Although better known for his stories of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs returned to the sword-and-planet genre he helped to establish with the 1934 novel Pirates of Venus. This novel is the first of five in a series following the adventures of Carson Napier who accidentally winds up on Venus when his rocket ship is thrown off-course -- its original destination was Mars, ironically -- by failing to take into account the effect of the Moon's gravitation pull. Once on Venus (or Amtor, as its inhabitants call it), Napier discovers the planet to be inhabited by a wide variety of humanoid cultures, the most important of which is Vepaja, from which Princess Duare, the protagonist's love interest, hails.
Readers familiar with the Barsoom novels will find a lot of similarities between them and Pirates of Venus and its sequels, especially in the personality of Carson Napier, who is every bit as courageous and resourceful as John Carter, often using his Earthling ingenuity to invent devices or stratagems that the benighted Amtorians never considered before. Moreso than Barsoom, Amtor's cultures are generally quite hostile and belligerent, with Napier frequently in danger of death at the hands of one or the other of its factions. Likewise, local technology is a strange mish-mash, with longevity drugs and atomic-powered ray guns existing side by side with swords and long-distance communication by semaphore. Until Napier builds an airplane, the Amtorians had never conceived of one, despite having other vehicles and devices equal to or more advanced than those of Earth.
Pirates of Venus is a fun read, but it feels a bit more cartoonish than the Barsoom novels, almost a caricature of Burroughs's earlier work. There's a definite "Flash Gordon" vibe to the whole thing that, while not unenjoyable, somehow seems out of place compared to the slightly more sober John Carter novels. This feeling is made even more clear when contrasted with the social commentary and real world allusions that Burroughs makes throughout the novel. The villaninous Thorists, for example, are clearly Communists. There are also references to fascists, the Ku Klux Klan, eugenics, and other contemporary socio-political topics of the 1930s. The end result is an uneven goulash of ideas wrapped around a pulp adventure tale. It's not Burroughs's best work, by any means, but it still has a lot to offer anyone interested in the sword-and-planet genre. Plus, even when he's not at his best, Burroughs is still a remarkably compelling writer and that's very much in evidence here, despite its flaws.