“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 →
“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 →
“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 →
“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 →
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 →