Category Archives: Leigh Brackett

Blogging Brackett: “Black Amazon of Mars”

“Black Amazon of Mars” appeared in its original form in Planet Stories, March 1951. It was later expanded into the short novel The People of the Talisman (1964). This post will review just the original version. I’ll save comparison of the two for another day.

The story starts with Eric John Stark accompanying a Martian companion, Camar, home to the city of Kushat just south of the northern polar ice cap. Camar is dying and wants to return a sacred talisman he stole. The talisman was left by the legendary Ban Cruach to protect the city from a danger in a canyon to the north known as the Gates of Death.

Camar dies in the opening scene of the story, but not before Stark promises to fulfill his quest. The talisman is a jewel. Stark puts it against his temple, sees strange visions that come straight from Ban Cruach’s mind, and takes it off. He hides the talisman in his belt and sets off for Kushat. It isn’t long before he runs into trouble. Continue reading

Blogging Brackett: “The Dancing Girl of Ganymede”

“The Dancing Girl of Ganymede”
Originally published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Feb. 1950

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. Continue reading

Blogging Brackett: “The Halfling”

“The Halfling”
Originally published in Astonishing Stories, Feb. 1943

Despite the fact that it wasn’t included in The Best of Leigh Brackett, “The Halfling” is one of her most reprinted stories and provided the title to one of her collections.

This is one of Brackett’s most hard-boiled stories.  I read it for the first time as a teenager, and it blew me away.  When I reread it for this post, I was still moved even though it had been years since the last time I’d read it.

It’s also one of her most tragic tales.  The story is set entirely on Earth, but the themes of colonialism and cultures in conflict that show up in her best work appear here as well.

John Damien “Jade” Greene is the owner of a somewhat seedy carnival specializing in interplanetary exhibits.  Currently the carnival is set up on the beach near Venice, California, where Jade grew up.  We know from the opening scene that his life hasn’t been as fulfilling as he would like.  We also know that when a gorgeous woman calling herself Laura Darrow approaches him and asks for a job as a dancer, she’s going to be trouble, especially when she tells him a story about needing to get to Venus (the carnival’s nest stop) and has lost her passport.

Jade hires Laura after her audition.  His current dancer, Sindi, a Martian, isn’t happy.  Neither is Laska, a cat-man from Callisto.  The cat-men are pretty isolationist, but they form strong and permanent addictions to coffee.  Laska is traveling with the carnival because it allows him a steady supply of coffee.

Things initially go well the first week.  Laura’s dancing draws in the customers, especially after a celebrity is seen there with someone else’s spouse and the ensuing scandal gives the carnival some free publicity.  You can tell Brackett was drawing on her time in Hollywood.  Laura dances like no one Jade as ever seen.

She was sunlight, quicksilver, a leaf riding the wind – but nothing human, nothing tied down to muscles and gravity and flesh.  She was – oh hell, there aren’t any words.  She was the music.

By the end of the week, he’s helplessly in love.

And of course that’s when the trouble starts, everything goes wrong, and people start dying.

SPOILER ALERT

I’m going to discuss the rest of the story after the READ MORE break.  If you’ve come to this page directly from a link rather than the main page of this site, I’m going to include a few remarks before I give away too many of the surprises.

“The Halfling” is currently available in ebook form from Baen in the collection Beyond Mars. Continue reading

Blogging Brackett: “The Dragon-Queen of Venus”

“The Dragon-Queen of Venus”
Originally published as “The Dragon-Queen of Jupiter”
Planet Stories, Summer 1941

This one is an early tale by Brackett, one of her first. And while it isn’t as polished as some of her later work, and certainly doesn’t have the depth of her longer and better known stories, you can still see the writer she would become.

The story concerns a group of soldiers manning a besieged outpost in the early days of Terran settlement on Venus.  They’re running low on everything:  food, fresh water, ammunition, personnel.  They’re sort of a French Foreign Legion in space; at one point the commander makes a statement that no one knows anyone else’s real name.  The viewpoint character is from Texas, and of course everyone calls him Tex. Continue reading

Blogging Brackett: “The Jewel of Bas”

“The Jewel of Bas”
Planet Stories, Spring 1944

Note:  This post became a lot more personal than I intended.  Rather than rewrite it, I’ll expand on the opening paragraphs about the Ballantine Best of series in a future post.

Way back in ancient times, in other words the summer before I started high school, my parents agreed to let me join the Science Fiction Book Club, something I had been asking to do for a while.  I still remember the first shipment of books contained one of the Ballantine Best of series (Frederik Pohl).

In fact, for the first six months or so I was a member, each month the catalog I received contained a different volume of that series.  I bought them all.  Or rather all the ones the Club offered from the time I joined onwards.  (For some reason I never saw the C. L. Moore volume listed in any of the mail-outs.  I bought it in paperback, although there was an SFBC edition.)

I had become aware of Ballantine’s Best of series in the seventh grade, when I found a copy of The Best of Jack Williamson at the flea market in a little book shop that sold paperbacks with missing covers for a quarter.  I wouldn’t learn that such sales were illegal until a few years later. Continue reading

Blogging Brackett: “Enchantress of Venus”

Planet Stories Fall 1949“The Enchantress of Venus”
Originally published in Planet Stories, Fall 1949

I first read this story in high school in the SFBC edition of The Best of Leigh Brackett.  It was my first introduction to Eric John Stark, arguably Brackett’s greatest creation.  In my opinion it is arguably her best work at shorter lengths.

Stark is an Earthman, raised by a tribe of aboriginals in Mercury’s twilight belt.  (The astronomy geek in me is compelled to point out this story was written before Mercury’s 3:2 rotational/orbital resonance was discovered.  Mercury doesn’t have a twilight belt because it doesn’t keep the same face towards the Sun.)

Stark is black, although whether he’s of African descent or permanently burned by the Sun, Brackett never explicitly says anywhere (that I can recall).  His tribal name is N’Chaka, which implies the former rather than the latter. Continue reading

Leigh Brackett at 101

Brackett2As I’m sure you’ve figured out if you’ve spent much time at this site, I’m a huge Leigh Brackett fan.  Today (December 7, 2016) marks her 101st birthday.  I’ve been observing the occasion with looks at The Sword of Rhiannon, “The Sorcerer of Rhiannon“, and “The Veil of Astellar“.  I’m going to try to work “The Enchantress of Venus” in sometime over the next week or so.

If you’ve not read Brackett, do your self a favor.  Read her.  There are very few writers who can write fast paced action adventure with complex and flawed characters like she can and do so with a sense of poetry.

Here’s a quote I found in which she explains what plot is.  It’s a pretty good definition.

brackett quote

Blogging Brackett: “The Veil of Astellar”

TWONSSPRING1944“The Veil of Astellar”
Thrilling Wonder Stories, Spring 1944

There are going to be spoilers in this post.  I’ll put them below the Read More cutoff, but be advised they’re there.

Edmond Hamilton wrote in his introduction to The Best of Leigh Brackett that the narrator of this story, Steve Vance, was modeled on Humphrey Bogart.  This was pure speculation on Hamilton’s part because Brackett wasn’t saying.  I’ve been a big Bogart fan ever since we watched Casablanca in sophomore English in high school, and it’s still my favorite film.  It’s not hard to hear Bogart’s voice when you read this story.  Hamilton said he did every time he read it.

From this point on there are spoilers. Continue reading

Blogging Brackett: “The Sorcerer of Rhiannon”

ASF Feb 42“The Sorcerer of Rhiannon”
Astounding February 1942

“The Sorcerer of Rhiannon” predates The Sea-Kings of Mars AKA The Sword of Rhiannon by seven years.  Other than the word “Rhiannon” in the title, there doesn’t appear to be much connection between the two, at least on the surface.  But the seeds of the later work can be seen in “Sorcerer” if one takes the time to look.  Spoiler Alert for both stories.

In this story archeologist Max Brandon is searching for the mythical Lost Islands in one of the dry sea bottoms of Mars.  He’s trying to outrace a lawman intent on arresting him, a rival from Venus intent on beating him to the find, and a woman intent on marrying him.  Lost in a sandstorm, he stumbles upon the remains of an ancient ship.  There he finds a room that has been sealed for ages and takes shelter in it.

The room isn’t empty, nor does it and the contents look as old as they must be.  A man and a woman sit across a table from each other.  About the man’s head is a metal band.  The woman isn’t human, but Brandon recognizes her as a member of an extinct race called the Prira Cen.  She’s wearing a golden girdle over a white tunic and a ring.  The Prira Cen died out forty thousand years earlier when the Lost Islands were the dominant power on Mars.  Both the man and the woman appear to be alive but in some sort of stasis. Continue reading

Blogging Brackett: The Sword of Rhiannon

thrilling_wonder_stories_194906The Sword of Rhiannon was originally published under the title “The Sea-Kings of Mars” in the June 1949 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories. I’m not sure if the story was expanded for book publication. I can certainly understand the change of title. The Mars in this story is an ancient Mars that still contains plenty of water, not the dry and dusty global desert of Brackett’s other works.

The story opens with Matt Carse, who is sort of an Indiana Jones type archaeologist but with less ethics, being lured to a cavern on present day Mars.  A two bit thief has found the millennia lost cavern in which the god Rhiannon was imprisoned.  (This Rhiannon has no connection to the witch from Welsh mythology.)  Rhiannon is something of a Prometheus figure, punished by the other gods because he gave advanced technology, specifically weapons, to some of the early Martian races. Continue reading