Sword and planet

Sword and planet

Sword and Planet is a subgenre of speculative fiction that features rousing adventure stories set on other planets, and usually featuring Earthmen as protagonists. Though there are works that herald the genre such as Percy Greg's "Across The Zodiac" (1880) and, most famously, Edwin Lester Arnold's ' (1905; published in the US in 1964 as "Gulliver of Mars"), the prototype for the genre is the classic "A Princess of Mars" by Edgar Rice Burroughs originally serialized by All-Story in 1912 as "Under the Moons of Mars." The genre predates the mainstream popularity of science fiction proper, and does not feature any scientific rigor, being instead romantic tales of high adventure. The genre tag Sword and Planet"' is constructed to mimic the terms Sword and sorcery and Sword and sandal. The phrase appears to have first been coined in the 1960s by Donald A. Wollheim, editor of Ace Books, and later of DAW Books at a time when the genre was undergoing a revival. Both Ace Books and DAW Books were instrumental in bringing much of the earlier pulp Sword & Planet stories back into print, as well as publishing a great deal of new, imitative work by a new generation of authors.

There is a fair amount of overlap between Sword & Planet and Planetary Romance although some works are considered to belong to one and not the other. In general, Planetary Romance is considered to be more of a Space Opera subgenre, influenced by the likes of "A Princess of Mars" yet more modern and technologically savvy, while Sword & Planet more directly imitates the conventions established by Burroughs in the Mars series. In 2007 Planet Stories, an independent publisher, began reprinting many S&P novels by Kline, Howard, Brackett, C.L. Moore, Kuttner, Moorcock and others.


In "A Princess of Mars", John Carter, a Confederate officer and soldier, has taken up prospecting in Arizona after the war to regain his fortune. Under mysterious circumstances, he is transported to Mars, called Barsoom by its inhabitants. There he encounters savage and monstrous aliens, a beautiful princess, and a life of adventure and wonder. Burroughs followed up this first book with several more Barsoom stories, and another series that could be considered Sword & Planet, featuring as hero Carson Napier and his adventures on Venus. Burroughs' Pellucidar series could arguably be considered sword-and-(inner) planet, as it follows most of the plot conventions described below.


Burroughs established a set of conventions that were followed fairly closely by most other entries in the Sword and Planet genre. The typical first book in a sword and planet series uses some or all of the following plot points:

A tough but chivalrous male protagonist, from Earth of a period not too distant from our own, finds himself transported to a distant world. The transportation may be via astral projection, teleportation, time travel, or any similar form of scientific magic, but should not imply that travel between worlds is either easy or common. The Earthman thus finds himself the sole representative of his own race on an alien planet. This planet is at a pre-modern, even barbaric stage of civilization, but may here and there have remarkable technologies that hint at a more advanced past. There is no obligation for the physical properties or biology of the alien planet to follow any scientific understanding of the potential conditions of habitable worlds; in general, the conditions will be earth-like, but with variations such as a different-colored sun or different numbers of moons. A lower gravity may be invoked to explain such things as large flying animals or people, or the superhuman strength of the hero, but will otherwise be ignored. ("A Princess of Mars", however, when it was first written did loosely follow the most optimistic theories about Mars - e.g., those of Percival Lowell who imagined a dying, dried-up Mars watered by a network of artificial canals.)

Not long after discovering his predicament, the Earthman finds himself caught in a struggle between two or more factions, nations, or species. He sides, of course, with the nation with the prettiest woman, who will sometimes turn out to be a princess. Before he can set about seriously courting her, however, she is kidnapped by a fiendish villain or villains. The Earthman, taking up his sword (the local weapon of choice, which he has a talent with), sets out on a quest to recover the woman and wallop the kidnappers. On the way, he crosses wild and inhospitable terrain, confronts savage animals and monsters, discovers lost civilizations ruled by cruel tyrants or wicked priests, and will repeatedly engage in swashbuckling sword-fights, be imprisoned, daringly escape and rescue other prisoners, and kill any men or beasts who stand in his way. At the end of the story he will defeat the villain and free the captive princess, only to find another crisis emerging that will require all his wit and muscle, but will not be resolved until "the next thrilling novel in the adventures of...!"


Stories in the Sword and Planet genre fall into two chronological classes. The first includes the stories of Burroughs himself and his early imitators, of whom Otis Adelbert Kline was the most significant. The second and larger group includes authors who began to write Burroughs pastiches from the mid 1960s to early 1970s. The genre is no longer used by most modern authors and seems to have come to a natural end; few works in this genre have been published since 1980, except for continuations of the drawn-out Dray Prescot and Gor sequences, and occasional parodies of earlier series.

List of works

What follows is an incomplete listing of some of the more important and more remembered representatives of the genre. Some of the dates are reprint dates, not date of original publication.

Edgar Rice Burroughs

=The Barsoom Series (a.k.a. "The John Carter of Mars Series")=

*"A Princess of Mars" (serial 1912/novel 1917)
*"The Gods of Mars" (1913/1918)
*"The Warlord of Mars" (1913-1914/1919)
*"Thuvia, Maid of Mars" (1916/1920)
*"The Chessmen of Mars" (1922/1922)
*"The Master Mind of Mars" (1927/1928)
*"A Fighting Man of Mars" (1930/1931)
*"Swords of Mars" (1934-1935/1936)
*"Synthetic Men of Mars" (1939/1940)
*"Llana of Gathol" (1941/1948)
*"Skeleton Men of Jupiter" (1943/1964) - published in "John Carter of Mars" (1964) together with the non-ERB juvenile "John Carter and the Giant of Mars" (1941)

=The Venus Series (a.k.a. "The Carson Napier of Venus Series")=

*"Pirates of Venus" (1934)
*"Lost on Venus" (1935)
*"Carson of Venus" (1939)
*"Escape on Venus" (1946)
*"The Wizard of Venus" (1970)

Roger Sherman Hoar (as Ralph Milne Farley)

Venus series

*"The Radio Man" (1924) aka "An Earthman on Venus"
*"The Radio Beasts" (1925)
*"The Radio Planet" (1926)
*"The Radio Man Returns" (2005) includes "The Radio Minds of Mars"

John Ulrich Giesy

Palos series

*"Palos of the Dog Star Pack" (1918)
*"Mouthpiece of Zitu" (1919)
*"Jason, son of Jason" (1921)

Otis Adelbert Kline

Venus series

*"Planet of Peril" (1929)
*"Prince of Peril" (1930)
*"The Port of Peril" (1932) aka "Buccaneers of Venus"

Mars series

*"Swordsman of Mars" (1933)
*"Outlaws of Mars" (1933)

Edmond Hamilton

tuart Merrick series

*"Kaldar, World of Antares" (1933)
*"The Snake-men of Kaldar" (1933)
*"The Great Brain of Kaldar" (1935)

Robert E. Howard

*"Almuric" (1939/1964 - started c. 1936, allegedly completed posthumously by Otis A. Kline)

=Gardner F. Fox=

Llarn series

*"Warriors of Llarn" (1964)
*"Thief of Llarn" (1966)

Michael Moorcock

ojan the Swordsman series (juvenile short stories)

* "Sojan the Swordsman" (1957)
* "Sojan, Swordsman of Zylor" (1957)
* "Sojan and the Sea of Demons" (1957)
* "Sojan and the Plain of Mystery" (1958)
* "Sojan and the Sons of the Snake-God" (1958)
* "Sojan and the Devil Hunters of Norj" (1958)
* "Klan the Spoiler" (1958)
* "Dek of Noothar" (1957)
* "Rens Karto of Bersnol" (1958)

Kane of Old Mars series (writing as Edward Powys Bradbury)

*"Warrior of Mars" (1965) aka "City of the Beast"
*"Blades of Mars" (1965) aka "Lord of the Spiders"
*"Barbarians of Mars" (1965) aka "Masters of the Pit"

John Frederick Lange (writing as John Norman)

Gor series

*"Tarnsman of Gor" (1967)
*"Outlaw of Gor" (1967)
*"Priest-Kings of Gor" (1968)
*"Nomads of Gor" (1969)
*"Assassin of Gor" (1970)
*"Raiders of Gor" (1971)
*"Captive of Gor" (1972)
*"Hunters of Gor" (1974)
*"Marauders of Gor" (1975)
*"Tribesmen of Gor" (1976)
*"Slave Girl of Gor" (1977)
*"Beasts of Gor" (1978)
*"Explorers of Gor" (1979)
*"Fighting Slave of Gor" (1981)
*"Rogue of Gor" (1981)
*"Guardsman of Gor" (1981)
*"Savages of Gor" (1982)
*"Blood Brothers of Gor" (1982)
*"Kajira of Gor" (1983)
*"Players of Gor" (1984)
*"Mercenaries of Gor" (1985)
*"Dancer of Gor" (1986)
*"Renegades of Gor" (1986)
*"Vagabonds of Gor" (1987)
*"Magicians of Gor" (1988)
*"Witness of Gor" (2001)

Mike Resnick

Ganymede series

*"The Goddess of Ganymede" (1968)
*"Pursuit on Ganymede" (1968)

Charles Nuetzel

Torlo Hannis series

*"Warriors of Noomas" (1969)
*"Raiders of Noomas" (1969)

Lin Carter

Callisto series

*"Jandar of Callisto" (1972)
*"Black Legion of Calliso" (1972)
*"Sky Pirates of Callisto" (1973)
*"Mad Empress of Callisto" (1975)
*"Mind Wizards of Callisto" (1975)
*"Lankar of Callisto" (1975)
*"Ylana of Callisto" (1977)
*"Renegade of Callisto" (1978)

Green Star Series

*"Under the Green Star" (1972)
*"When the Green Star Calls" (1973)
*"By the Light of the Green Star" (1974)
*"As the Green Star Rises" (1975)
*"In the Green Star's Glow" (1976)

Mysteries of Mars series

*"The Man Who Loved Mars" (1973)
*"The Valley Where Time Stood Still" (1974)
*"The City Outside the World" (1977)
*"Down to a Sunless Sea" (1984)

Kenneth Bulmer (writing as Alan Burt Akers and as Dray Prescot)

Dray Prescot series

*"Transit to Scorpio" (1972)
*"The Suns of Scorpio" (1973)
*"Warrior of Scorpio" (1973)
*"Swordships of Scorpio" (1973)
*"Prince of Scorpio" (1974)
*"Manhounds of Antares" (1974)
*"Arena of Antares" (1974)
*"Fliers of Antares" (1975)
*"Bladesman of Antares" (1975)
*"Avenger of Antares" (1975)
*"Armada of Antares" (1976)
*"The Tides of Kregen" (1976)
*"Renegade of Kregen" (1976)
*"Krozair of Kregen" (1977)
*"Secret Scorpio" (1977)
*"Savage Scorpio" (1978)
*"Captive Scorpio" (1978)
*"Golden Scorpio" (1978)
*"A Life for Kregen" (1979)
*"A Sword for Kregen" (1979)
*"A Fortune for Kregen" (1979)
*"A Victory for Kregen" (1980)
*"Beasts of Antares" (1980)
*"Rebel of Antares" (1980)
*"Legions of Antares" (1981)
*"Allies of Antares" (1981)
*"Mazes of Scorpio" (1982)
*"Delia of Vallia" (1982)
*"Fires of Scorpio" (1983)
*"Talons of Scorpio" (1983)
*"Masks of Scorpio" (1984)
*"Seg the Bowman" (1984)
*"Werewolves of Kregen" (1985)
*"Witches of Kregen" (1985)
*"Storm Over Vallia" (1985)
*"Omens of Kregen" (1985)
*"Warlord of Antares" (1988)
*"Scorpio Reborn" (Wiedergeborens Scorpio, 1991)
*"Scorpio Assassin" (Meuchelmörder von Scorpio, 1992)
*"Scorpio Invasion" (Invasion von Scorpio, 1992)
*"Scorpio Ablaze" (Scorpio in Flammen, 1992)
*"Scorpio Drums" (Die Trommeln von Scorpio, 1992)
*"Scorpio Triumph" (Der Triumpf von Scorpio, 1993)
*"Intrigue of Antares" (Die Intrige von Antares, 1993)
*"Gangs of Antares" (Die Banditen von Antares, 1994)The following have only been published in German translation:
*"Demons of Antares" (Die Dämonen von Antares, 1994)
*"Scourge of Antares" (Die Geißel von Antares, 1994)
*"Challenge of Antares" (Die Fehde von Antares, 1995)
*"Wrath of Antares" (Der Zorn von Antares, 1996)
*"Shadows over Kregen" (Schatten über Kregen, 1996)
*"Murder on Kregen" (Mord auf Kregen, 1997)
*"Turmoil on Kregen" (Aufruhr auf Kregen, 1997)
*"Betrayal on Kregen" (Verrat auf Kregen, 1998)

Leigh Brackett

Eric John Stark series

*"Eric John Stark: Outlaw of Mars" (1982)
**"The Secret of Sinharat" (1964 - revision of "Queen of the Martian Catacombs" (1949))
**"People of the Talisman" (1964 - revision of "Black Amazon of Mars" (1951))
*"Enchantress of Venus (aka City of the Lost Ones) (1949)
*"The Book of Skaith" (1976)
**"The Ginger Star" (1974)
**"The Hounds of Skaith" (1974)
**"The Reavers of Skaith" (1976)


*"The Sword of Rhiannon"
*"Lorelei Of The Red Mist (with Ray Bradbury)"

Gerard F. Conway (writing as Wallace Moore)

Balzan Of The Cat People series

*"The Blood Stones" (1975)
*"The Caves of Madness" (1975)
*"The Lights of Zetar" (1975)

Andrew J. Offutt

*"Chieftain of Andor" (1976)

Mike Sirota

Reglathium series

*"Prisoner of Reglathium"
*"Conqueror of Reglathium"
*"Caves of Reglathium"
*"Dark Straits of Reglathium"
*"Slaves of Reglathium"

Del DowDell

*"Warlord of Ghandor" (1977)
*"Spearmen of Arn" (1978)

David J. Lake

Xuma Series

*"The Gods of Xuma" (1978)
*"Warlords of Xuma" (1983)

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