Sword and planet is a subgenre of science fantasy that features rousing adventure stories set on other planets, and usually featuring humans as protagonists. The name derives from the heroes of the genre engaging their adversaries in hand-to-hand combat primarily with simple melée weapons such as swords, even in a setting that often has advanced technology. Although there are works that herald the genre, such as Percy Greg's Across the Zodiac (1880) and Edwin Lester Arnold's Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation (1905; published in the US in 1964 as Gulliver of Mars), the prototype for the genre is 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 necessarily feature any scientific rigor, being instead romantic tales of high adventure. For example, little thought is given to explaining why the environment of the alien planet is compatible with life from Earth, just that it does in order to allow the hero to move about and interact with the natives. Native technology will often break the known laws of physics.
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 and 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 and planet and planetary romance although some works are considered to belong to one and not the other. Influenced by the likes of A Princess of Mars yet more modern and technologically savvy, sword and planet more directly imitates the conventions established by Burroughs in the Mars series. That is to say that the hero is alone as the only human being from Earth, swords are the weapon of choice, and while the alien planet has some advanced technology, it is used only in limited applications to advance the plot or increase the grandeur of the setting. In general the alien planet will seem to be more medieval and primitive than Earth. This leads to anachronistic situations such as flying ships held aloft by anti-gravity technology, while ground travel is done by riding domesticated native animals.
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, natively known as Amtor. 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 primarily 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. Such authors included Lin Carter and Michael Moorcock. Except for continuations of the extended Dray Prescot and Gor sequences, and occasional parodies of earlier series, not many new works in the genre have appeared from major publishers since 1980. One notable exception are two books by S. M. Stirling, published by Tor, The Sky People, (2006)) and In the Courts of the Crimson Kings (2008). Smaller presses have continued to issue new works in the genre, though, most notably Wildside Press, primarily through The Borgo Press imprint. In 2007, for example, Wildside/Borgo published a new book in Charles Nuetzel's Torlo Hannis of Noomas series, and printed the Talera trilogy by Charles Allen Gramlich (Charles Gramlich).
What follows is admittedly incomplete, but is a 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.
Across the Zodiac: The Story of a Wrecked Record (1880) is a science fiction novel by Percy Greg, who has been credited as an originator of the sword and planet subgenre of science fiction.Amtor
The Amtor or Venus Series is a science fantasy series consisting of four novels and one novelette written by American author Edgar Rice Burroughs. Most of the stories were first serialized in Argosy, an American pulp magazine. It is sometimes known as the Carson Napier of Venus Series, after its main character, Carson Napier. Napier attempted a solo voyage to Mars, but, because of mistaken navigational calculations, he finds himself heading toward the planet Venus instead. The novels, part of the Sword and Planet subgenre of science fiction, follow earthman Napier's fantastic adventures after he crash-lands on Venus, called Amtor by its human-like inhabitants. Unlike Barsoom, the desert planet of Mars, these stories are set upon a waterworld like Earth. Most of the events of the series take place on the island of Vepaja, the kingdom of Korva on the island of Anlap, and the city-states of Havatoo and Kormor on the tropical continent north of Vepaja.
As is common in Burroughs' works, the hero is bold and daring, and quickly wins the heart of the Vepajan princess (or janjong) Duare, though class prejudices long inhibit her from expressing her love. Napier meets many varied peoples, including the Vepajans, refugees from an overthrown empire; the Thorists, thinly disguised communists who ran the Vepajans out of what is now the Thoran empire; pirates; the super-scientific eugenicists of Havatoo; the zombies of Kormor; the fascistic Zanis of Korva; and the hideous Cloud People.
In the course of his adventures within the series, Napier becomes a pirate (twice), escapes from the dread Room of the Seven Doors, and is finally made a prince, or tanjong, of Korva after the overthrow of the Zanis. Napier also rescues princesses from incomparable dangers innumerable times.Avenger of Antares
Avenger of Antares is a science fiction novel written by Kenneth Bulmer under the pseudonym of Alan Burt Akers. It is the tenth volume in his extensive Dray Prescot series of sword and planet novels, set on the fictional world of Kregen, a planet of the Antares star system in the constellation of Scorpio. It was first published by DAW Books in 1975.
The Dray Prescot series is made of several cycles of novels, each cycle essentially forming a series within the series. In addition to being the tenth volume in the series as a whole, Avenger of Antares is also the fifth of six volumes in the Havilfar Cycle. It is set on the fictional continent of Havilfar.
The 52 completed novels of the Dray Prescot series were written by Bulmer between 1972 and 1997, when a stroke stopped his writing, also the later Dray Prescot books, after 1988, were originally only published in German. The series is in the spirit of Edgar Rice Burroughs John Carter of Mars series.Callisto series
The Callisto series is a sequence of eight science fiction novels by Lin Carter, of the sword and planet subgenre, first published by Dell Books from 1972-1978. They were written in homage to the Barsoom and Amtor novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs.Calories (story)
"Calories" is a science fiction short story by American writer L. Sprague de Camp, part of his Viagens Interplanetarias series. It was first published under the title "Getaway on Krishna" in the magazine Ten Story Fantasy in the issue for Spring 1951. It first appeared in book form under the present title in the collection Sprague de Camp's New Anthology of Science Fiction, published simultaneously in hardcover by Hamilton and in paperback by Panther Books in 1953.Dray Prescot series
The Dray Prescot series is a sequence of fifty-two science fiction novels and a number of associated short stories of the subgenre generally classified as sword and planet, written by British author Kenneth Bulmer under the pseudonym of Alan Burt Akers.
The sequence is made up of eleven cycles of novels, each cycle essentially forming a series within the series. Four novels and three short stories are stand-alone narratives falling outside the system of cycles. Each tale is narrated in the first person by the protagonist, Dray Prescot. To support the illusion that the fictional Prescot was the actual author, later volumes were bylined "by Dray Prescot as told to Alan Burt Akers."Gor
Gor is the Counter-Earth setting for an extended series of sword and planet novels by author and philosophy professor John Norman. The series is inspired particularly by the Barsoom series and Almuric, but is also known for its content combining philosophy, erotica and science fantasy. The series is known for its repeated depiction of sexual fantasies involving men abducting and physically and sexually brutalizing women, who grow to enjoy their submissive state. According to The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Norman's "sexual philosophy" is "widely detested", but the books have inspired a Gorean subculture.The series has been variably referred to by publishers with several names including The Chronicles of Counter-Earth (Ballantine Books), The Saga of Tarl Cabot (DAW Books), Gorean Cycle (Tandem Books), Gorean Chronicles (Masquerade Books), Gorean Saga (Open Road Media) and The Counter-Earth Saga (DAW Books, for novels with a protagonist other than Tarl Cabot).Gorean subculture
Gorean subculture is a fandom based on the philosophy espoused in John Norman's long-running sword and planet novel series Chronicles of Counter-Earth.Merovingen Nights
Merovingen Nights is a series of shared universe science fantasy books set in writer C. J. Cherryh's Alliance-Union universe. There are eight books in the series, a novel by Cherryh, Angel with the Sword, and seven short fiction anthologies which Cherryh edited. The books were published by DAW Books between 1985 and 1991.
Angel with the Sword was originally published by Cherryh in 1985 as a free-standing novel. The Merovingen Nights series came into being two years later when Cherryh began editing seven anthologies that were set in the same universe as Angel with the Sword. Angel with the Sword was subsequently republished with the Merovingen Nights branding.
The books take place on the planet Merovin in the Alliance-Union universe after AD 3240, and as such, they are definitively science fiction. But the level of technology on the planet is quite backwards for the 33rd century. For example, most personal weaponry is of the knife or sword variety; relatively few firearms are available and in any case nothing more advanced than a revolver. In addition, the planet Merovin is isolated, forsaken by the rest of humanity because of poor interstellar relations with an aggressive alien species, the Sharrh.
Because of these limitations on technology, trade, and travel, and because many of the stories feature swordplay and skullduggery, the series is reminiscent of the old sword and planet subgenre of speculative fiction. As such, the term science fantasy might be a more appropriate label for the books than science fiction.Percy Greg
Percy Greg (7 January 1836 Bury - 24 December 1889, Chelsea), son of William Rathbone Greg, was an English writer.Percy Greg, like his father, wrote about politics, but his views were violently reactionary: his History of the United States to the Reconstruction of the Union (1887) can be said to be more of a polemic, rather than a history.
His Across the Zodiac (1880) is an early science fiction novel, said to be the progenitor of the sword-and-planet genre. For that novel, Greg created what may have been the first artistic language that was described with linguistic and grammatical terminology. It also contained what is possibly the first instance in the English language of the word "Astronaut".
In 2010 a crater on Mars was named Greg in recognition of his contribution to the lore of Mars.Planetary romance
Planetary romance is a subgenre of science fiction or science fantasy in which the bulk of the action consists of adventures on one or more exotic alien planets, characterized by distinctive physical and cultural backgrounds. Some planetary romances take place against the background of a future culture where travel between worlds by spaceship is commonplace; others, particularly the earliest examples of the genre, do not, and invoke flying carpets, astral projection, or other methods of getting between planets. In either case, it is the planetside adventures which are the focus of the story, not the mode of travel.The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction mentions two caveats as to the usage of the term. First, while the setting may be in an alien world, its nature is of little relevance to the plot, as is the case of James Blish's A Case of Conscience. Second, hard science fiction tales are excluded from this category, where an alien planet, while being a critical component of the plot, is just a background for a primarily scientific endeavor, such as Hal Clement' s Mission of Gravity, possibly with embellishments.
A significant precursor of the genre is Edwin L. Arnold's Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation (1905).In Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels (1985), editor and critic David Pringle named Bradley and Anne McCaffrey two "leading practitioners nowadays" for the planetary romance type of science fiction.There is a significant overlap of the genre with that of sword and planet.Science fantasy
Science fantasy is a mixed genre within the umbrella of speculative fiction which simultaneously draws upon and/or combines tropes and elements from both science fiction and fantasy. In a science fiction story, the world is scientifically possible, while a science fantasy world contains elements which violate the scientific laws of the real world. Nevertheless the world of science fantasy is logical and often is supplied with science-like explanations of these violations.During the Golden Age of Science Fiction, the fanciful science fantasy stories were seen in sharp contrast to the terse, scientifically plausible material that came to dominate mainstream science fiction typified by the magazine Astounding Stories. Although at this time, science fantasy stories were often relegated to the status of children's entertainment, their freedom of imagination and romance proved to be an early major influence on the "New Wave" writers of the 1960s, who became exasperated by the limitations of "hard" SF.Eric R. Williams lists the following "microgenres" which can belong to science fantasy: Discovery, Dying Earth, ET Relations, Mad Scientist, Space Opera, Sword and Planet. Carl D. Malmgren classifies science fantasy by the type of the violation of science and distinguishes the following main types: the time-loop motif, the alternate-present world, the counterscientific world, and the hybridized world.Distinguishing between science fiction and fantasy, Rod Serling claimed that the former was "the improbable made possible" while the latter was "the impossible made probable". As a combination of the two, science fantasy gives a scientific veneer of realism to things that simply could not happen in the real world under any circumstances. Where science fiction does not permit the existence of fantasy or supernatural elements, science fantasy explicitly relies upon them.Sword of Chaos
Sword of Chaos and Other Stories is an anthology of sword and planet short stories edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley. The stories are set in Bradley's world of Darkover. The book was first published by DAW Books in April, 1982.Swords Against Tomorrow
Swords Against Tomorrow is an anthology of fantasy stories, edited by Robert Hoskins. It was first published in paperback by Signet Books in August 1970.The book collects five sword and sorcery or sword and planet short stories and novelettes by various authors, together with an introduction and introductory notes to the individual stories by the editor.
All of the authors represented except Leigh Brackett were members of the Swordsmen and Sorcerers' Guild of America (SAGA), a somewhat informal literary group of fantasy authors active from the 1960s to the 1980s, making the book a precursor of the five Flashing Swords! anthologies of SAGA-member works edited by Lin Carter from 1973 to 1981.The Spell Sword
The Spell Sword is a sword and planet novel by American writer Marion Zimmer Bradley, part of the Darkover series. The book was co-authored by Paul Edwin Zimmer, Bradley's brother, though he was not credited. The Spell Sword was first published in paperback by DAW in 1974 OCLC 156484864 and has been republished several times.
This book is the first in a trilogy within the Darkover series dealing with the evolution of Towers and Keepers. The sequels are The Forbidden Tower (1977) and The Bloody Sun (1979), which takes place many decades later. In "Author's Notes on Chronology", Bradley states that in her view, The Spell Sword occurs about thirty years before Star of Danger.The Sword of Aldones
The Sword of Aldones is a sword and planet novel by American writer Marion Zimmer Bradley, part of her Darkover series. It was first published by Ace Books in 1962, dos-à-dos with her other novel The Planet Savers. Bradley revised and rewrote the novel publishing it as Sharra's Exile in 1981.
In his 1977 review of the re-release of The Sword of Aldones, Lester del Rey wrote, "It presents a somewhat different Darkover than we find in later novels. But even the early stories have the wonderful allure of this strange world.Transit to Scorpio
Transit to Scorpio is a science fiction novel by British writer Kenneth Bulmer, written under the pseudonym of Alan Burt Akers. It is the first book in his Dray Prescot series of sword and planet novels, set on the fictional world of Kregen, a planet of the Antares star system in the constellation of Scorpio. It was first published by DAW Books in 1972.
Bulmer's choice of the setting for the book, and for the series as a whole, is a subtle tribute to the Martian series of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the prototypical Sword and Planet romance. The star Antares, similar in brightness and hue to the planet Mars in the night sky, was given its name (meaning "like Mars") by early astronomers to compare it to and help distinguish it from the planet. Bulmer is signalling that his series is similar to that of his model. The Dray Prescot series is made of several cycles of novels, each cycle essentially forming a series within the series. In addition to being the first volume in the series as a whole, Transit to Scorpio is the initial volume in the Delian Cycle, which introduces the reader to a number of different Kregen locales as Prescot struggles to find his place in this strange new world and to win the hand of Delia, the love of his life.Viagens Interplanetarias
The Viagens Interplanetarias series is a sequence of science fiction stories by L. Sprague de Camp, begun in the late 1940s and written under the influence of contemporary space opera and sword and planet stories, particularly Edgar Rice Burroughs's Martian novels. Set in the future in the 21st and 22nd centuries, the series is named for the quasi-public Terran agency portrayed as monopolizing interstellar travel, the Brazilian-dominated Viagens Interplanetarias ("Interplanetary Voyages" or "Interplanetary Tours" in Portuguese). It is also known as the Krishna series, as the majority of the stories belong to a sequence set on a fictional planet of that name. While de Camp started out as a science fiction writer and his early reputation was based on his short stories in the genre, the Viagens tales represent his only extended science fiction series.
The Viagens stories were written in two phases; the first, written between 1948 and 1953 and published between 1949 and 1958, was a burst of activity that produced the first four Krishna novels and most of the non-Krishna pieces, including all the short stories. The second, produced at a more deliberate pace from 1977–1992, comprised the remaining four Krishna novels and the two novels of the Kukulkan sequence. The early works established the setting of a cosmopolitan future interstellar civilization comprising both Terrans and a handful of other space-faring races who trade and squabble with each other while attempting to maintain a benign stewardship of the more primitive planetary societies with which they come into contact. The later works assumed but largely ignored this background, concentrating exclusively on the adventures of Terrans on the alien worlds of Krishna and Kukulkan.