"The Wizard of Venus" was written by Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1941 but was not published until 1964, having spent a couple of decades in a safe. This became the fifth and final story in the Carson of Venus series, although it is clearly intended to be the first in a series of connected novellas, which was what ERB did in "Escape on Venus." Carson Napier took off in a rocket ship from Earth intended to go to Mars, but he forgot to account for the gravitational affects of the Moon and ended up on Venus. There he became entangled with the beautiful Duare, who did not give him the time of day for the first three stories, which was a moot point because usually they were separated by circumstances. The standard Burroughs formula, where the hero's beloved is captured and he has to fight his way across an alien landscape to rescue her, was less evident in these final ERB novels, although it is difficult to say whether it was World War II or the author's declining health that took most of the wind out of his sails.
Once again using telepathy to pass his story on to ERB, Carson tells of an adventure with Duare and their friend Ero Shan. They first meet in Havatoo when Carson built his first anotar (the first airplane on Venus), and later when prisoners in Voo-ad. Now Carson is experimenting with a more advanced anotar and when the two friends take it out for a test flight, they have a few problems. Landing in a strange and beautiful land, they are accused of being wizards by the inhabitants of the local castle, who are worried about somebody called Morgas. Once he shows up, the fun begins in earnest. Again, these Venus books show more tongue in cheek humor than we usually find in Burroughs (Carson and Ero Shan take to calling each other Sir Galahad and Sir Gawain at one point), and overall represent the best work ERB did in his final years.
"Pirate Blood" was another ERB novella found in that same safe, although it was apparently written back in 1932. The hero is Johnny LaFitte, who is descended from the infamous Jean LaFitte. The story returns to one of ERB's favorite themes, heredity versus environment, and his belief that it you do not have the right environment a "bad seed" will indeed go bad. This is a very atypical Burroughs novel, filled with cold blooded murders, violent rapes, and suicide. There is even an illegitimate pregnancy between Johnny and his gal as ERB really lays on the morality play. Clearly the only reason that "Pirate Blood" was published with "The Wizard of Venus" was because they were found in that safe together. These stories have nothing in common and "Pirate Blood" really reads like a first draft that ERB just never went back and revised. The last Venus story is the attraction here, and the other a minor curiosity.
on 29 June 2011
There is a note of finality in this book. There are two stories, although only one mentioned on the front cover. There is mention that the first story is the last in the Venus series, and that the other story was found after ERB's death.
The Wizard of Venus is small in scale compared to a lot of ERB books, taking place in a small location with a small cast and light on novelty and ideas, though written with enthusiasm and easy to read.
Pirate Blood is completely different in scope and tone. It follows the life of a young man who always comes second, through school and college then through his first job before a desperate balloon ride and his adventures among two competing pirate tribes.It is violent at times, and very rooted in the morals and realities of 1930s America, rife with casual and unintentional sexism, racism and bullying. Very unusual if your diet is the usual scifi adventure novels, but well written and readable again, with enough adventure and character development to keep you interested.
I've read all the ERB science fiction series now - Mars, Pellucidar, Caspak and Venus, and it is sad to end with two downbeat stories. It feels like he died before his talent had diminished.