Another Martian romance by the screenwriter of the Bogart-Bacall Big Sleep, and later The Long Goodbye and The Empire Strikes Back. Brian Aldiss, in his essay Billion Year Spree, describes this novel as 'the most magical sub-Burroughs of them all, the best evocation of that fantasy Mars we would all give our sword arm to visit,' and goes on to further distinguish it by quoting a couple of paragraphs from the opening pages.
As the story opens, Matt Carse, a sort of interplanetary archaeologist who has settled on Mars, is walking by night near the low canals of Jekkara, below the dried up docks, now stranded high above the dead sea bottoms, when he is approached by a thief who shows him a remarkable sword he has found - a sword which bears the sign of Rhiannon the Cursed, a god who was punished by being entombed alive by his peers more than a million years past for passing on their powerful knowledge to the primitive Martian people. For a million years men have sought the grave of Rhiannon until it has become a legend.
The thief takes Carse to the grave where he tricks the earthman into falling through a kind of black hole which spews him out into a Mars of a million years before - a Mars where the hills are green and the sea still beats against the land.
Society is split essentially into three groups. The people of the Sark coast, which includes Jekkara, who have as their allies the snake people of Caer Dhu - powerful allies indeed, since they had been Rhiannon's pupils and possess advanced weaponry. Ranged against these two are the human Sea Kings of Khondor with their halfling allies the Sky Folk and the Swimmers.
Carse soon gets into trouble and becomes a galley-slave in the company of a fat thief, Boghaz, who is the kind of companion most heroes could do without. Additionally, he has come to realise that he's carrying an unwanted 'passenger' in his own head - Rhiannon himself, who has somehow taken up residence in his mind during the fall through the black hole.
The ship is carrying the Princess Ywain of Jekkara, one of Brackett's marvelous little fierce dark-skinned fighting women, not quite like the women of any other world or any other author. The rest of the book relates how Carse battles his way free, encounters the Sea Kings and starts a one-man war with the snake people. And, naturally, falls in love with Ywain. Brackett unashamedly borrows names from Celtic myth--Caer Dhu, Ywain, and others; but most readers will probably be relieved to know that the book owes more to E R Burroughs than to that other overworked source. Brackett's writing, though, has a much more intense, and often poignant mood than is found in Burroughs' Martian epics.
I'm not sure if, like Aldiss, I'd want to cite this as my favourite Martian fantasy, but only because I like Brackett's other Martian novels equally well.
I can definitely recommend Leigh Brackett's Martian novels, Craig. When Burroughs no longer holds such appeal - as happened, sadly, for me - Brackett's writing is more than a replacement as I find it much more developed and vivid.
Her Mars seems to have as much in common with that of Bradbury as Burroughs - and she did co-write fiction with Bradbury - but her Mars is still uniquely her own.
I think the atypical Ernest Emshwiller cover shown above seems genuinely inspired by the sheer colour she puts into her best writing. The other novel included in this 1964 Ace Double is another Martian fantasy, The Secret of Sinharat. Another Ace book, The Coming of the Terrans, collects some of her Martian short stories from the '40s, '50s and '60s, including the deliriously-named Purple Priestess of the Mad Moon (as good as it sounds! )
Michael Moorcock praised her plotting technique. John Huston, for whom she also scripted Rio Grande and Rio Lobo, was her despair. "That scene worked in the last film, so why not in this one!" he told her. She wrote the scene again.
Her husband was SF pulp hero Edmond"Universe Smasher" Hamilton.
Started reading the Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks collection The Sea-Kings of Mars and Otherworldly Stories a couple of years back, and this thread has reminded me that I never finished it, even though I was bloody impressed by Brackett's visions of a dying planet. Must dig it out again soon, thanks Rog.
I'm holding on by a fingernail and my right bollock!
Post by cauldronbrewer on May 15, 2012 20:50:59 GMT
I'm taking a short break from horror to read Brackett's Skaith trilogy. I'm almost finished with the first book, The Ginger Star, and am enjoying it immensely. With apologies to Burroughs, I have a difficult time imagining how anyone could improve on her stories when it comes to writing planetary romances.
I bought the recent Planet Stories editions, which are quite attractive:
Once I get through these books, however, I'm almost out of new Brackett stories to read.