“Shannach – the Last”
Originally published in Planet Stories, Nov. 1952
Another longer work, this time set on Mercury. Brackett’s Mercury is a twilight world of valleys surrounded by mountains that pierce the shallow atmosphere. From what I understand, life only exits in valley’s along a twilight zone along the terminator. Since this story refers to the Sun rising and setting, either I’m missing something or there’s a slight wobble in the planet’s orbit which creates the day and night effect.
None of which stopped me from enjoying this adventure tale. Trevor is a prospector whose ship has crashed. There’s no life in the valley where he crashes, and he can’t get over the mountains because he doesn’t have a pressure suit. (Don’t ask me why.)
He’s trying to find a way to another valley through a system of caves when he is swept away by an underground river. He ends up in a large valley with a city in the distance. And that’s when his troubles really start. Continue reading →
“The Last Days of Shandakor”
Originally published in Startling Stories, April 1952
So here’s a Mars story, a planet we’ve not looked at yet in this series of posts on Brackett. As cool as her Venus stories are (and we’re not done looking at them), Brackett’s stories of Mars are what made her reputation.
In this one, an ethnologist named John Ross is on Mars studying the various tribes and hoping to be awarded an endowed chair at a university on Earth for his work. He’s sitting in a dive, waiting for the final preparations to be made for his caravan, when a man walks in. Ross can see immediately there’s something different about this person. Everyone pretends he’s not there. When Ross asks his caravan master about the man, the caravan master tells him to forget about him. Curiosity getting the better of him, Ross approaches the man and engages him in conversation. He’ll wish he’d heeded the caravan master’s advice. Continue reading →
“The Woman From Altair”
The Best of Leigh Brackett
Del Rey, 1977, 423, $1.95
Originally published in Startling Stories, July 1951
I was asked in the comments of a previous post what I thought of this story. I had only read it once when I first read The Best of Leigh Brackett, back in the fall of [redacted]. I liked all the stories, but this one didn’t have much of an impact on the 14 year-old me who read it, unlike some of the other selections in the book.
So I reread the story the other day. Here are my thoughts, spoilers included: Continue reading →
This was the second Leigh Brackett story I ever read. How do I remember that detail? Easy, it’s the second story in The Best of Leigh Brackett, which was the first Brackett book I ever read (in the SFBC edition you see there). And in those days, I read anthologies and collections in order. This was still a few years before I went through my read-anthologies-backwards phase.
I found the story to be powerful, with the image of snow capped mountains in the distance to be a powerful one. I still find the story powerful today.
This is a unique item. The only collaboration between two great science fiction authors, Leigh Brackett and Ray Bradbury. Here’s how it came about:
Both authors were living in the Los Angeles area in the 1940s, and both had been working hard to develop their craft as writers. Both were regulars in Planet Stories at the time. They were friends who had both been mentored by Henry Kuttner. They used to meet once a week to read and critique each other’s work.
Brackett had sold some detective short stories as well as one novel, No Good From a Corpse. The novel caught the attention of movie producer Howard Hawks, who decided he wanted Brackett to work on the screenplay for his next project. She was approximately halfway through a novellette she was writing for Planet Stories that was set on Venus (More about Brackett’s Venus in a bit.) when she got a call from Hawks, or more probably his secretary. Which is how Brackett launched her screenwriting career by coauthoring with William Faulkner the script for Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. How freakin’ cool is that? Continue reading →
I’m not a huge Simon and Grafunkle fan, but I couldn’t help but steal the title of this post from “I am a Rock”. Here are my reading/writing/blogging plans for the last month of the year.
The big thing is that Leigh Brackett’s birthday is next Monday, December 7. It’s her centennial, and I’ll be focusing a lot on her work this month. I’m not the only one. Howard Andrew Jones and Bill Ward will be discussing “The Moon the Vanished”, one of her novellas set on a swampy Venus next Monday on Howard’s blog. Click here for details and join the discussion. I’m not going to be discussing that particular story here, but I will take some detailed looks at some others. I’m probably going to start with “Lorelei of the Red Mist”, which she began and Ray Bradbury finished when Howard Hawks offered her a job writing the screenplay to Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep with William Faulkner. You can get electronic copies of both stories in Swamps of Venus from Baen ($4), or get the Solar System bundle for $20. Continue reading →
I just preordered this! This year is the centennial of Leigh Brackett’s birth. I’m ashamed to say I missed that.
Fortunatley, Stephen Haffner is on the ball and has prepared a book to mark the occasion. It contains an unpublished story as well her nonfiction and interviews with a number of friends. You can order your copy here.
If the style of the lettering on the book is familiar, there’s a reason for that. Before her untimely death from cancer in 1978, Leigh wrote the first draft of The Empire Strikes Back. She also wrote the screenplays for the films The Big Sleep starring Humphrey Bogart and Rio Bravo starring John Wayne.
Brackett brought a hard boiled sensibility to her tales of outer space adventure. Haffner Press is to be thanked for bringing her work back in high quality archival format. Many of Haffner’s Brackett titles are out of print, but check out the ones that aren’t. And order Leigh Brackett Centennial before all the hardcore Star Wars fans find out about it and buy up all the copies.
Trigger Warning: Humor, Snark, Truth, Thoughts That Might Be Different Than Yours.
In case you’re wondering, yes, the title of this post is a riff on the James Tiptree, Jr., story “The Women Men Don’t See”. And yes, there is a book review buried in here. I’ll provide the pertinent information about the book later. First, though, some context.
I’ve heard for years that there were virtually no women writers in science fiction and fantasy before [insert date du jour here] because they were discriminated against by all the men in the field and had to use masculine pseudonyms or initials if they wanted to write sf/f. The actual date when this began to change is something of a moving target and depends loosely on the age of the person making the statement.
This belief is pretty widely held in the field, to the point that it’s almost holy writ. And while men have spread this myth, women tend to be the loudest in voicing it. Continue reading →
Shortly after she began chronicling the adventures of Northwest Smith, C. L. Moore created a second series character, one that would have an even greater impact on the genre. I’m talking, of course, about Jirel of Joiry.
Instead of setting these stories in space like she did with Northwest Smith, or in some age before the dawn of recorded history, like Howard did with Conan, Moore chose to place Jirel in the fictional French kingdom of Joiry, square in the Middle Ages.
There were only five Jirel stories, plus the Jirel and Northwest Smith team-up “Quest of the Starstone” that she wrote with her husband Henry Kuttner. But for the first time in the history of the field, here was a female character who was worthy of her own series. Note: the rest of this post will contain spoilers. Continue reading →