Saturday, January 12, 2008

Leigh Brackett

In a recent issue of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction magazine Robert Silverberg wrote a smart piece about growing up in the Fifties with your bedroom packed full of science fiction magazines. Easy to turn such a memoir into treacle but with only a tad of sentimentality Silverberg explained how those magazines influenced us and how, in turn, the writers, editors and readers of that time went on to infuence other generations to come.

I started reading sf magazines when I was eleven. I preferred the action-oriented titles, the most famous (or notorious, take your pick) was the great grand Planet Stories. While it published Ray Bradbury (some of his best work in fact) very early Philip K. Dick, most of the magazine was give over to splashy adventure featuring sweaty white heroes fighting sweatier green aliens for the right to despoil the inviolate white heroine.

My favorite in Planet Stories was Leigh Brackett. Her characters were hard-boiled (she collaborated with William Faulkner on the screenplay for The Big Sleep) and her universe painted in the same colors and textures as her idols, among them Edgar Rice Burroughs. She created a mythic Mars of vast deserts and cut-throat tribes and ancient terrors an earthman could never quite comprehend. Her people lived by one rule: trust no one.

Haffner Press has now published volume two in its series of Brackett stories: Lorelei of the Red Mist: Planetary Romances. The huge volume is packed with some of Brackett's best space opera, especially the Jewel of Bas, The Lake of the Gone Forever and The Dancing Girl of Ganymede. Ray Badbury writes a fond remembrance of Brackett, who was one of his most important teachers (one of their collaborations is in the book) and Harry Turtledove makes a strong case for Brackett being one of the truly great pulp writers. And there are some evocative illustrations by Frank Kelly Freas from the original appearrance of te title novelette.

Martian Quest: The Early Brackett, the first volume, demonstrates how quickly she was learning and how unique her approach to adventure fiction was becoming. Michael Moorcock delivers a long and exceptionally fine overview of Bracketts career.

There is even more Brackett in Stark and The Star Kings. Here Brackett's Eric John Stark joins her husband Edmond Hamilton's The Star Kings in the only tale to feature them both. This book is packed with two full-length novels by Hamilton as well as three novelettes by Brackett. John Jakes provides a knowing and entertaining introduction.

A word about the production qualities of the books. They're among the best made and most handsomely illustrated of all the collectibles I've ever seen. These are masterpieces in every way.


Anonymous said...

A while back on the FictionMags list I contrasted and compared 1951 (iirc) issues of PLANET STORIES and ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION, and and the one was as good as the other...and Leigh Brackett's contribution to the PLANET issue was unsurprisingly the best story in that issue (Charles Harness's came close). Now, it may be that during the Wilbur Peacock editorial reign (in PLANETS earliest years) that things were a bit less engaging, but I suspect any issue with a Brackett story was worth having for that fact alone. (And neither of the issues I detailed was perfect--both could boast, for example, of one absolutely dreadful story, PLANET's by legendary incompetent Stanley Mullen, ASF's by some guy named Hubbub.) Even in the most outre circumstances, Brackett kept her characters real...imagine ER Burroughs as a genuinely good writer, and you have some idea. And then there's THE LONG TOMORROW, and the film writing, and...

Anonymous said...

Oh, man, this brings back so many memories. Thanks for the tip, Ed.

Anonymous said...

It's a good year to be a Brackett fan. In addition to Haffner's incomparable short story collections, my company is releasing some of Brackett's longer works, starting with The Secret of Sinharat (headed to stores now) with the Skaith trilogy soon to follow.

I noticed that you mentioned our Planet Stories line on your blog once before, and I really appreciate the support!