BEST OF LEIGH BRACKETT Mass Market Paperback – Aug 12 1977
|New from||Used from|
Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought
No Kindle device required. Download one of the Free Kindle apps to start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, and computer.
Getting the download link through email is temporarily not available. Please check back later.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This is a marvelous book. Ms. Brackett was such a skilful story writer. I would start a new story, thinking, "I'm not sure I'm really interested in this," and by the time I was done I'd be thinking, "That was so! good! I'm so sorry it's over!"
The stories are a little dated, since they are set on a Mars, Venus, and Mercury that were imagined before humanity actually got to those planets to discover what's really there. (For example, Venus is a very humid world, with vast oceans encircling its few land masses.) But this is, after all, science fiction, so that doesn't matter very much. One might use the term "speculative fiction" instead, if it feels more comfortable.
The point is that these are Real Stories. They have a beginning, middle, and end. They start with a problem, have a protagonist, and work through to a conclusion. They are not, as another friend has called them, "mere vignettes," which is what a lot of short stories are these days. I don't mind the "vignettes" too much, but sometimes it's good to get back to stories that really go somewhere and have a point.
Aside from that fact -- that they're Real Stories -- there are the plots themselves. One forgets just how many things there are to speculate about, in science fiction. What a mind Ms. Brackett had, to conceive of so many scenarios, so many different creatures with such believable histories.
I think that's one thing that's often missing from current science fiction. In the earlier writing, the sky was truly the limit -- and it was limitless. Even when an individual story ended sadly, the whole genre was about possibility. It wasn't nearly so pessimistic as everything is today.
This was real Adventure. You finish these stories feeling invigorated.
I'm so glad I read this. Now I'm going to hunt down as much more Leigh Brackett material as I can find.
and she also wrote parts of "The empire strikes back"
Unlike many of the other "Best of" collections, however, "The Best of Leigh Brackett" does not begin with its strongest pieces, and for a logical reason: The stories here are presented almost in perfect chronological order, and Brackett's abilities as a wordsmith continued to evolve and improve (as would be expected, I suppose) as she went along. Still, the first two stories DO manage to entertain. In "The Jewel of Bas" (from the Spring '44 issue of "Planet Stories," the pulp magazine in which so many of Brackett's early tales first appeared), the reader makes the acquaintance of a newlywed couple, the troubadour Ciaran and his wife, Mouse, who live on a red-skied planet that most readers seem to conclude is Mars--even the book's back cover refers to them as "Martian lovers"--although the story itself never tells us that (and indeed, it mentions that the action is set on the 10th planet of this solar system!). This cute, bickering couple gets into some big trouble when they are enslaved by the gray-skinned Kalds and brought to an underground installation lorded over by two scheming androids. Ultimately, the story manages to conflate a slumbering, immortal youth, Cimmeria, Dagon, Hyperborea AND Atlantis into its 53-page length; a charming novella, to be fair, but one that would perhaps have worked better as a more fully developed novel.
In "The Vanishing Venusians" (from the Spring ’45 "Planet Stories"), three men depart from the 3,800 colonists who have been roaming the seas of Venus, looking for a suitable place to make a home. The trio explores a high plateau area and encounters two different species of warring anthropomorphic plant life, one with the powers of telepathy and telekinesis. This is a rousing, exciting tale, told in true pulp fashion, and one with a surprisingly high body count, to boot, whose one major problem is some geographical descriptions that are a tad difficult to envision.
After these two stories, "The Best of Leigh Brackett" kicks into high gear and delivers at least a half dozen pieces in a row that this reader deems minor masterpieces. "The Veil of Astellar" ("Thrilling Wonder Stories," Spring ’44) gives us the tale of a spaceman from Earth who betrayed his people, thus enabling the residents of the dying world of Astellar to kidnap entire starships, and shows how he later tried to undo his terrible crimes. It is a beautifully written piece of work, unusually structured, with a story line that is at first bewildering but that eventually makes perfect sense. (I love it when Brackett tells us that one of these starship's female passengers, gazing out a porthole at the galaxy beyond, is "starry-eyed.")
"The Moon That Vanished" ("Thrilling Wonder Stories," 10/48) is perhaps the greatest story in this collection. Here, an Earthman explorer, a wreck of a man since approaching the fringes of the mutating Moonfire (a giant, crash-landed chunk of Venus' long-gone lunar neighbor), agrees to escort a Venusian barbarian and a temple girl into the very heart of the zone, in the hopes of acquiring godlike powers. The three embark on a journey across the minidragon-infested Sea of Morning Opals, all the while evading the killer priests known as the Children of the Moon, and ultimately arrive at their fateful destination. I really can't say enough about this story. It is at once exciting, suspenseful, colorful, hyper-imaginative and beautifully written, concluding with one incredible sequence in the heart of the Moonfire itself. Some truly brilliant work by Brackett here, in a story a bit reminiscent of her mentor Henry Kuttner's 1946 classic "Valley of the Flame." Brackett often wrote like a man, by the way (don't jump on me, ladies--that's Hamilton talking, also), and never more so than when depicting scenes of carnage...and in this description of temple girl Alor: "Her body was everything a woman’s body ought to be...which was wide shouldered and leggy...."
Up next in the collection is "Enchantress of Venus" ("Planet Stories," Fall '49), the second story that Leigh wrote featuring her most famous character, Eric John Stark. I have already written at some length regarding this superb novella under a separate heading on this site, so will just say now again that this is still another great wonder of Golden Age sci-fi; a bravura piece of work.
"The Woman from Altair" ("Startling Stories," 7/51) brings us to planet Earth for the first time in this collection. It is the tale of a space explorer, David McQuarrie, who brings his new lavender-haired bride, Ahrian from you-know-where, back to his family in the NYC area. But when the family dog and David's kid sister both go berserk and are killed under mysterious circumstances, David's older brother and his fiancée start to do some snooping into their new sister-in-law's exotic background. This is a story of gradually escalating paranoia, and a wholly satisfying one.
Next, we have the only tale in this bunch that is unequivocally set on the Red Planet: "The Last Days of Shandakor" (from the 4/52 issue of "Startling Stories"). In this one, a "planetary anthropologist" from Earth explores the ruins of the dead titular city and discovers that it is populated by the ghosts of its past...and by a few actual survivors. He falls in love with Duani, a young Shandakor girl, leading to a tragic end for the entire population. As Hamilton tells us in his intro, this was "the last, finest, and saddest of all her Mars stories...a summing-up, a valedictory, of the Brackett Mars." Suitably elegiac in tone, it really is a beautiful piece of storytelling.
The collection's next masterpiece, "Shannach--The Last" ("Planet Stories," 11/52), finds us in the desolate and forbidding Twilight Belt on Mercury, where Eric John Stark was raised. In this novella, a man looking for superprecious sun-stones comes upon an enslaved people in thrall to a dying alien intelligence, one that beat "Star Trek"'s the Horta to the silicic punch by a good 15 years. In this tale's harrowing opening sequence, our intrepid miner is trapped deep beneath the planet's surface in an ever-narrowing cave system...a sequence that I well remembered from 35 years back, and one that should prove a rough ride for all claustrophobics! Flying lizard hawks, telepathy, a mountain hike above the limits of the Mercurian atmosphere, and an alien who truly is alien are all melded by Brackett into one tasty stew here.
To wrap up "The Best of Leigh Brackett," we have two more stories that transpire right here on good ol' Mother Earth. In "The Tweener" ("The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction," 2/55), a spaceman returns from Mars with a most unique souvenir for his young niece and nephew: a "tweener," so called because it resembles something between a rabbit and a groundhog. (In a tip of the hat to the Edgar Rice Burroughs books that so influenced Brackett as a child, the author has the kids name the tweener...John Carter!) This is another tale of escalating paranoia, and a good object lesson for anyone prone to a little xenophobia.
Finally, "The Queer Ones" ("Venture Science Fiction," 3/57) gives us the story of a 2 ½-year-old mountain boy who is discovered to have marked physical abnormalities, as well as a blood type that nobody has ever seen before. In fact, he is of an entirely new species entirely, and for good reason, as it turns out: He is the love child of a hillbilly girl and a visitor from the planet Hrylliannu! And before long, newspaperman Hank Temple learns that many TV sets in the small town of Newhale have been oddly tampered with, that green lightnings have begun to slay, and that a conflagration at the local hospital has been deliberately started, all pointing to...a possible invasion from the stars? "The Queer Ones" brings this wonderful collection to a most appropriate close, engendering as it does a true sense of cosmic wonder.
So there you have it...10 marvelous pieces from the woman who surely did earn her crown as the "Queen of Space Opera," every one of which would make for a terrific sci-fi film. I so enjoyed reacquainting myself with "The Best of Leigh Brackett," as a matter of fact, that I am now considering rereading those other 20 books in the classic Ballantine series. Stay tuned....
(By the way, this review originally appeared on the Fantasy Literature website...a perfect destination for all fans of Leigh Brackett....)