One of the earliest forms of science fiction is the interplanetary romance, sometimes also called the planetary romance or swords-and-planet fiction. A form of pulp fiction, interplanetary romances are, in the words of Wikipedia, "rousing adventure stories set on other planets, and usually featuring Earthmen as protagonists." In Critical Terms for Science Fiction and Fantasy (1986), Gary K. Wolfe defines interplanetary romance (IPR) as "an adventure tale set on another, usually primitive, planet."
The parents of IPR are exotic "lost civilization" fantasies like H. Rider Haggard's She (1886-87) and swashbuckling works like The Prisoner of Zenda (1894). This parentage manifests in several ways. IPR lead characters are generally heroes (not merely protagonists); they're daring men, often soldiers, who explicitly or implicitly follow a chivalrous code of honor as they battle nefarious villains, escape durance vile, and rescue beautiful alien princesses from a variety of deadly dangers and fates worse than death. IPR governments are usually kingdoms, empires, theocracies, and/or dictatorships. And the spear, the bow and arrow, and-especially-the sword are the preferred IPR weapons, either because that's the chivalrous choice; because they're the only available arms; or because a previous higher civilization has decayed or disappeared, leaving a mix of primitive and futuristic technology, such as swords and cavalry beasts with radium guns and flying machines.
Transit to an IPR planet is often accomplished by non-scientific means, such as astral travel, death in combat, or a flying carpet. IPR cares about the world traveled to, not the method of getting there. This differentiates IPR from space opera, with its focus on interplanetary or interstellar travel.
The earliest examples of interplanetary romance are probably Across The Zodiac: The Story of a Wrecked Record (1880) by Percy Greg; A Journey in Other Worlds (1894) by John Jacob Astor (an unauthorized quasi-sequel to the preceding title); Pharaoh's Broker (1899) by Ellsworth Douglass; and Lieutenant Gullivar Jones: His Vacation (1905; U.S. title, Gullivar of Mars ) by Edwin Lester Arnold.
The first popular work of interplanetary romance was set on a planet known to its native races as Barsoom. This novel was originally serialized in All-Story as Under the Moons of Mars (1912) by Norman Bean. It first appeared in book form in 1917 as A Princess of Mars under the author's real name, Edgar Rice Burroughs.
A Princess of Mars is the first of the eleven books of the John Carter of Mars series, and the first of several works of interplanetary romance by Burroughs. These IPRs include the Carson of Venus series, beginning with Pirates of Venus (1934); The Moon Maid (1926) (its sequels, set on Earth, are not IPRs); and Beyond the Farthest Star (1942; book edition, 1965).
Burroughs is known throughout the world for creating Tarzan of the Apes. But in the SF field, it is his interplanetary romances that are the most influential. He's the direct or indirect inspiration for every piece of swords-and-planet fiction that has appeared since John Carter first set foot on Mars. Further, Burroughs's influence spreads broadly across non-IPR works of SF, fantasy, and futuristic romance. It is no coincidence that the light-sabres of Star Wars remind IPR fans of John Carter's sword.
Probably the earliest of the Burroughs-inspired IPR writers was J.U. Giesy, whose Palos of the Dog Star Pack was serialized in All-Story beginning in July 1918 (book edition, 1965). Under the byline Ralph Milne Farley, Burroughs's friend Roger Sherman Hoar launched his Venus series, beginning with The Radio Man (1924). Another early IPR writer was Otis Adelbert Kline, whose Venus series launched in 1929 with The Planet of Peril (before Burroughs's own Venus series) and whose Mars series launched in 1933 with The Swordsman of Mars. Pulp-SF giant Edmond Hamilton published his IPR, Kaldar, World of Antares, in The Magic Carpet in 1933. After his death in 1936, an unpolished but vigorous draft of the IPR novel Almuric (Weird Tales, 1939; book edition, 1964) was found among the papers of Conan the Barbarian creator Robert E. Howard.
IPR was popular enough by 1923 to inspire an astral-travel spoof. Appearing in Weird Tales, Vincent Starrett's Penelope features a fellow who sates his urge to relocate to the titular distant star by marrying a woman of the same name. In a series of spoofs starting in 1938, apparently with Warlords of Mars, Festus Pragnell's interplanetary hero encounters a Martian race whose members each weigh thousands of pounds; but he still marries the princess.
Undoubtedly the best of the IPR writers was Leigh Brackett, whose IPR stories (published from the 1940s) combined the influences of Burroughs, Clark Ashton Smith, and noir detective fiction. Brackett's IPR hero of many adventures, Eric John Stark, was raised by the wild apes of Mercury; but this literary offspring of Tarzan and John Carter roams a darker and more decadent universe than either. The Ace Double People of the Talisman/The Secret of Sinharat (1964) collects two of Stark's adventures. In 1946, Leigh Brackett collaborated with Ray Bradbury to write the Venus IPR, Lorelei of the Red Mist. (And if you've never read the fiction of Leigh Brackett, you're still familiar with her work. A movie scripter, she wrote or cowrote the John Wayne classic, Rio Bravo; the Humphrey Bogart classic, The Big Sleep; and the darkest and best in this SF movie series, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. It's also worth mentioning that Brackett married above mentioned Edmond Hamilton in 1946.)
After a lapse in popularity, the interplanetary romance gained a new readership and several new works in the 1960s-1970s, due in no small part to the efforts of a single editor, Donald A. Wollheim. His 1964 Ace anthology Swordsmen in the Sky introduced or reintroduced many readers to IPR by reprinting Hamilton's Kaldar, World of Antares (1933) and Brackett's Venus story The Moon That Vanished (1948); and three other IPR stories, by Poul Anderson, Otis Adelbert Kline, and Andre Norton. As an editor at Ace Books and, later, as the founder/editor/publisher of DAW Books, Wollheim reprinted many classic IPR works (among them the first American edition of Lieutenant Gullivar Jones: His Vacation, retitled Gullivar of Mars) and published many new IPR novels and series.
The new IPRs of this period include Gardner F. Fox's Llarn series, beginning with Warriors of Llarn (1964); Edward Powys Bradbury/Michael Moorcock's Kane of Old Mars series, beginning with Warrior of Mars (1965; variant title, City of the Beast); Robert Moore Williams's Zanthar series, beginning with Zanthar of the Many Worlds (1967); Mike Resnick's Ganymede series, beginning with The Goddess of Ganymede (1968); Charles Nuetzel's Torlo Hannis (or Noomas) series, beginning with Warriors of Noomas (1969); Kenneth Bulmer/Alan Burt Akers's Dray Prescot (or Scorpio) series, beginning with Transit to Scorpio (1972); and Lin Carter's Callisto series, beginning with Jandar of Callisto (1972), and Green Star series, beginning with Under the Green Star (1972).
As it became increasingly obvious that no intelligent life (let alone humans or humanoid aliens) would be found on Earth's sister planets, IPR authors increasingly moved the action to extrasolar worlds. Brackett's hero Stark traveled to Skaith for The Ginger Star (1974) and its sequels. Writing as Wallace Moore, Gerard F. Conway created his own Tarzan/John Carter cross, Balzan of the Cat People, whose extrasolar adventures begin in The Blood Stones (1975). Other examples include the above-mentioned Green Star, Llarn, Noomas, and Scorpio series; Anne McCaffrey's Restoree (1967); Jack Vance's Tschai: Planet of Adventure tetralogy, beginning with City of the Chasch (1968); Andrew J. Offutt's Chieftain of Andor (1976); Mike Sirota's Reglathium series, beginning with Prisoner of Reglathium (1978); Hubert Strassl/Hugh Walker's Magira series, beginning with War Gamer's World (1978); and David J. Lake's Xuma series, beginning with The Gods of Xuma (1978).
To varying degrees, the above works reflect the sexual, racial, and colonial attitudes of their era. With the exception of the female lead of Restoree, the heroes are men; and all these heroes are straight and white. One might even call the above IPRs "species-ist," since the protagonists aren't attracted to an alien unless s/he looks human. Readers who cannot overlook the socio-cultural assumptions of earlier decades should probably not read IPR. (The absolute nadir of IPR attitudes is undoubtedly the Gor [or Counter-earth] series of John Norman [pseudonym for John Frederick Lange], which launched in 1967, and which views women as natural-born slaves. Not recommended.)
Interplanetary romance lost popularity again in the 1980s; but with the new millennium it appears to be staging another comeback, adapted to contemporary socio-cultural realities and scientific knowledge. The most prominent of this retro-modern IPR breed are Haydn of Mars (2005) and its sequels by Al Sarrantonio; Paragaea (2006) by Chris Roberson; and The Sky People (2006) by S.M. Stirling. And here's another sign of modern interest in the subgenre: With its new Planet Stories imprint, Paizo has begun reprinting classic Interplanetary Romance novels by Leigh Brackett, Michael Moorcock, and others.
(*) In the following list of essential/recommended interplanetary romances, bylines marked by an asterisk indicate an essential IPR author or editor. Good starting places for further exploration are Richard A. Lupoff's literary overview, Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure (1965; revised, 1968), which discusses numerous IPR works and authors; Planetary Romance and the individual author entries in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1993), edited by John Clute and Peter Nicholls; and the Wikipedia entries Sword and planet and Planetary romance.
Essential Books and Stories
- Almuric by Robert E. Howard
- Esau Cairn is sent across space to a barbaric world.
- The Gods of Xuma et seq. by David J. Lake
- Extrasolar explorers discover a world with remarkable resemblances to Edgar Rice Burroughs's Mars.
- Kaldar, World of Antares et seq. by Edmond Hamilton
- An experimental electron beam hurtles a man to a distant planet. Reprinted in Swordsmen in the Sky.
- Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation by Edwin Lester Arnold (U.S. title, Gullivar of Mars)
- An American naval lieutenant finds himself on Mars.
- Lorelei of the Red Mist by Leigh Brackett* and Ray Bradbury
- A criminal wakes on Venus in a new body. Reprinted in Three Times Infinity (1958) and The Best of Planet Stories, Volume 1 (1975).
- Paragaea by Chris Roberson
- A cosmonaut finds herself transported to a primitive parallel world.
- People of the Talisman/The Secret of Sinharat et seq. by Leigh Brackett*
- A man raised by wild Mercury apes travels to the decadent cities of the Low Canals. Reprinted as Eric John Stark: Outlaw of Mars.
- Pirates of Venus et seq. by Edgar Rice Burroughs* (1934)
- Carson Napier's rocketship accidentally carries him to Venus. Book One of the Carson of Venus series, also known as the Amtor series.
- The Planet of Peril et seq. by Otis Adelbert Kline*
- Robert Gordon finds himself in another man's body-on Venus.
- A Princess of Mars et seq. by Edgar Rice Burroughs*
- Astral travel brings a Civil War veteran to Mars, and a fateful encounter with the Princess of Helium. This work created the IPR phenomenon. Originally serialized in All-Story as Under the Moons of Mars. Book One of the John Carter of Mars series, also known as the Barsoom series.
- The Radio Man et seq. by Ralph Milne Farley* (pseudonym for Roger Sherman Hoar) (variant title, An Earthman on Venus)
- An Earthman discovers the Venusians cannot hear, communicating only by natural radio.
- Restoree by Anne McCaffrey
- An Earthwoman is mysteriously transported to another planet, where she finds herself with a new body and a major problem. Many consider this IPR novel the first futuristic romance.
- The Sky People et (forthcoming) seq. by S.M. Stirling
- Life on Mars and Venus strangely resembles the science fiction of early Twentieth-Century authors like Edgar Rice Burroughs. Book One of the Lords of Creation series.
- Swordsmen in the Sky edited by Donald A. Wollheim*
- Five otherworldly swashbucklers from Poul Anderson, Leigh Brackett, Otis Adelbert Kline, Edmond Hamilton, and Andre Norton.
- City of the Chasch et seq. by Jack Vance
- A scout-ship crash survivor is trapped on a world of many races. Book One of the Tschai: Planet of Adventure tetralogy.
- Transit to Scorpio et seq. by Alan Burt Akers (pseudonym for Kenneth Bulmer)
- An English sailor is teleported to the Antares star system. Book One of the Dray Prescot series, also known as the Scorpio series and the Antares series.
Other Recommended Works
- Across The Zodiac: The Story of a Wrecked Record by Percy Greg
- Beyond the Farthest Star by Edgar Rice Burroughs*
- Dire Planet by Joel Jenkins
- The Blood Stones et seq. by Wallace Moore (pseudonym for Gerard F. Conway)
- Chieftain of Andor by Andrew J. Offutt
- Emperor of Mars et seq. by John Russell Fearn
- Jandar of Callisto et seq. by Lin Carter
- A Journey in Other Worlds by John Jacob Astor
- Goddess of Ganymede et seq. by Mike Resnick
- Haydn of Mars et seq. by Al Sarrantonio
- The Man Who Loved Mars et seq. by Lin Carter
- Master of Boranga by Mike Sirota
- The Moon Maid by Edgar Rice Burroughs*
- Palos of the Dog Star Pack et seq. by J.U. Giesy
- Penelope by Vincent Starrett
- Pharaoh's Broker by Ellsworth Douglass
- Prisoner of Reglathium et seq. by Mike Sirota
- The Queen of Zamba et seq. by L. Sprague de Camp
- Sojan the Swordsman by Michael Moorcock
- The Sword of Lankor by Howard L. Cory (pseudonym for Jack and Julie Anne Jardine)
- The Swordsman of Mars et seq. by Otis Adelbert Kline*
- Tama of the Light Country et seq. by Ray Cummings
- Under the Green Star et seq. by Lin Carter
- War Gamer's World et seq. by Hugh Walker (pseudonym for Hubert Strassl)
- Warlord of Ghandor by Del Dowdell
- Warlords of Mars et seq. by Festus Pragnell
- Warrior of Llarn et seq. by Gardner F. Fox
- Warrior of Mars et seq. by Edward Powys Bradbury (pseudonym for Michael Moorcock) (variant title, City of the Beast)
- A Warrior of Two Worlds et seq. (Forgotten World series, also known as the Vandah series) by Tim Jones
- Warriors of Noomas et seq. by Charles Nuetzel
- Zanthar of the Many Worlds et seq. by Robert Moore Williams