Monday, March 10, 2008

Eric John Stark rides again!

I’ve been a fan of the late Leigh Brackett for a very long time. First of all, she wrote the screenplay for Rio Bravo. Then she was the screenwriter on two Raymond Chandler adaptations to film — the classic 1940s noir and Bogart-Bacall vehicle The Big Sleep (co-written with William Faulkner, fer crissakes) and Robert Altman’s revisionist 1970s take on Philip Marlowe with Elliot Gould, The Long Goodbye. And she wrote the first draft of The Empire Strikes Back shortly before her death in 1978, which certainly counts for something.

Most important, though, Brackett wrote some boffo science fiction stories and novels. More specifically, she wrote some great space opera. Even more specifically, she wrote some terrific space opera in the vein of Edgar Rice Burroughs, taking ERB’s Mars and Venus formulas, turning ’em on their heads, and adding a hardboiled edge that could come only from someone who also wrote noir and crime fiction.

Brackett’s most famous sci-fi hero was Eric John Stark, a kind of cross between John Carter and Tarzan, born and orphaned on Mercury, later turned rogue, thief, and mercenary. Two of Stark’s most famous adventures have been re-collected into a single, inexpensive, trade paperback volume under the title The Secret of Sinharat as part of Paizo’s Planet Stories pulp reprint series. These novellas are “The Secret of Sinharat” (an expansion of the 1949 short story “Queen of the Martian Catacombs”) and “People of the Talisman” (an expansion of the 1951 short story “Black Amazon of Mars”). Both stories are fantastic, filled with ancient crumbling Martian cities, cruel badguys, hot (if sometimes evil) Martian women, swordplay, gunplay, and high adventure. This stuff is not to be missed, and I understand that Paizo has at least one more collection of Brackett’s Stark stories on the way!

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