Why is it you think Carson Of Venus isnt as Popular as John Carter of mars?
The short version is this: timing.
Popularity isn’t just a question of quality, but of timing,
of being the right work at the right time. A bookshelf has a funny way of
smushing time together; a Carson of Venus novel written in 1939 and a John
Carter of Mars novel written 25 years before seem like the same kind of story
when put side by side, but they were written decades apart, in totally
John Carter of Mars was written in the early 1910s, when
science fiction stories were often just reskinned westerns and swashbucklers. Carson
of Venus was written over 25+ years later, in 1939, when tastes changed and
science fiction moved on to tell different kinds of stories. Carson of Venus
was almost a nostalgia piece, a deliberate throwback; it sounds strange to
think of nostalgia being a thing at all in the late 30s/early 1940s, but there
To understand why the reaction was different, you have to
understand why the Carson of Venus novels were written at all. The reason that
the Carson of Venus novels and later Barsoom books exist is due to Amazing
Stories editor and Edgar Rice Burroughs superfan Raymond Palmer, who once he
got actual power as an editor, was such a fanboy that he used his authority as
a publisher to ask Edgar Rice Burroughs to write more Barsoom stories and create
a new series for Amazing Stories. Now, the amazing thing is that this wasn’t
some power move for new readers, since John Carter style planetary romances
were starting to fall out of fashion in the late 1930s (more on that later).
The reason they got ERB back to write more John Carter and create a new series
is that Barsoom Superfan Raymond Palmer wanted
to see more Edgar Rice Burroughs planet romance stories.
In the early part of this century, scifi was all about
adventure stories that were reskinned Westerns and swashbucklers. John Carter
of Mars fit right in, and emblemized the entire trend. Come the 1930s, however,
the most influential writer was Stanley G. Weinbaum, who wrote a Martian Odyssey,
with non-anthropomorphized and inhuman to the point of incomprehensible
Martians, deliberately as a reaction to Burroughs’ hot babe girl martians. Even
in the Burroughs-style Sword & Planet romance yarn, tastes had moved to
writers like Leigh Brackett, who’s take on Mars was as an eerie nightmare
landscape of bat-winged hordes assembling for battle, crumbling, labyrinthine
cities, and hard, pragmatic miners and desperados. The straight good vs. evil
yarn was out of style.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that Carson of
Venus was a low seller. Far from it – ERB was the best selling novelist of the
entire 1920s and had tons of name value a decade later. Amazing Stories was the
top selling science fiction pulp of its era, easily outselling Astounding
Science Fiction, and the ERB stories were the top selling issues (at least until
the Shaver Mystery in the mid-1940s that preceded the later mass hysteria over
UFOs…but that’s a topic too bizarre to go into here). Saying that Amazing
outsold Astounding won’t help you understand significant developments though.
It’s a little like saying that Marvel Comics, until the 1970s, were outsold by
DC Comics (DC books were viewed as quaint and old fashioned even
in the 1960s). Yeah…but look what they were doing! Look who ended up
being more influential.
Personally, I like the Carson of Venus books very very much,
not just because they are so romantic, adventurous and wildly creative, with
worlds of immortality, swordfights, pirates, and evil fishmen, but also because
you can tell at that point in his life, Burroughs was getting tired of the
formula he himself created and so he decided to have fun with it all. Burroughs’s
most underrated attribute was his wonderful sense of humor. Compared to John
Carter, Carson of Venus seems like a big goof; he screws up and ignores obvious
things, like when he built a rocket and missed the Moon. For a guy who likes
genteel gentlemen-athlete heroes, the overbred Amtorian aristocrats laugh at
Carson, saying that his ancestry is unimpressive and that his bloodstream germs
make him a menace to all life on Venus.
I think this is why people today don’t respond to the
Amtor/Carson stories; people read ERB stories to feel awesome and powerful, and
Carson of Napier doesn’t deliver on that well. It’s no coincidence ERB’s life
story until he started writing was as a guy who was often unemployed and had
trouble taking care of his family (he wrote John Carter of Mars and Tarzan on
the back of letterhead from failed businesses). His stories are Walter Mitty
hallucinations where Walter Mitty doesn’t wake up. They’re based on the appeal of pure, concentrated daydreams.
Edgar Rice Burroughs, Lost On Venus (1963 paperback). Cover by the great Frank Frazetta.
Second in the Carson of Venus series.
Edgar Rice Burroughs was a world-builder above all else. he created Tarzan’s Africa, the dying desert world of Barsoom (Mars), the prehistoric wilderness of Pellucidar, the lost island of Caspak, and the jungle world of Amtor (Venus).