PHILLIP R. BURGER
In the pantheon of Burroughs heroes, Carson Napier is considered a tad deficient.
He's a poor copy of John Carter of Mars, an incompetent boob, an accident waiting to happen, a dolt, a dullard, a dim bulb. He's cautious to the point of cowardice, he's unsure of his own abilities, and he can't even aim his spaceship in the right direction. In short, he's a complete and utter washout.
Burroughs readers are accustomed to seeing their favorite author and his creations treated with such contempt. The strange thing is Burroughs readers themselves have made this assessment of Carson Napier. Self-professed “True Fans”—those who wrap their lives around Burroughs's writings in the way Trekkers worship the words of Mr. Spock—can't stand ol' Wrong Way Carson.
That's just fine. When I was thirteen I didn't think much of Carson either. He didn't have John Carter's fighting abilities, David Innes of Pellucidar's neocolonial ambitions, or Tarzan's nasty attitude. Burroughs's vision of Venus—Amtor to its inhabitants—just didn't seem exciting enough (maybe because it was always cloudy) and couldn't hold a candle to the fantasy Mars he named Barsoom. But then I grew up and eventually realized that Burroughs as a writer had grown up as well, or at least was trying to. Written in 1931, twenty years into his career, Pirates of Venus was Burroughs's attempt to breathe some life into a well- worn field, an attempt to make his rather simple brand of science fiction relevant again. Flawed and incompetent characters peopled mainstream