Sword and planet science fiction is one of the oldest subgenres out there. The best stories of this type tend to be very old science fiction books, or homages to the classics. If you’re a fan of swashbuckling, fun, pulpy science fiction, you should definitely check out our curated guide to some of the best sword and planet books.
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A Princess Of Mars
Edgar Rice Burroughs
A Princess Of Mars is widely regarded as one of the most archetypal sword and planet science fiction stories in existence. It is emblematic of its time of writing, as it doesn’t so much draw on the world of real science as it does fantasy fiction and even pulp romance. If you want to check out arguably the most famous sword and planet story out there, A Princess Of Mars is the book for you!
Radiomen is a work of speculative science fiction which asks deeper questions than are often found in the genre. If you’re looking for a mix of mysterious psychics, praying aliens, and adorable dogs, Radiomen is a great choice. Many readers who read the book for the first time end up falling in love with it, and coming back time and time again to ponder the questions posed by Eleanor Lerman.
Kaldar, World of Antares
Kaldar, World of Antares is a compilation of several classic pulp tales into a single volume. If classic sci fi goodness taken from the pages of Magic Carpet and Weird Tales isn’t enough for you, this book even features an introduction by Ray Bradbury. The story itself is set on the faraway world of Kaldar, a world of deception, mystery, and intrigue. Like all the best sword and planet science fiction, Kaldar features a whole host of alien creatures to scare and delight the imagination.
Warrior of Llarn
Gardner Francis Fox
Gardner F Fox tells a tale that is sure to delight science fiction and fantasy fans alike in Warrior of Llarn. This sword and planet story is bursting with enjoyable genre tropes such as space barbarians and horse riding heroes. Unlike the most shallow fantasy sci fi, Warrior of Llarn has a little more depth thanks to some ideas involving the impact of nuclear technology. If you want a rip roaring space yarn, Warrior of Llarn is a fantastic choice.
Sojan The Swordsman
Can you imagine a better title for a sword and planet sci fi story than Sojan The Swordsman? Michael Moorcock originally deployed the title character in a self-published Tarzan fanzine, believe it or not, but has expanded his protagonist for this full release. Sojan is accompanied by a princess as they get into a whole host of intergalactic adventures, packed full of excitement and bizarre encounters. Pure sword and planet fun.
The World Of Tiers
Philip Jose Farmer
Farmer begins his World of Tiers series with The Maker of Universes. This is a sword and planet book which has been compared to CS Lewis! Why? Kind of like the Narnia tales, The Maker of Universes features the idea of a conduit between worlds. The alternative universe found here is a place unlike our own, where reality is vastly different. But is it a good place? Who exactly made it, and what do they have in store?
Jandar of Callisto
Jandar of Callisto is archetypal fantastical sci fi. From its setting on a moon of Jupiter, through to the presence of insectoid alien slave drivers and space pirates, Jandar is jam-packed with subgenre tropes. If you want intellectually challenging science fiction, look elsewhere, but if you want a fun and exciting space story, this tale has plenty to offer. Jandar of Callisto makes equal use of themes from science fiction and fantasy, so fans of either should definitely check this out.
Transit To Scorpio
Alan Burt Akers
Transit to Scorpio is packed with plenty of the most enjoyable sword and planet tropes out there, such as a wide range of alien races, space barbarians, and a heroic protagonist thrown into strange and challenging situations. This book is proof that fantasy science fiction is suited to more than one-off pulp stories, as its the opening volume of a 52 installment saga!
Balzan of The Cat People
One glance at the cover of The Blood Stones lets you know you’re in prime sword and planet territory. The Conan like figure lets you know exactly what you’re in for. The main character of The Blood Stones has been raised by a catlike race of aliens after crash landing on their world. This fantastic origin story is only the first of many mind-blowing ideas found in this gripping, fantastical science fiction book.
City Of The Chasch
When it comes to pulpy, fantastical science fiction, Jack Vance is arguably one of the best to ever do it. Responding to a distress call, the hero of this story crashlands on a hostile and strange alien world. How will he survive? How will he adjust? Much of the fun found in City of the Chasch comes from Vance’s depiction of the various alien races. If you want an archetypal example of sword and planet sci fi, City of the Chasch is a prime example.
Why is this subgenre of science fiction known as sword and planet?
Sword and planet sci fi books are very similar to fantasy tales. The term itself is an adjusted version of ‘sword and sorcery’. It is used to indicate the similarity between sword and planet science fiction and fantasy tales.
The reason for the similarity between sword and planet, and some fantasy stories, is due to the lack of real science available at the time this subgenre was first written.
Because writers didn’t have nearly the same level of real scientific inspiration as found in later years, authors of the sword and planet time period didn’t focus on scientific realism so much as adventure.
Ultimately, sword and planet science fiction can be summed up as adventure style sci fi that has a lot more in common with fantasy books than conventional science fiction. At its extreme, this subgenre of science fiction is basically an adventure tale set on another planet.
Common Tropes in Sword and Planet Sci-Fi
Some of the common tropes found in sword and planet sci fi include:
Romance. There is a lot of crossover between sword and planet books and the planetary romance genre. Often, the ‘damsel in distress’ stereotype will crop up, as well races of exotic female aliens.
Human heroes. The main characters found in sword and planet stories are often ‘noble humans’ pitted against barbaric aliens. This type of hero has strong similarities with the pulp fantasy heroes found at the time sword and planet sci fi first arose.
Adventure. Whereas other genres of science fiction, such as hard sci fi, focus a lot on the theory and logic behind their stories, sword and planet does not. Instead, the focus is very much on pulpy action designed to keep the plot moving along quickly.
Which other genres are sword and planet stories similar to?
There is a lot of similarity between sword and planet stories and other genres, both inside and outside of the science fiction genre.
Some of the main genres that sword and planet is comparable to include:
- Fantasy. Unsurprisingly for a subgenre containing the word ‘sword’, there is a lot of similarity between fantasy books and this type of science fiction. Areas of similarity include the archetypally heroic protagonists, damsel in distress type female characters, the focus on quests and action, and even the use of horses and old-school weaponry.
- Planetary Romance. The focus of sword and planet is often on a hero undergoing a quest on a foreign world. There is usually a romantic plotline in play, making sword and planet sci fi similar to planetary romance in a lot of ways.
- Pulp sci fi. Although pulp sci fi is a little later along the subgenre timeline than sword and planet, there are many similarities between the two. In both styles, the focus is on action and plot rather than characterization or scientific seriousness. Swashbuckling style heroes are common to both types of story as well.
If you’re new to the sword and planet style of science fiction, but you enjoy planetary romance or pulp sci fi, you will probably find a lot to enjoy here!
How can I get free Sword and Planet Sci Fi Books?
If you're interested in getting started with the sword and planet subgenre of sci fi, here are two ways to do exactly that without spending a cent:
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2. If you want to try something other than Audible you could also try Playster. Playster's One Month Free Trial works with either ebooks or audiobooks. You can pay for a membership at $14.95 per month and receive unlimited books. However Playster does not offer as many book options. If you would like to listen to all of Playsters books you will need to use the premium which is $29.95. ]