As a lifelong fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs (I began reading my father's copies of the Ballantine and Ace ERB editions as a third grader in the early 1970s), I have spent much of that life feeling mixed emotions whenever I encounter new adventures of Burroughs' heroes written by authors other than the master himself. Certainly these return voyages into the ERB realm have been uneven at best. On the one hand we have seen the heights of Tarzan and the Valley of Gold, Swords Against the Moon Men and Tarzan and the Dark Heart of Time; on the other hand has been such dreck as John Bloodstone's Tarzan on Mars and a couple of privately published novels in recent years that contain lovely art, but whose author displays little in the way of either writing talent or an understanding of what made ERB's characters so great in the first place. Everything else falls pretty much somewhere in between.

I am pleased to report that Matt Betts' new Carson of Venus novel, The Edge of All Worlds, falls squarely on the Valley of Gold/Dark Heart of Time end of the spectrum. The book is an absolute delight. From the opening pages of the novel's Foreward - utilizing that oh-so-Burroughsian framing device in which the author becomes a character in the story and firmly sets the stage in what we like to think of as "The Real World" - it is clear that Betts gets it. The story grabs the reader immediately and never lets go, sharing with us in the process a tale that I like to think would have pleased and entertained ERB himself considerably.

Here I must make an admission: While ERB has always been my favorite storyteller, I have to admit that his Venus books never stood as high in my estimation as so many of the others - and Carson Napier was without a doubt my least favorite of the Burroughs heroes when I first read them. To be fair, this is partly the fault of Richard Lupoff; I'd read Lupoff's Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure BEFORE reading the Venus books themselves, and so my response to those books was undoubtedly influenced by Lupoff's description of Napier as "Wrong-Way Carson," the accidental hero who pretty much blunders his way through his series of adventures.

(In retrospect this actually makes Carson the most human and realistic of ERB's heroes, and therefore the one most like myself - but that was a revelation that came to me only through the passage of time and the experiencing of my own life's misadventures.)

But I also agreed with Lupoff that, by the time of ERB's final Carson tale (The Wizard of Venus), Carson had matured somewhat and was becoming more… well, heroic. He was still a far cry from the likes of John Carter, granted, but he was evolving into more of the type of hero I had become accustomed to rooting for during my formative years. And so I did feel a twinge of disappointment that his saga ended so abruptly.  But lo and behold, Mr. Betts gives us a Carson Napier that is at once still true to ERB's original creation while at the same time continuing to mature into a character deserving of his place in the pantheon of heroes. 

Betts' characterizations of Carson, Duare and Ero Shan are spot-on, as are the new adversaries they face during the course of the adventure, and the settings in which the action takes place are so thoroughly Burroughsian that one can't help but wonder whether Betts somehow managed to channel ERB himself. Said action is described in appropriately pulpish splendor, with plenty of typically slam-bang derring-do and just the right amount of humor. Chapter 18, entitled "Battle In The Air," especially stands out as one of the most exciting literary action sequences I have read in a good, long time.

Better still, Betts successfully achieves both of the novel's goals: to stand alone as the latest adventure of Carson of Venus, AND as the opening to a promised four-part mega-epic entitled Swords of Eternity which stretches across the entire "ERB Universe" to include his other mythic heroes and realms. The mysterious appearances on Venus of ERB stalwart Jason Gridley and a new character named Victory Harben sets the stage for a grand, sweeping adventure that, if this first chapter is any indication, promises to rank alongside the best that ERB himself produced during his career. 

I would be remiss if I did not note that the book also contains a novelette by Christopher Paul Carey (author of the aforementioned Swords Against The Moon Men, among other outstanding works) entitled "Pellucidar: Dark of the Sun." This story serves as a prologue to the Swords of Eternity series and gives some insight into the new character Victory Harben. Carey does his usual fine job, and it is especially gratifying to see that he will be authoring the final novel in the mega-epic. I can't wait!

There is so much more than I would like to say about this novel, but to do so would only steal from readers the joy of discovering it for themselves. So I will simply conclude by (1) congratulating Mr. Betts for delivering such an enjoyable bit of literary escapism (and boy, we need that today more than ever, it seems); (2) thanking the good folks at Edgar Rice Burroughs Incorporated for this promise of still more great adventures to come; and (3) entreating all readers - those who are fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs and those who simply love a great story well-told - to read this book. 

I can't emphasize it enough: READ THIS BOOK! You won't be sorry.