Friday, February 17, 2012

The Ginger Star by Leigh Brackett, Pt. 1

Part One: An Introduction

A large number of pulp fiction writers have been rediscovered recently as the OSR examines the roots of their hobby. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard, and Jack Vance, in particular, are highly touted due to their sway on Gary Gygax in the design of Dungeons & Dragons. Unfortunately, there are a good many authors that have failed to receive such acclaim, being viewed as secondary in influence and, therefore, importance. One of the most tragically neglected, to my mind, is Leigh Brackett.
Cover by Jim Steranko!

This is peculiar to me because Leigh should be poised to become the next major breakout from the pulps. Her credentials are astounding - she wrote The Big Sleep with William Faulkner, along with several other famous screenplays: Rio Bravo, The Long Goodbye, and most notably to the geek aesthetic, the first draft of Empire Strikes Back. Almost her entire body of work has been reprinted over the last several years, and for good reason. She's got a quick, punchy prose style of the sort found in the hardboiled detective genre (unsurprisingly, as she wrote several novels in that vein) which she employs seamlessly into the planetary romance genre. To modern eyes, it is infinitely more readable than Edgar Rice Burroughs and its underlying satirical elements present a more mature work, to boot. Yet, somehow, she has continued to languish in obscurity.

After such a preamble, it will come as a small surprise that I thought very highly of The Ginger Star. I had previously read two earlier novellas starring the novel's protagonist, Erick John Stark, "The Secret of Sinharat" and "People of the Talisman", and I was excited to start the Skaith Trilogy, centering around a backwater planet whose society is rocked to the foundation when they are visited by intergalactic explorers. Skaith is almost a perfect model for the "implied setting" I had mentioned previously (and which I will discuss at length shortly): corrupt bureaucracies, petty despots, colonialism, degenerate barbarian tribes, lost civilizations, false religions, and a strong element of social satire. In short, it is a perfect blend of the tropes that make sword & planet / sword & sorcery great. If you want to see the DNA of the genre laid plain, you could do worse than to read The Ginger Star as a capsule review of the movement in its entirety.

Next: Colonialism, Civilization, and Rugged Individualism in Hardboiled Gaming

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