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DF Interview: Christopher Paul Carey brings high SF adventure in the Burroughs style with ‘Carson of Venus: The Flames Beyond’
By Byron Brewer
Carson of Venus faces his most epic adventure yet in The Flames Beyond. Carson Napier and his love Duare believe they have at last found a refuge from the dangers of Amtor in the peaceful city of Sanara, where Carson is the adopted son of the jong of Korva. But when Carson and Duare's element-powered airplane is attacked by a flock of raging angan bird-warriors, they find themselves caught in the web of Varlek Sar, a power-hungry scientist from the technocratic dystopia of Havatoo.
From writer Christopher Paul Carey and artist Cyrus Mesarcia comes Carson of Venus: The Flames Beyond! DF sat down with the scribe to discuss this epic adventure from American Mythology Productions.
Dynamic Forces: Chris, what is it about working in the Edgar Rice Burroughs universe that seems to bring out the best in you and other writers?
Christopher Paul Carey: Burroughs created a universe that was exceptionally expansive and cohesive, both vast enough and rich enough that other authors will never run out of interesting stories to tell. I first encountered ERB when I was eight years old, with the movie edition of At the Earth’s Core, but when I was twelve I read A Princess of Mars, which was a life-changing experience for me. Instantly, I knew I wanted to be a writer. Over the next three years, I devoured all of ERB’s works except for two or three hard-to-find titles. My first published novel, The Song of Kwasin, was co-authored with science fiction grand master Philip José Farmer, and was the third volume in Farmer’s Ancient Opar series, which was inspired by the lost city of Opar from ERB’s Tarzan novels. So for me personally, from the very beginning everything about my journey to becoming a writer has been inextricably bundled up in Edgar Rice Burroughs. That made the opportunity to script an original Carson of Venus miniseries such as The Flames Beyond particularly special for me.
DF: Many readers may not know Carson of Venus as well as they know other ERB creations such as Tarzan of the Apes or John Carter, Warlord of Mars. Give us some thumbnail background on this adventurer and then give us your take on him as a character.
Christopher Paul Carey: Carson Napier’s origin tale was told in ERB’s 1932 novel Pirates of Venus. Carson was a daredevil adventurer who became so bored with life that he decided to build a rocketship on an island off the coast of southern California and blast himself off to Mars. But before he left, Carson met with Edgar Rice Burroughs himself and arranged to remain in contact and send his story back to Earth via a mental projection technique he’d learned from a Hindu mystic. When Carson finally launched his rocket, he discovered that he and his team of engineers had failed to take into account the gravitational force of the Moon—and found himself hurled to Venus instead of Mars! He’s not known as “Wrong-way” Carson for nothing. Fortunately, Carson quickly found that Venus—or Amtor, as the locals call it—was inhabited by many exotic cultures and strange creatures, and was more than a cure for his ennui.
Carson is interesting because he’s more fallible, and hence a bit more relatable and human, than John Carter, ERB’s more famous and somewhat larger-than-life hero. Though Carson is involved in events that determine the fate of entire nations, he doesn’t end up ruling any like John Carter did, though Carson does become a prince in a country called Korva. However, daredevil adventurer that he is, Carson is always on the move; he doesn’t stay put long enough to settle down and carve out a permanent home in any kingdom.
DF: What can you tell us about this world Carson of Venus inhabits?
Christopher Paul Carey: First off, no accurate map exists of Amtor. This is because the locals believe that Amtor is flat, and consequently all of their maps are drawn to a wildly distorted scale. Because the Amtorians have no accurate way to navigate, the different regions of the planet tend to be isolated from one another. When Carson travels to the technologically advanced nation of Havatoo, he builds an airplane and flies off with his love, Duare, only to become helplessly lost, visiting one strange Venusian civilization after another. It’s a setup that makes for plenty of wondrous adventures.
The people of Amtor are youthful, having access to a longevity elixir. They wield swords, but they also use deadly ray guns. Their civilizations are varied and exotic, ranging from human-inhabited settlements built in immense miles-high trees, to cities of humanoid fish-people, to flocks of proud avian bird-people, to even weirder cultures like a species of humans who periodically split into two halves by mitosis. ERB’s imagination was fertile!
DF: Give readers the storyline for this adventure.
Christopher Paul Carey: Though the miniseries is bookended in the present day, I decided to set the main story of The Flames Beyond after the events of ERB’s novel The Wizard of Venus. Carson and Duare, along with their friends Ero Shan and Nalte, are testing a new element-powered airplane when they’re attacked by a flock of angans, the bird-people of Amtor. My editor and I wanted the miniseries to be more of a science fiction adventure à la Flash Gordon than a simple jungle adventure, so I decided to revisit the technocratic dystopia of Havatoo—essentially a city-state ruled by scientists—from ERB’s novel Lost on Venus. Carson’s encounter with the angans quickly draws him into the machinations of Varlek Sar, who has been sent to bring Carson back to Havatoo to force out of him his scientific knowledge from Earth. Along the way, Carson runs into the only other person to travel from Earth to Venus: a woman worshipped as a goddess who is said to have fallen from the sky out of the flames that surround Amtor. As it turns out, Varlek Sar needs both Carson and the Earth woman to complete his own nefarious plans.
DF: Tell readers a little, if you will, about Varlek Sar.
Christopher Paul Carey: Varlek Sar is a power-hungry biologist-warrior from the technologically advanced nation of Havatoo. He’s aware of Carson’s previous visit to Havatoo and the unique scientific knowledge from Earth that Carson possesses. But more than that, he’s interested in Carson’s mental projection technique, the method by which Carson communicates his adventures to his contact back on Earth. Using the high tech at his disposal and with the help of the woman from beyond the flames surrounding Amtor, Varlek Sar thinks he’s found a way to weaponize Carson’s unique ability to project his image. If Varlek Sar succeeds, not only will all of Amtor be in his crosshairs, but also faraway Earth itself.
DF: Can you compare/contrast the very important relationship Carson Napier and his love Duare share to, say, that of John Carter and Dejah Thoris?
Christopher Paul Carey: An element of the classic ERB formula is to create tension between the hero and his romantic interest, usually due to cultural misunderstanding. John Carter and Dejah Thoris resolve their misunderstanding by the end of the first novel in the Mars series, whereas Carson and Duare seem to make amends by the end of the first Venus novel, only then to be at odds again in the second book. So Duare is harder for Carson to win over, namely because it is taboo in her culture for a male to look at her—a princess of Vepaja—until she reaches the age of twenty, and she’s not quite nineteen when he first meets her. I think Burroughs took this different approach with the Venus series because he wanted to draw out the romantic tension over multiple books, rather than to have that tension evaporate after the first installment, as happened in many of his other series.
DF: What can you say about the art of Cyrus Mesarcia?
Christopher Paul Carey: It’s fabulous! He really took to the material well, rendering his own wonderful, original interpretations of Burroughs’ Amtor. His art is not only respectful of the original Venus novels but also of the long tradition of amazing artists who illustrated the world of Amtor. I couldn’t be more pleased, as I was with the amazing artwork for the main cover by the legendary Michael William Kaluta.
DF: Chris, what other projects are you involved in which you can tell our readers about, in or out of comics?
Christopher Paul Carey: This past year I came out with the novel Swords Against the Moon Men, an authorized sequel to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ lunar trilogy (The Moon Maid, The Moon Men, and The Red Hawk). The novel is lavishly illustrated by the talented Mark Wheatley and has knockout cover art by Chris Peuler—a beautiful production by Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., the very same company ERB himself founded to publish his own books.
Right now, I’m about to start work on another novel that hasn’t been announced, so I can’t reveal anything about it yet, but I’m extremely excited and I think Burroughs fans will enjoy it. Stay tuned!
And as they say on Amtor, jodades! (“Luck to you!”)
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Christopher Paul Carey for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Carson of Venus: The Flames Beyond #1 from American Mythology hits stores Dec. 26th!
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