I read “The Dancing Girl of Ganymede” for the first and, until I reread it yesterday, only time when I read The Halfling and Other Stories back in high school. I’m not sure why I haven’t reread it more. It’s an excellent story, and one that put me in mind of two other famous works, one of science fantasy and one of science fiction.
This story is a mature work by Brackett, one of her later works, and you can see it in the way she both executes the story, the twist the tale takes midway through, and the serious themes she injects. This one is more than must pulp adventure escapism (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Edmond Hamilton, her husband, writes in the introduction to The Best of Leigh Brackett, that she would write science fiction when not actively writing screenplays in Hollywood. A quick check with the ISFDB shows a hiatus of Brackett stories from the mid-1940s until about 1950, when there was another wave of her work hitting the magazines, the story under consideration among them. I’ll be looking at this story in detail, so consider this to be the standard SPOILER ALERT.
The story opens with Tony Harrah entering the bazaar in the city of Komar on Ganymede. He’s heading to the gambling district to try to win enough to buy food for himself and his native companion Tok. I can’t help but wonder if this is a sly joke on Brackett’s part, having a protagonist with the last name of Harrah going to do some gambling. The interwebz tell me the casino was founded in the 1930s, so that could very well be what’s happening.
Anyway, he comes across a group of three men playing instruments while a girl dances. They are part of a group called Wanderers, space gypsies essentially. This is after Tok and all the other indigenes flee the square in terror. Within minutes all the dogs in the area go berserk and attack the group. Captivated by the girl, Harrah aids in her escape.
He convinces her to return to his place, when they are set upon by three men, an Earthman, a Martian, and a Venusian. They have been hunting the girl and tell Harrah they have no quarrel with him. He refuses to let them take her and tries to defend her. He’s not successful. They take the girl, whose name is Marith, and leave Harrah unconscious in the street.
Harrah is helped back to consciousness by the three men who were with her. They are telepathic, but only to a limited degree. They are able to summon Tok, who tells them where to find Marith. She’s being held and tortured in an abandoned house in one of the worst parts of the city. Harrah and the men climb onto the roof and drop down on them. Marith’s brothers dispatch the kidnappers while Harrah frees her. Before he dies, though, the Earthman has a few things to say:
“All right. You’re safe for a while now. You set a trap and you baited it with her and it worked – and you’re safe now. But you can’t hide. The very dogs know you. There’s no place for you in earth, heaven, or hell. If it takes every drop of human blood in the System to drown you we’ll do it.
He turned to Harrah, kneeling in the dirt with Marith in his arms.
“Don’t you k now what they are?” he demanded. “Are you in love with that and you don’t know what it is?”
The leader of the Wanderers, Kehlin, kills the Earthman before he can say anything further.
Up to this point in the story I was strongly reminded of C. L. Moore’s “Shambleau“. Brackett had certainly read that story. The Kuttners and the Hamiltons were good friends. The similarities are pretty hard to miss. Lone Earthman in an alien city rescues what he believes to be a beautiful young girl from a group of hostiles. Only she’s not as innocent as he thinks. Everyone but him seems to be in on the secret of what she is. In this case, even Marith’s name means “forbidden”, something she had discussed with Harrah previous to this part of the story.
What she and the three men are, is androids. They are artificial life forms that have been outlawed and are being hunted down. Harrah has been out in the far reaches of the solar system for so long, he’s unaware that androids are now being eliminated.
Welcome to Bladerunner territory.
Kehlin is about to kill Harrah as well, but Marith convinces him to spare the human’s life. She argues they can use him as a go-between for getting supplies without endangering themselves.
The androids take Harrah to a secret base deep in the jungles of Ganymede. Before the end of the story there are extended conversations about the differences between humans and androids and how they do or don’t experience life. This is where things got deep. Up until this point, the story was a science fantasy adventure. I say fantasy because I think by this time science had pretty much eliminated the possibility of life on Ganymede. The conversations about humans having the hope of an afterlife while the androids have none, only the time they’ve got, well, this sort of thing isn’t what most people would expect from a pulp magazine. Just goes to show what some (don’t) know.
I like I said, the echoes of Bladerunner were strong. In case you’re wondering, this story was not only written decades before the movie was made, it was written years before the Philip K. Dick novel the movie was based on. He hadn’t even started selling professionally yet. But I have to wonder if he didn’t read the story at some point before he wrote the novel.
This is a Brackett story, so you can probably guess that there’s not going to be a happy ending. I’ll let you read the story to find out exactly what happens. “The Dancing Girl of Ganymede” is available in the ebook Beyond Mars from Baen.