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Leigh Brackett

(1915-1978)
Leigh Brackett was born in Los Angeles and raised near Santa Monica. Having spent her youth reading stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs and H Rider Haggard, she began writing fantastic adventures of her own. Several of these early efforts were read by Henry Kuttner, who critiqued her stories and introduced her to the SF personalities then living in California, including Robert Heinlein, Julius Schwartz, Jack Williamson, Edmond Hamilton and Ray Bradbury. Between writing screenplays for such films as Rio Bravo, El Dorado, Hatari!, and The Long Goodbye, she produced novels such as the classic The Long Tomorrow (1955) and the Spur Award-winning Western, Follow the Free Wind (1963). Brackett married Edmond Hamilton on New Year’s Eve in 1946, and the couple maintained homes in the high-desert of California and the rural farmland of Kinsman, Ohio. Just weeks before her death, she turned in the first draft screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back and the film was posthumously dedicated to her.
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The Ginger Star: “The Queen of Space Opera” comes roaring back

The Ginger Star by Leigh Brackett

Old-time fans of Leigh Brackett’s most famous character, Eric John Stark, would have to exercise a great deal of patience after the first three Stark stories — “Queen of the Martian Catacombs,” “Enchantress of Venus” and “Black Queen of Mars” — appeared in the pages of Planet Stories magazine, from 1949 - ’51. It would be a good 13 years before the author revisited her “Conan of the spaceways,” and then it was to only revise and expand the first and third tales to create the short novels The Secret of Sinharat and People of the Talisman. Another decade would pass before Brackett touched on the character again (to be fair, Leigh was more of a screenwriter for film and television at this point in her career), but in 1974, the patience of h... Read More

The Hounds of Skaith: Doing what all great sequels should

The Hounds of Skaith by Leigh Brackett

After a solid decade of no new fiction from the pen of Leigh Brackett, the so-called “Queen of Space Opera,” the author released, in 1974, the first volume of what would ultimately be called her SKAITH TRILOGY. But fortunately, her fans would only have to wait a mere matter of months before the sequel to the first book, The Ginger Star, was published. That second volume, The Hounds of Skaith, managed to accomplish what all great follow-up novels should: enlarge on the scope of the previous story, introduce new and fascinating characters, clarify and enlighten what had come before while at the same time weaving new plot threads, and leave the reader wanting still more. The book is a total success in that regard, and fans who had thrilled to Eric... Read More

The Reavers of Skaith: A sweeping finale to a wonder-filled trilogy

The Reavers of Skaith by Leigh Brackett

First released in 1976, The Reavers of Skaith serves as both the wonderful finale of author Leigh Brackett’s SKAITH TRILOGY AND a fitting coda to her 36-year career. Reavers, as it turned out, would be Brackett’s final piece of published fiction before her death, at age 62, in 1978. Of course, the so-called “Queen of Space Opera” was not completely idle during her final years — she kept busy by writing the initial draft for a little picture to be later known as The Empire Strikes Back — but Reavers would serve as the finale of her wonderful authorial career. Fortunately, Brackett went out with a bang, and fans of the first two books in this particular trilogy — The Ginger Star Read More

Shadow Over Mars: The author is better than the book

Shadow Over Mars by Leigh Brackett

Shadow Over Mars (1944), also sometimes reprinted as The Nemesis from Terra, was the first full-length novel by space opera author Leigh Brackett. (“Full-length” is relative here, though, as Shadow Over Mars is quite short, only 145 pages in the edition I read.) It is currently in the running for a 2020 Retro Hugo for Best Novel.

The book begins with the hero, Rick, running through a Martian city, trying to evade the agents of the Terran Exploitations Company, who want to press him into slavery in their mines. He ducks into the home of an old woman, who prophesies that she has seen his “shadow over Mars,” and then promptly tries to kill him. The prophecy, which is interpreted to mean that Rick will become the planet’s... Read More

Black Amazon of Mars: Exceeds its inspiration

Black Amazon of Mars by Leigh Brackett

While credit is certainly due to the originator of an idea, iterations which better the original are likewise deserving of recognition, and in some cases, perhaps more. Edgar Rice Burroughs gets a lot of attention for pioneering the Martian hero story, as does Robert E. Howard for Conan, the barbarian with honor in a strange land of beasts and magic. But they may not be the writers who best presented the ideas. Leigh Brackett’s hyper-masculine hero Eric John Stark — similar in name to John Carter — features in some of her SEA KINGS OF MARS stories. More consistent in quality, described in a more practiced, fluid prose, and existing in ... Read More

The Starmen of Llyrdis: A small but perfect gem from “The Queen of Space Opera”

The Starmen of Llyrdis by Leigh Brackett

For fans of sci-fi’s Golden Age, it has been a sort of literary guessing game to riddle out which stories were written by Henry Kuttner and which by his wife, C.L. Moore. And this has proved to be no easy task, as the two, as legend goes, were so in rapport that one could pick up in mid-paragraph where the other had left off. But for several reasons, no such difficulty could ever be presented by Golden Age stalwart Edmond “The World Wrecker” Hamilton and his wife, “The Queen of Space Opera,” Leigh Brackett. For one thing, their writing styles were so very different that they hardly ever collaborated. Hamilton, who I love, and who was 11 years older than Leigh, ... Read More

The Sword of Rhiannon: Classic planetary romance

The Sword of Rhiannon by Leigh Brackett

Lightning-cracked time portals. Secret tombs. Slave ship mutiny. Snake men. Buried alive. Parlays with kings. These are just some of the adventurous elements of Leigh Brackett’s The Sword of Rhiannon. (Though initially published as Sea Kings of Mars, it quickly changed names, and in reprintings since has consistently been known as The Sword of Rhiannon.) Written in 1953, it was one of the last threads of the pulp era yet benefits from increased expectations regarding prose and characterization. It never, however, fails as an adventure.

Matt Carse, Earthman and grave looter on Mars, meets with the opportunity of lifetime one evening walking the streets of Jekkara. Shown the mystical sword of the mighty and long dead sorceror Rhiannon, ... Read More

The Halfling and Other Stories: Eight marvelous tales from the “Queen of Space Opera”

The Halfling and Other Stories by Leigh Brackett

The Halfling and Other Stories gathers together eight tales, of varying lengths, that Leigh Brackett, the so-called “Queen of Space Opera,” wrote between the years 1943 and ’57. The collection initially appeared as an Ace paperback in ’73, but it was the second edition, released in ’83, that this reader was fortunate enough to lay his hands on. This is a generous collection of over 300 pages of Brackett’s work, and for the most part, the stories reveal Brackett at the very peak of her form.

The anthology, however, does not begin with its strongest selections. “The Halfling” itself, a novelette (7,500 - 17,500 words) that first appeared in the February ’43 issue of Astonishing Stories, is a minor but colorful tale that conflates both the wo... Read More

The Long Tomorrow: Leigh Brackett’s magnum opus

The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett

If indeed social movements occur in cycles that over time have a net result of zero, what then is the value of scientific pursuit? If humanity will inevitably revert to primitivism, of what use is maneuvering toward that fuzzy idea of ‘civilization’? Is it just to give us something to do with our time on Earth? Is it an innate, unavoidable aspect of being human we should shun? Is it just false hope? Or, is there a light at the end of the tunnel? These questions and more Leigh Brackett examines in her oft-overlooked 1955 magnum opus The Long Tomorrow. A simple tale, it nevertheless lays bare one of the most fundamental questions we face: to what goal should humanity strive?

Post apocalypse, The Long Tomorrow posits an America where technologically advanced civili... Read More

The Secret of Sinharat & People of the Talisman: A wonderful double feature

The Secret of Sinharat & People of the Talisman by Leigh Brackett

Leigh Brackett, the so-called “Queen of Space Opera,” would have turned 100 years old on 12/7/2015, and to celebrate her recent centennial in my own way, I have resolved to read five novels featuring her most well-known character: Eric John Stark. Brackett, of course, was already something of a well-known commodity before her first Stark story appeared in 1949; she had already placed no fewer than 32 short stories and novelettes, beginning in 1940, in the various pulp publications of the day, thereby establishing herself as the most important female sci-fi author of the Golden Age (other than C.L. Moore, of course). Her Stark tales, all three of them, originally appeared in the pages of ... Read More

The Coming of the Terrans: A wonderful collection from the “Queen of Space Opera”

The Coming of the Terrans by Leigh Brackett

Just recently, I reviewed The Best of Leigh Brackett, a big, 400+-page affair from Ballantine Books that was first released in 1977. But this collection was not the first to gather the older works of Leigh Brackett, the so-called “Queen of Space Opera” into a nice, compact collection. That honor, it seems, goes to the volume entitled The Coming of the Terrans, which was released by Ace in 1967. The Best of book was a deluxe affair, with a foreword by Brackett’s husband, Edmond Hamilton, an afterword by Brackett herself, fan maps of Brackett’s Mars, and 10 stories and n... Read More

The Best of Leigh Brackett: A wonderful collection from the “Queen of Space Opera”

The Best of Leigh Brackett by Leigh Brackett

Back in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, Ballantine Books had a wonderful thing going with its “Best of” anthology series: 21 generously packed books celebrating 21 of the most influential authors of science fiction’s Golden Age, all reasonably priced at $1.95 (I refer here to the paperback editions, all of which I managed to collect) and all featuring beautiful cover art and informative introductions by a distinguished sci-fi author or critic. I loved every one of the “Best of” collections back when (OK, I wasn’t overly fond of The Best of John W. Campbell), and found them all to be perfect introductions to the 21 writers involved. But of all those many volumes, one of my favorites of the bunch was The Best of Read More

Sea Kings of Mars and Otherworldly Stories: Leigh Brackett’s fantasy stories

Sea Kings of Mars and Otherworldly Stories by Leigh Brackett

As NASA’s Curiosity rover trundles about the surface of Mars today, another page turns on the glories of pulp science fiction. Leigh Brackett’s vision of a land populated with humans and aliens, ancient cities and creatures, long-buried secrets and mysterious deserts fades a shade closer to pale as one desolate desert image after another is beamed back to Earth. But there was a day when her works shone with the hope and possibility of life on the planets beyond Earth. In 2005, Gollancz brought together the best of these stories as part of their Fantasy Masterworks collection. Sea Kings of Mars and Otherworldly Stories is an imaginatively nostalgic look back to a time when the solar system held more possibilities.

The collection contains five nove... Read More

SHORTS: Brackett, Vo, Vernon, Bachus, Abercrombie

There is so much free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet these days. Here are a few stories we read this week that we wanted you to know about.



Enchantress of Venus by Leigh Brackett (1949, $0.99 at Amazon)

The world celebrated what would have been the 100th birthday of Leigh Brackett on December 7, 2015, and to celebrate the centennial of the so-called “Queen of Space Opera” in my own way, I have resolved to finally read five novels featuring her most famous character, Eric John Stark. My only previous acquaintance with the Earth-born, Mercury-raised Conan of the spaceways was ... Read More

SHORTS: Miller, Leiber, Clement, Brackett

SHORTS: In this week's column we review several short fiction works that we've read recently, including three more of the current Retro Hugo nominees from 1943.

“Galatea” by Madeline Miller (2013, $3.99 on Kindle; anthologized in xo Orpheus, edited by Kate Bernheimer)

In the Roman myth of Read More

The Best of Planet Stories, #1: A marvelous collection from an underappreciated pulp magazine

The Best of Planet Stories, #1: edited by Leigh Brackett

Beginning in 1937 and continuing on for a good dozen years, the pulp magazine Astounding Science-Fiction, under the editorship of John W. Campbell, was the most dominant and influential publication in its field. But that is hardly to say that it didn't have competition for readers' attention (and their 20 cents) at the newsstands. Planet Stories, which published its first issue in 1939 and folded in '55 after 71 issues, was one such, but whereas Campbell's magazine specialized in seemingly realistic tales with an emphasis on technology and hard science, Planet Stories' main stock in trade was unabashed space opera; melodramatic adventure stories of lost civilizations, stalwart heroes, beautiful princesses and suchlike. Not for nothing does The Science Fiction Encyclopedia... Read More

Science Fiction Super Pack #1: A generally above-average anthology

Science Fiction Super Pack #1 edited by Warren Lapine

Like the companion fantasy volume, Science Fiction Super Pack #1, edited by Warren Lapine, only has one story I didn't think was good, and it's a piece of Lovecraft fanfiction. H.P. Lovecraft's overwrought prose doesn't do much for me even when Lovecraft himself writes it, and much less so when it's attempted by imitators. And Lovecraft's stories at least have something frightening that happens in them; these two stories (in this volume and the other) only have visions of aspects of the Mythos and crazy people ranting, which isn't scary or interesting. Everything else was good, occasionally even amazing.

Again like the fantasy volume, it more or less alternates between recent stories by... Read More