I’m about halfway through Kline’s second Venus book, Prince of Peril, and it has been awesome.
I regrettably did not get a chance to talk much about Planet of Peril, but do want to take a minute to note that it did feature a pretty kick-ass female lead, Vernia, who was, like Maza, a fighting general who had become the most powerful queen on Venus after defeating several rivals in a bloody succession war. The scientist who sends Grandon to Venus recounts the beginning of Vernia’s reign:
The wild, mountainous kingdom of Uxpo, of which these forests are a part, is situated at the extreme southern limit of the empire of Reabon. Uxpo, together with seven other kingdoms, was originally conquered by the famous emperor, Margo, and its fierce, previously unbeaten mountaineer people reduced to slavery.
“Upon Margo’s death, three years ago, the people of Uxpo entertained high hopes of freedom. They had learned that the emperor’s daughter, Vernia, a mere slip of a girl, had succeeded to the throne; they revolted and, almost overnight, slew every soldier, officer and agent of the empire. Their old king had been executed by Margo at the time of the invasion, but his elder son, Lugi, was placed on the throne.
“Two days afterward a courier brought news that the princess Vernia was coming at the head of a hundred thousand soldiers. Lugi assembled his five thousand mountaineers and went forth. The army of Uxpo was annihilated, and Lugi was executed for treason. Once more the fierce Uxponians bowed their necks to the yoke of the conqueror.
Unconquerable on the battlefield, even able to escape assassins, the princess finds herself about to be undone by a technicality by her main rival. While Vernia and Robert Grandon go bouncing from adventure to adventure, trying to get back to her capital, the timer is running out – if she’s gone for a year, she’ll be considered to have abdicated the throne. The big happy ending when Vernia and Grandon are able to return to the capital, have outwitted the big bad and thwarted his scheme to marry Vernia and seize the throne, and themselves are married is one of the most awesome S&P endings ever.
Four soldiers removed the bodies and order was restored with surprising celerity. Again Grandon moved to the foot of the throne where Vernia awaited him, wide-eyed and trembling. He took her hands in his for a moment, then she resolutely bade him proceed.
Upon his return the four kings had prostrated themselves on the steps leading to the throne in accordance with the customs of their ancestors. Grandon turned to Vernia. “I am emperor now, am I not?”
“Assuredly, my lord.”
“And my word is law?”
“So long as it does not conflict with the written constitution of Reabon.”
“Is this matter of mounting to the throne on the backs of one’s vassal kings written into the constitution?”
“No. It is a custom that has been observed for generations and signifies the complete submission of the heads of the various kingdoms.”
“Then it shall be abolished. I expect loyalty from my subjects, but not abject servility.”
Then, to the surprise of the four kings, he bade them rise and stand, each man on the step he occupied, two to the right and two to the left. Thus attended, Grandon mounted to the throne while the spectators looked on in amazement.
When he had taken his seat with quiet dignity and rested the scarbo across the arms of the throne, Vernia mounted and bowed before him with right hand extended palm downward—an example which was followed by the entire assemblage. It was indeed a day of surprise for the good people of Reabon, for no sooner had she knelt before him than he, in violation of an age-old custom which decreed that the empress should sit at the feet of her lord, swung the scarbo to one side and lifted her up beside him on the throne.
“You shouldn’t have done this,” she gasped. “My place is—”
“Custom be hanged!” he responded, and there, in full view of that vast multitude, he kissed his bride full upon the lips.
The crowd responded with a resounding cheer. “A long and happy reign to our emperor and his empress!”
Then the shimmering scarlet curtains crept around the throne, and Grandon forgot all else when two soft arms stole around his neck and Vernia’s fluffy head nestled on his shoulder.
Prince of Peril has not, as of yet, had so satisfying a female lead as Planet of Peril (unlike Vernia or Maza, Princess Loralie is a bit more of a typical damsel in distress and, for the first half of the book, gets very little characterization while she’s being carried off by evil princes, cannibal apes, and horny robots). Still, it’s had some really great set pieces, including a Burroughs homage that combines the scene of Tarzan defeating the Ape King in hand to hand combat and Carter fighting the Tharks on Mars. The Venusian ape king takes a new bride each month, and this one wants to mix things up a bit and marry a food-woman (they call humans food-men and food-women, because they eat them). The monthly wedding ceremony also provides an opportunity for anyone who wishes to challenge the king and take the throne and the wives.
“Who will fight Rorg for his bride and his kingdom?” The final challenge was flung out by the victorious king-ape as he looked triumphantly about him. “Speak now, or…”
“I’ll fight you, Rorg,” I said, drawing club and knife and stepping in front of the giant. As I did so I caught a fleeting glimpse of Taliboz and Loralie. On the face of the traitor was pleased anticipation. The eyes of the princess showed surprise, and something more. Incredible as it appeared from her recent actions, it was undoubtedly concern for my safety.
But these were only fleeting impressions.
Borg stared incredulously down at me for a moment, evidently unable to believe that I had actually challenged the king of the cave-apes. Then he struck at me quickly, but not exerting his full strength, as if I were some insect annoying him.
Instinctively I used my club as if it had been a sword—parrying the blow with ease and countering with a thrust which bit into his furry abdomen, drawing blood and eliciting a grunt of rage and pain.
Although the club was so constructed that I could not hope to inflict a mortal wound by thrusting the sharp flint teeth with which it was armed, it could and did cause considerable pain and annoyance. As the cave-ape system of fighting was merely that of striking and dodging. I hoped to offset my adversary’s enormous advantage of strength and reach by employing the technique of a swordsman.
With an angry bellow, Borg swung a terrific blow for my legs. Again I parried, and countered with a neck cut which would probably have terminated the engagement in my favor had it not been blocked by one of his huge tusks. The tusk snapped off and clattered to the rock; but as a result, the club wounded him only slightly, adding to his fury.
Foaming at the mouth and gnashing his teeth in his rage, the king-ape beset me with a rain of blows that would have been irresistible to any but a trained swordsman. Splinters and bits of broken flint flew from our clubs as time and again I parried his terrific blows.
After each blow I countered with a cut or thrust, and soon my opponent was bleeding from head to foot; yet his strength and quickness seemed rather to increase with each fresh wound. Had he possessed a swordsman’s training, I verily believe that ape would have been invincible on his own planet or any other.
Presently I succeeded in raking him across the forehead with the point of my weapon, so that the blood ran down in his eyes, half blinding him. But he wiped the blood away with the back of one huge paw and countered with a blow, the force of which numbed my wrist and splintered my club into fragments.
I leaped back, then hurled the club handle straight for the great, snarling mouth as he bounded forward to finish me. It struck him in the front teeth, breaking off several and momentarily bewildering him.
In that moment I leaped, and with the fingers of my left hand entwined in the wiry hair of his chest and my legs gripping his waist, I buried my flint knife again and again in his brawny neck. Blood spurted from his pulsing jugular as he endeavored to shake me off, to reach me with his sharp fangs, and to gore me with his single remaining tusk. But his mighty strength was spent —his lifeblood draining.
A quiver shook the giant frame and like some tall tree of the forest felled by the woodman’s axe, he toppled backward, crashing to the ground.
Leaping quickly to my feet, I seized the club of the fallen ape-monarch and, brandishing it aloft, said, “Rorg is dead, and Zinlo is king. Who will fight Zinlo? Who will be next to die?”
From the throats of several of the ape-warriors in the semicircle from which Urg had come, came low growls, but none advanced, and the growls subsided as I singled out in turn with my gaze each of the truculent ones who had voiced them.
Far below me, the mob of apes was clamoring, “Meat! We want our meat!”
I knew that, spent as I was, the enormous body of Rorg was more than I could raise aloft and hurl to the mob below, so I had recourse to an old wrestling trick. Seizing the limp right arm of the fallen king-ape, I dragged the body to the edge of the cliff. Then, bringing the arm over my shoulder in an application of the principle of the lever, I heaved the remains of Borg over my head.
A moment later the milling beasts below were tearing the carcass to pieces, snarling and snapping over their feast. This custom, I afterward learned, had been established in consequence of the belief that the flesh of a strong, brave individual would confer strength and bravery on the one who devoured it.
Again I brandished my club aloft, shouting, “Who will fight Zinlo for his kingdom? Speak now, or keep silence for another endir.”
This time I heard not even a single growl from the warriors on the cone top.
An old warrior who had lost both tusks, an ear, and several of his fingers, stepped from the ranks and advanced to the cliff edge. “Rorg is dead,” he announced. “Farewell to Rorg.”
Following his words, a peculiar, quavering cry went up from the throats of the thousands of apes congregated in the crater, as well as from those on the plateau. So weird and mournful did it sound that I shivered involuntarily.
As the last plaintive notes died away, the old warrior shouted, “Zinlo is king. Hail, Zinlo!”
A deafening din followed as the ape-horde, brandishing knives and clubs aloft and clattering them together, cried, “Hail, Zinlo!”
Another great bit has been the encounter with the 5000 year old Prince and Princess who turned themselves and their followers into robots, and now the Prince is all “You must mate with us!”
There’s some great uncanny valley horror to this that you see much later in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.
The page stopped before an ornate doorway, two guards saluted and opened massive doors. Then a pair of scarlet curtains were drawn back, revealing a luxurious boudoir. “His Highness, Zinlo of Olba,” announced the page as I entered the room.
The curtains fell in place behind me. I heard the guards close the heavy doors.
As I looked at the beauteous dead-alive creature that reclined on a luxuriously cushioned divan in a scarlet and gold decked recess, a feeling of revulsion swept over me; yet, paradoxically enough, this was combined with admiration. I was revolted at thought of the nearness of this living dead thing, but could not but admire the consummate art that had created so glorious an imitation of the human form.
I realized that if I would live to be of assistance to Loralie I had a part to play.
Xunia smiled languidly, seductively, as I stood before the raised divan just outside the niche it occupied. With feline grace she extended a slender, dimpled hand. Shuddering inwardly, I took it, expecting to feel the cold clamminess of death. But it was as warm as my own and as natural—from its white back in which a delicate tracery of blue veins showed, to the pink- tipped, tapering fingers. I raised it to my lips and released it, but she clung to my fingers for a moment, pulling me to a seat on a low ottoman just in front of her.
“Long have I awaited your coming, prince of my heart,” she said. “Be not afraid to come near to me, for it is my desire and my command.”
“To be prince of your heart were indeed an honor,” I replied, “yet you name me this, having only seen me today.”
“The moment I saw you I knew it was so. Fear not, beloved, that there have been others before you. I am, and have ever been, virgin in mind as in body. Once I thought I loved, yes, but it was long ago, and then I was but a child.”
“You make me very jealous, nevertheless,” I said, remembering the part I had to play.
“I did not really love him, I swear it, dearest.” She ran her fingers through my hair in a gentle caress so natural, so womanly, that I found it well- nigh impossible to believe her other than a real princess of flesh and blood. Then, before I realized what she was about, she twined her arms about my neck and kissed me full upon my lips.
The kiss did not taste of acid, as I had imagined it would, but was like that of a normal, healthy girl, though it aroused in me a feeling of revulsion which I was at some pains to conceal.
“I go now, beloved, to prepare for your marriage,” she said. “Await me here.”
As I stood up, she took my hand and arose gracefully. The time for action had arrived. Yet, as I looked down at the slender, beautiful figure, the long- lashed eyes gazing trustfully up into mine, I hesitated to carry out the plan which I had been contemplating as I sat there on the ottoman before her— a plan with which I hoped to accomplish a double purpose—to rid myself of this machine-monster and to get her brother away from Loralie, for she would probably summon him telepathically, if in no other way.
I was trying to think of her as a dead thing in a machine, yet it seemed impossible that she was other than human, so natural was she, and so beautiful. But the thought of Loralie and the danger she was in steeled me to the task.
Seizing Xunia by her long black hair, I whipped out my stone knife and slashed the artificial muscles of the slim white throat. She gave one startled scream, which ended at the second slash of my knife, and went limp as I jerked the head backward, cracking the metallic structure which took the place of cervical vertebrae. Instead of blood, there spurted from the severed neck a tiny stream of clear fuming liquid, a few drops of which fell on my hand, burning it like molten metal.
Dropping the sagging body, I turned and was about to part the curtains which led out into the hall to see if the coast was clear, when I heard a stealthy sound behind me. Swiftly turning, I saw Xunia, apparently unharmed. In her right hand was a long, straight-bladed sword drawn back for a thrust. Behind her lay the body I had just destroyed.
I leaped back just in time to avoid her vicious lunge. Then, jerking my spiked club from my belt, I dealt her a blow which crushed her skull like an egg-shell. But scarcely had this body sunk to the floor ere a panel opened in the wall behind it and a third, armed like the second, stepped out to attack me.
“Fool,” mouthed the advancing figure. “Think you that you can slay one of the immortals?”
Prince of Peril has been much more episodic than Planet of Peril, but what episodes!
Perhaps one of the most amusing parts, though, was in the introduction, which includes an in-universe shout-out to Edgar Rice Burroughs:
Now I had been a devotee of imaginative fiction for many years, and had often thought of turning my hand to writing it. I prided myself on having a better than usual imagination; yet, I did not think of the implications of the theory of telepathy when Dr. Morgan told me that the man who built the thought-projector was on Mars. While I deferred to no one in my fondness for Edgar Rice Burroughs’s stories of John Carter and others on Barsoom, I was well aware of the fact that what we knew of the planet Mars made his wonderful civilization on that planet quite impossible. I said as much, going into facts and figures.
“Of course, we won’t really know for sure about the exact conditions there unless we land on Mars. But still we know enough to make Burroughs’s Mars probability zero,” I concluded.
Dr. Morgan nodded. “Entirely correct,” he said. “There is no such civilization on Mars.”
He then explained his own incredulity when his machine picked up the thoughts of a man who identified himself as a human being— one Lal Vak, a Martian scientist and psychologist. But Lal Vak was no less incredulous whoa Dr. Morgan identified himself as a human being and scientist of Earth. For Lal Vak was certain that there could be no human civilization on Earth, and cited facts and figures to prove it.