these are the first six, Tarnsman of Gor, Outlaw of Gor, Priest-Kings of Gor, Nomads of Gor (very good), Assassin of Gor, and Raiders of Gor. Books nine and ten, Marauders of Gor and Tribesmen of Gor, are also pretty good.
The best post-ERB Sword and Planet fiction, to many fans’ way of thinking, was written by the British writer Kenneth Bulmer under the pseudonym Alan Burt Akers. Akers wrote fifty-two volumes and started another, of which only thirty-seven were originally published in English (plus a novella and a couple of short stories), about the character Dray Prescot, who is transported to the world of Kregen in the binary star system of Antares by at least two mysterious forces who hope to use him as a pawn in a world-spanning conflict with galaxy-wide ramifications. Prescot has other ideas, of course.
We won’t list all the Prescot books here, though if anyone wants to know they can find them here . The first five books comprise the opening sequence, the Vallian Cycle and the titles are: Transit to Scorpio, The Suns of Scorpio, Warrior of Scorpio, Swordships of Scorpio and Prince of Scorpio. All are pretty darn superb. The best books in the series, though, to me, are Renegade of Kregen and Krozair of Kregen (#'s 13 and 14) and A Sword for Kregen (# 20).
Later writers, primarily Tim Jones at WildCat and Vandah Books, have had a go at continuing the Saga of Dray Prescot in particular and of Kregen in general. Under the Moons of Kregen and Within the Halls of Kregen feature John Blake of Earth while Under the Suns of Antares continues the adventures of Dray Prescot in the constellation of the Scorpion.
A number of Bulmer fans have also clamored for getting the rest of the Kregen books printed in English. Thanks to cooperation between the Bulmer estate and British publisher Mushroom/Bladud, volumes 38 – 45 have been published as e-books as of this writing, with omnibus editions (by cycle) continuing to be released in trade paperback format. Until recently they had appeared only in German even though they were originally written in English by Bulmer.
Tim Jones, in addition to his Kregan novels (and musical CD), has authored a series of books that take (took) place on Vandah, a planet that once was but now isn’t. Only asteroids currently exist where A Warrior of Two Worlds, Sorcerers and Swords and other titles to follow, took place.
Lin Carter made almost his entire writing career out of following in the footsteps of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard and other great masters from the past. He wrote a bunch of Sword and Planet books, including a series set on Jupiter’s moon Callisto. These involve an Earthman named Jonathan Dark, who becomes known as Jandar of Callisto. There are eight books in this series. A better series by Carter is the Green Star series featuring a crippled Earthman who is initially astrally projected into the body of the hero Chong the Mighty, on a wild (unnamed) planet that circles under the “Green Star.” Later. In the final four volumes, he battles across the world as the young Karn the Hunter. These are my favorite Lin Carter books and consist of Under the Green Star, When the Green Star Calls, By the Light of the Green Star, As the Green Star Rises, and In the Green Star’s Glow.
There are many, many other writers who made a mark in Sword and Planet fiction—Mike Sirota with his five “Reglathium” books: The Prisoner of, The Conquerors of, The Caves of, The Dark Straits of and The Slaves of Reglathium, Hugh Walker with his three highly recommended “Magira” books: War Gamers’ World, Army of Darkness and Messengers of Darkness, Wallace Moore with his three unrecommended “Balzan” books: The Blood Stones, The Caves of Madness and The Lights of Zetar (the last apparently a homage to the Star Trek Episode of the same title, Robert Adams with his two “Stairway to Forever” books, and Charles Nuetzel with Warriors of Noomas, Raiders of Noomas and Slavegirl of Noomis (with Heidi Garrett). A last novel by Nuetzel and Garrett, Conquest of Noomas, is expected in 2012. Even Philip Jose Farmer wrote a series of books verging on Sword and Planet themes with his “World of Tiers” novels, the first five of which were very good. These are: Maker of Universes, Gates of Creation, A Private Cosmos, Behind the Walls of Terra, The Lavalite World, Red Orc’s Rage and More Than Fire.
Another fairly recent and valuable addition to the genre is Al Sarrantonio’s Master of Mars trilogy, Haydn of Mars, Sebastian of Mars, and Queen of Mars.
But what was the worst Sword and Planet novel ever written? Although the opinion is debatable, one of your current authors (Gramlich) believes the honor goes to Warlord of Ghandor by Del DowDell, which features Robert Dowdall of Ireland who walks through a mist-shrouded portal and ends up on the planet Ghandor, directly opposite Earth on the other side of the sun, a counter earth created long after John Norman wrote of Gor. The problem is that Dowdall is so much stronger and faster than his enemies, by virtue of Ghandor's miniscule gravity, that he is like superman. He even has a sword that cuts through his enemies swords as if they were butter. Not exactly thrilling adventure, although many die-hard fans of the Sword and Planet genre were left wanting more after finishing Warlord of Ghandor and its cliff-hanger of an ending.
More recently, Joel Jenkins has had his Dire Planet trilogy published: Dire Planet, Exiles of the Dire Planet and Into the Dire Planet. Garvey Dire journeys from Earth to Mars’ dim and barbaric past. We found these books reminiscent of Howard’s Almuric.
In 2011, vaunted fantasy artist Jeff Doten, collected and illustrated an anthology devoted to the Planetary Adventure genre, Strange Worlds from Space Puppet Press. Two of the best of these short stories are "God's Dream" by Charles Gramlich and "Slavers of Trakor" by Charles R. Rutledge.
In the United States, Sword and Planet fiction largely died on the vine in the early 1980s, as witnessed by the end of the Dray Prescot series with #37 when there were plenty more being published in German. It's never been clear as to why this type of fiction disappeared. The trend in American fantasy began to move toward high fantasy and began to attract a lot of women readers and women writers who, it seemed, were less interested in the sheer adventure aspects of the Sword and Planet genre.
Sword and Planet fiction is still being read and is still being written. It’s just not being published in mass paperback format anymore. Witness the Trade Paperback publication of several novels by many authors from the illustrious Planetary Adventure past, from Paizo and the release of the original Barsoom trilogy by Fall River Press. It’s an area of fantasy that many of us still love, and there are plenty of writers who would like nothing more than to see it make a comeback and evidently, a lot of readers feel the same way.
The authors of this article are among those writers, and readers. Charles Allen Gramlich has written three ERB and Bulmer inspired (with a dash of REH thrown in), novels—Swords of Talera, Wings Over Talera, and Witch of Talera—all of which feature an American named Ruenn Maclang who finds his way through a star portal to the beautiful and dangerous world of Talera. The first two were serialized by Fading Shadows, Inc, but all three novels have since been published by Borgo Press, and imprint of Wildside Press.
Stephen James Servello has edited An Apostle of Letters: A Critical Evaluation of the Works of Lin Carter, available through WildCat and has reviewed a plethora of Planetary Adventure books on the various Internet groups he either owns or moderates. Among these are those dedicated to Ken Bulmer, Lin Carter, OAK and ERB.
Maybe the new movie for John Carter of Mars will trigger the revival that many of us seek, as ERB's A Princess of Mars triggered the first Sword and Planet explosion so many decades ago.
So, until the future rebirth of Sword and Planet fiction, come with me now to an older time, to worlds of grand adventure where battles flame and warriors of bravery face their deaths with blood-stained swords in their fists. Pick up some of the books we've mentioned above, and "on guard."
Sword and Planet art by Paul Privitera
Princess of Mars
2. The Gods of Mars
3. The Warlord of Mars
4. Thuvia, Maid of Mars
5. The Chessmen of Mars
6. The Mastermind of Mars
Fighting Man of Mars
8. Swords of Mars
9. Synthetic Men of Mars
10. Llana of Gathol
11. John Carter of Mars
(Giant of Mars | Skeleton Men)
ERB's PELLUCIDAR (EARTH'S CORE) SERIES
the Earth's Core
3. Tanar of Pellucidar
4. Tarzan at the Earth's Core
to the Stone Age
6. Land of Terror
7. Savage Pellucidar
ERB's VENUS (AMTOR) SERIES
2. Lost on Venus
3. Carson of Venus
5. The Wizard of Venus
(Tales of Three Planets)
Read Arnold's Gulliver of Mars (and more) in eText
Navigation Chart For The Otis Adelbert Kline Features In ERBzine
Bios & Biblio
Articles & Story
Weird Gallery/OAK Speaks
Mighty OAK of Barsoom Part 1
Mighty OAK of Barsoom Part 2
Otis Adelbert Kline's Venus
The Other Moon Maid - Maza
Den Valdron's Navigation Page
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