Friday, February 17, 2012

The Worlds of Leigh Brackett

Burroughs’s was there first, and C.L. Moore was there first with an anti-hero, but Leigh Brackett made Mars her own. I don’t know why it took me so long, but for my birthday, I treated myself to the second and third Haffner volumes collecting Brackett’s planetary fiction: Lorelei of the Mists: Planetary Romances and Shannach-The Last: Farewell to Mars (the first volume is titled Martian Quest: The Early Brackett in case you were wondering).

Brackett’s most famous creation is probably Eric John Stark--raised Tarzan-like among primitive nonhumans on Mercury.  As a man caught between two worlds, Stark gets caught up in various struggles on the Earth colony worlds of Mars and Venus. Often, like in Moore’s Northwest Smith stories, this involves ancient secrets. Unlike Smith (who just seems lucky to survive the weird horror he encounters), Stark is a more of man of heroic action.

The stories in these volumes take place in the same solar system, but feature protagonists generally less “larger than life” than Stark, though usual just as hard-boiled. Most have the tension of colonizers versus native cultures that underlie the Stark stories. Often the conflict changes both sides.

There's a lot of good game inspiration in Brackett's world-building. There are the colorfu.l gaseous seas of Venus that boats can sail, but in which humans can also breath.  The drug scourge of colonial Mars is shanga--radiation from certain jewels can cause a temporary atavistic transformation. A deep valley on Mercury holds the slowly pertrifiying last survivor of a psychic species.

That's just the beginning.  If you've never read Brackett or you only know her Stark novels and stories, you should check these out.

Art from original pulp magazine

20 comments:

Dariel Quiogue said...

Yes! Let us all bow to the Goddess of Sword and Planet Stories! :)

The Angry Lurker said...

Is the new movie John Carter based on some of this......

Joshua said...

I really like a lot of Leigh Brackett stuff. Her "Solar System" fiction is her best work, in my opinion. I haven't read all of it, but I've read a lot of it, and I've kept my hands on a few of her books just because I come back to them from time to time.

Sadly, I think when she revisited Eric John Stark in the 70s with the Skaith books, a lot of the magic was lost. Those books are a bit harder to read, and Stark as a passive figure swept up in events that he's not doing much of anything about is less attractive or interesting.

Trey said...

@Lurker - No, it's based on Burroughs's Barsoom stories. Though, interestingly enough, a script for a John Carter of Mars film from decades ago was rumored to have been written by Brackett.

@Joshua - I agree. I've never found the Skaith books as compelling as the three Stark novellettes. Those are actually my favorite of her stories period (though a lot of her stuff is good).

Mark. K. aka - EvilDM said...

Loving the artwork - the oldies are always the best... so evocative.

Sean Robson said...

I actually prefer Leigh Brackett to Catherine Moore (and even to E.R.B), and The Sword of Rhiannon is one of my favourite sword & planet adventures.

Trey said...

@Mark - Indeed.

@Sea - I prefer Brackett, at least as a prose stylist, though I like her grittier, somewhat less sword & planet Stark stories more than Sword of Rhiannon. As a world to game in, I'd probably mix and match bits of Moore and Brackett.

The Happy Whisk said...

I have not read her, but I still wanted to comment. Because it is either comment on blogs or strangle the pups for digging more holes in the front yard.

They are both covered in mud, looking inside. Only I just cleaned the living room floor.

Good thing they are cute.

Happy birthday from me and the pups.

Jeremy Duncan said...

Do you know the illustrator for the pulp magazine piece? It reminds me of Virgil Finlay, only without the pointillism.

Trey said...

I believe it's Frank Kelly Freas.

Stephen Haffner said...

Trey: Brackett never wrote a screenplay for a John Carter movie. Nor, to the best of my knowledge, was she ever approached to do so. She *was* considered to write CASINO ROYALE for Cary Grant and Howard Hawks and she was recommended to Ilya Salkind by Julie Schwartz for SUPERMAN in late '74.

Trey said...

@Whisk - I agree. Blog commenting is more fun. Thanks.

@Stephen - Thanks. Like I said, it was a rumor I have heard repeated a couple of times, which was obviously just that.

Brutorz Bill said...

Definately some great stories!

Dariel Quiogue said...

Oddly enough, I like Stark's Solar System adventures and the Skaith books equally well.

While I'll agree that Stark kinda suffers in interest because of the whole Dark Man prophecy thing, to my imagination Skaith is the quintessential dying planet. Its people are obsessed with that dying, a psychological angle I find treated rather lightly in ERB's Barsoom, while Brackett's Mars is really more about colonialism vs. ancient culture than about a planet dying.

I also wonder how much Viet Nam and the hippie movement figured in Brackett's vision of Skaith.

garrisonjames said...

Eric John Stark is a great hero and Brackett's Mars is a great setting. The Skaith books are interesting, quite distinctive in their own right, but pretty good all in all--though Brackett could have used an entirely other character than Stark and they still would have worked. Those
Haffner collections look wonderful. Great stuff!

Reno said...

Hi guys...

An adaptation of Black Amazon of Mars is in the works, written by Mark Ellis and illustrated by myself. It's from Sequential Pulp/Dark Horse.

Sorry for the shameless plug! :)

williamelse said...

It's been ages since I read any Brackett. I'm inspired to go and hunt some out straight away.

Excellent blog, by the way!

Trey said...

@Reno - That's great news. Thanks for letting us know!

@Williamelse - Thanks.

Sean Robson said...

She *was* considered to write CASINO ROYALE for Cary Grant and Howard Hawks and she was recommended to Ilya Salkind by Julie Schwartz for SUPERMAN in late '74.

I understand that she also wrote an early draft of The Empire Strikes Back just before she passed away.

JAMES MCMULLEN said...

THE WORLDS OF STARK, a 1 hour Episodic Television Series, is being developed by Bspoke Entertainment out of New Mexico. They have had recent success with Jack Black & Matthew McConnahy in BERNIE. They recognized the potential of this story and the other STARK stories and developed a pitch that provides room for all the stories told by Stark while he is journeying on SKAITH. Right now, Bspoke is waiting for that adventurous producer to pick this show up. Unfortunately, The failure of JOHN CARTER movie has producers spooked, Bspoke can't even get their foot in the door. I think letters and Emails should be sent to producers to get them to notice that this story can compete with the GAME OF THRONES type stories currently having success. I will do what I can, if anyone else wants to help, E-mail me ... Jim McMullen Jr. ..seamusmic67@Yahoo.com. I want this to happen.