Thursday, August 14, 2008

Leigh Brackett’s “Black Amazon of Mars” (1951)

In the afterglow of last winter's Paizo Publishing reprint of The Secret of Sinharat / People of the Talisman, Leigh Brackett's classic 1964 Ace double novel, it’s worth recalling that the latter work is an expansion of an early Brackett novella, “Black Amazon of Mars.”

First published in Planet Stories in March 1951 and featured on the magazine’s cover, "Black Amazon of Mars" received immediate praise from aspiring science fiction writer Lin Carter, whose letter to the magazine's editor, Jerome Bixby, was published a few months later:
Dear Bix:

For some reason or another, it seems to be a long time between letters. ... Well, on to the meat of the mag, yclept
Black Amazon of Mars, or Stark Rides Again! This was a good, rousing bradswords-and-atom-blaster sort of science-fantasy, in the reliable Planet style. This sort of yarn has been appearing in PS ever since Vassals of the Master World, Black Friar of the Flame, and Red Witch of Mercury, and will undoubtedly keep right on appearing in PS as long as that magazine continues to grace the newsstands. Not that I have anything against this sort of story, but after seeing it so often it becomes tiresome. The story is always the same; hero is bronzed Earthman, heroine is proud Martian princess (or proud Venusian sorceress, or proud Saturnian warrior-queen, etc. cetera), villain who is a ruthless and ambitious fellow Martian or Venusian or Saturnian, who resents the Earthman, having a crush on said proud MP (or PVS, or PSWQ etc.). Repetition does not endear this sort of thing, it just becomes silly.

Now, the only thing that saves
Black Amazon from being dull, boring and silly, is that it was written by Leigh Brackett, a talented and imaginative authoress. She took this weary old plot, that would have been limp, uninspired and unreadable hack in the hands of an Erik Fennel or an Emmett McDowell, and turned it into poetry. "The great tower of stone rose up monstrous to the sky. It was whole and there were pallid lights within that stirred and flickered, and it was crowned with a shimmering darkness." She knows the secret of fusing poignant emotion, rich description, convincing action, and above all, a tremendous sense of atmosphere and lavish, excellent use of the English language, to her bare plot and turning it into something damn readable, Black Amazon was a good story, colorful, poetic, and exciting. Let’s have more from Brackett. ...


Lin Carter, the Sage of St. Pete
The One, the Only, the Original Sage!
More than forty years later, the original “Black Amazon of Mars” novella was republished in Stark and the Star Kings (2005), a collection of material by Brackett and Edmond Hamilton, her husband. Interestingly, this collection was reviewed by writer and critic John Clute of Clute's review prompted a letter to the editor by opposing critic Rich Horton regarding the expansion of "Black Amazon of Mars," which in turn triggered a hilarious response and (Ace) “double thanks” from Clute.

Pictured above: Brackett’s “Black Amazon of Mars,” featured on the cover of Planet Stories (Vol. 4, No. 11, March 1951). Art by Allen Anderson.

1 comment:

Blue Tyson said...

Really fun cover that one has. For people doing replicas, this would be a nice one.