Tag Archives: Leigh Brackett

Blogging Brackett: Alpha Centauri or Die!

Alpha Centauri or Die!
Leigh Brackett
Ace Books, 1963

I thought I had read this one, but I think I was confusing it with The Starmen of LLyrdis.  I would have remembered the story if I had read it previously.  The ISFDB lists this book as being a fix-up of “The Teleportress of Alph-C” and “Ark of Mars”.  I’ve not read those stories, so I’ll refrain from putting my foot in my mouth by commenting.

By setting most of her work in the wilds of the solar system, particularly Mars and Venus, Brackett focused on adventure more than politics.  When political considerations arose, they tended to be in tribal or feudal systems of government.  That’s not the case here.  A centralized government controls all aspects of the solar system.  Human space travel has been outlawed.  Individuals are assigned a job and a sector in which to live.  It’s almost impossible to move from one sector to another, never mind from one planet to another.  All transport between planets is done by computer controlled spacecraft.  The entire economy is centrally controlled, and individual initiative is quashed.

This is not a system of which Brackett approves. Continue reading

A Leigh Brackett Renaissance?

Leigh Brackett, circa 1930

Today is Leigh Brackett’s birthday.  She was born December 7, 1915 in California.  I posted yesterday that I would try to get a review of her novel Alpha Centauri or Die.  Obviously that didn’t happen, although I did get all my exams written.  That review will go up next week after the smoke from the semester clears and all the tears have dried.

What’s that, you say?  You don’t know who Leigh Brackett is?  Well, Pilgrim, you’ve come to the right place.  (You are a pilgrim, right, searching for pulp enlightenment?) Continue reading

Tis the Season…

…for final exams.  They start at 7:30 AM on Friday morning.  The students are moaning and groaning (as are the enrollees), and the administrators who decided that was a good time to start will probably just be sitting down to their first cup of coffee then.  Me, I’ll have been up for over two hours at that point in the morning.

So why should any of you care?  Leigh Brackett’s birthday is tomorrow.  I’ve got a review I hope to get written of Alpha Centauri or Die.  I think I can get it written tonight, but I’ve said that for the last three nights.  I’ve still got exams that need to be written.

 

I’ll post something about her birthday tomorrow.  If it’s not the review, that will follow as soon as I get all the end of semester stuff cleared away.  Other than tomorrow, things will probably be pretty quiet around here for the next five to seven days.  I’m planning to post more once classes are over.  We’ll see.

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

An Ode to the Ballantine Best of Series and Why We Need it More Than Ever

The original Star Wars came out when I was in elementary school, and it was a mind-warping experience.  I had come to science fiction and fantasy through comics, but it was the sense of wonder and excitement this movie generated that turned me from reading mystery books to reading science fiction books checked out from the school library.  As I read above grade level, I was soon searching out science fiction in the adult section of the public library and in book stores.  Like a second hand book store at the flea market.

This place sold second hand paperbacks for a quarter, IIRC.  The covers were stripped, which meant the books had been reported to the publishers as having been been pulped and the covers returned for credit.  In other words, they were technically stolen.  I didn’t know that then.  There were a number of titles I recognized, such as some H. P, Lovecraft.  I picked up The Best of Jack Williamson there, and later The Best of L. Sprague de Camp.

The Williamson volume started with stories from the 30s and went up to the 70s.  There was an introduction by Frederik Pohl and an afterward by Williamson.  This was the pattern of the series.  An introduction by an author or editor associated with the writer of the book, and if the author was still living (most were but not all) he or she contributed an afterward.  My mind was blown.  David Hartwell once said the golden age of science fiction is thirteen.  I was, and it was. 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