Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Appendix N: Leigh Brackett's "The Secret of Sinharat and People of the Talisman"

Born December 7, 1915 and passing away March 17, 1978, Leigh Brackett was an author of science fiction, hard-boiled crime fiction and she was a screen writer as well. It is her screen writing that most remember her for; particularly, she is remembered for writing the script for The Empire Strikes Back. That script was completed just prior to her death, and underwent heavy re-writing before the movie was made. A pirated version of her script is rumored to be floating around the web; however, I have never seen it.

Other then The Empire Strikes Back, she also screen wrote The Big Sleep (1945, co-written with William Faulkner), Rio Bravo (1959) and The Long Goodbye (1973) amongst others.

It is not her screen writing that made Gary Gygax mention her in Appendix N; rather, it was her science fiction stories. I recently read The Secret of Sinharat and People of the Talisman. The edition I read was published by Paizo Publishing in 2007 as volume five of their Planet Stories imprint. The volume includes two stories: "The Secret of Sinharat" and "People of the Talisman". It includes an introduction by Michael Moorcock, who was a long time friend of Brackett and her husband Edmond Hamilton (her husband is credited by some as "the father of Space Opera", alongside E.E. 'Doc' Smith and he is well known for his "Captain Future" stories). The cover art is by Andrew Hou.

I've read a number of the Planet Stories volumes by such authors as C.L. Moore, Henry Kutner and Manly Wade Wellman; without exception, I've enjoyed them all. The good people at Paizo are on a mission to keep these classic authors in print, and I am supporting their efforts by maintaining a subscription with them. The name "Planet Stories" is meant to pay homage to the magazine of the same name that saw print from 1939 to 1955.

Like the other volumes I've read, I enjoyed this one as well. I did, however, note an increased number of copy-editing mistakes that unfortunately detracted from an otherwise greatly enjoyable reading experience.

As for the stories themselves, "The Secret of Sinharat" is a novella expanded from a short story titled "Queen of the Martian Catacombs" (originally published in Planet Stories Magazine in 1949) and "People of the Talisman" was expanded from an earlier story as well, "Black Amazon of Mars" (originally published in Planet Stories Magazine as well in 1951).

The stories in this volume are both Eric John Stark tales. Stark was her most popular creation. He is perhaps made a bit in the image of Burrough's John Carter with a dash of Howard's Conan. Stark is a hard-bitten mercenary for hire. His skin is baked dark by the harsh sun. He was born on Mercury where his parents died and he was raised by the Mercurian aborigines who gave him the name N'Chaka, meaning "the man without a tribe". Both "Secret" and "Talisman" could be classified as Planetary Romance, or possibly even Sword and Planet. Technology is present, but so are swords made of cold-hard steel.

After reading both of these tales, it is easy to see why Gygax recommended Brackett in Appendix N. Here are tales of harsh lands, false gods, lost civilizations and high adventure. It is worth noting that Gygax recommended all of Brackett's works. I am in the midst of reading The Ginger Star now (another Stark book), and will blog about that when I am finished.

In closing, this short book serves well as an introduction to Brackett and her character Eric John Stark. If you enjoy Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard, you won't be disappointed.

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