Black Amazon of Mars (1951) by Leigh Brackett

“My name is Stark. Eric John Stark, Earthman, out of Mercury.”

 

From 1949 to 1951, Leigh Brackett wrote three short stories set on Mars: “Queen of the Martian Catacombs”, “Enchantress of Venus” and “Black Amazon of Mars”. They each featured her Mercury-born hero, Eric John Stark, and were published in the pulp magazine Planet Stories. Pulp adventure or space fantasy, “Black Amazon of Mars” is an entertaining adventure story that both tips its hat to, and outshines, the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard.

bracket_amazon

At the beginning of the story, Stark is travelling across the cold “Norlands” of Mars with Camar, his Martian friend. They are being pursued and Camar has been mortally wounded. He has stolen something of great value, a “talisman”, which Stark promises to return to his friend’s city of birth, “Kushat”. Camar is pleased but fears for Stark’s safety if he continues on alone.

“The riders of Mekh are wolves,” said Camar suddenly. “They hunt these gorges. Look out for them.”

Stark first appears as a typical masculine warrior-hero common to a lot of pulp adventure tales of the 1940s and 1950s. He goes through a series of trials as the story moves forward, including getting captured and being tortured. What I found refreshing was that Brackett offers brief glimpses of vulnerability in her hero, making him feel less of an invincible Conan-the-Barbarian type, and more relatable to readers.

‘It was Stark who yelled in blind atavistic fear, and the echo of his own cry brought him up standing, shaking in every limb.’

planet_stories_1949sum2b252812529

Another positive is Brackett’s depiction of the female characters. I haven’t mentioned them before, as I don’t want to reveal too much of the narrative. They are very well realized, and offer a lot more to the story than their counterparts in the Conan or John Carter stories. For me, the leading female character was more interesting than the hero, Eric John Stark.

‘She sat, in a great chair of carven wood. Stark noticed that her hand was unsteady, her face the colour of white ash. He was glad she did not have the axe where she could reach it. She did not play at anger.’

She did not play at anger.’ What a brilliant line!

This story surprised me. I was expecting a dated pulp adventure similar in quality and style to Burroughs’ “John Carter of Mars” tales. Instead, Brackett’s prose is crisp and fluent. The writing feels fresh and the story is exciting. The author refrains from over-explaining the world she has created. She drops us into the middle of it and shows more than tells the adventure.

If you are looking for a fine example of an entertaining pulp adventure, I recommend giving one of Leigh Brackett’s Mars stories a try. “Black Amazon of Mars” was great fun to read and has left me hungry for more. I’ve also heard great things about her 1955 sci-fi novel The Long Tomorrow, and hope to read that in the near future.

12122847-_uy442_ss442_

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Black Amazon of Mars (1951) by Leigh Brackett

  1. Leigh Brackett was a great writer. I will note that she did expanded novel length versions of the stories you cite (“Black Amazon of Mars” became “People of the Talisman”). And in the 1970s she did a trilogy of books taking her hero Eric John Stark and sending him interstellar to the dying world of Skaith. And, as is all too seldom the case when a writer revives an old hero, she proved to be still at the top of her form; gorgeous world building, vivid action and credible complex characters. The titles for the Skaith books are “The Ginger Star”, “The Legion of Skaith” and “The Reavers of Skaith”. I think there was also an omnibus edition published under the title of “The Book of Skaith”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment:) I will look out for the ‘Skaith’ books. I was impressed with ‘Black Amazon of Mars’, so I am keen to read more. I’d heard about her involvement with ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, which led me to the Mars story.
      Do you have a favourite story of hers?

      Like

      • I think the first story by Leigh Brackett I read was her “Lorelei of the Red Mist” (co-authored by Ray Bradbury). That was some fifty years ago and it still stands bright in my memory. Most of her short stories were written in the 1940s and 1950s and appeared in the pulp magazines of the period. When I started reading her stuff it was the expanded versions in paperback novels (usually second hand) and individual stories in paperback collections.

        Her Skaith books I read when they were first published in the 1970s. By the way, I got the name of the second in the series wrong. It is “The Hounds of Skaith” not “Legion”.

        Of course, when Brackett was writing her “planetary romances” her settings were at least semi-plausible: Mars as a dying world kept alive by a network of canals, Venus a cloud hidden world of swamps and monsters, Mercury with a Twilight Belt. Now, alas, we know that there is no Twilight Belt on Mercury nor canals on Mars and Venus under the clouds is utterly uninhabitable. On the other hand, astronomers now believe there were seas on Mars in ages past. So, her “Sea Kings of Mars” keeps a fig leaf of science.

        For Brackett’s short stories there are several good collections you may be able to pick up second hand. Titles include: “The Coming of the Terrans”, “The Halfling and Other Stories” and “The Best of Leigh Brackett”.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Based on your recommendation, I’ve ordered the first two Skaith books from used bookstores in England. (I live in Japan, so have little chance to find much classic sci-fi.) They’re pretty hard to get hold of now, aren’t they? That sounds like a real shame if they’re as good as most reviews claim.

        Again, thank you for the information and recommendations. There are some of Brackett’s works available as e-books on Amazon Japan, but I’d rather try to get the older paperbacks.

        Do you review books on a blog or website anywhere? If so, please let me know the address. Cheers.

        Like

  2. Sorry, I don’t review books (barring an occasional review on Amazon).

    It is indeed a shame that more of Leigh Brackett’s work is not in print. One of my dreams is if I was ever to win the lottery would be to set up my own publishing house dedicated to reprinting lost classics. Lost classics to be defined by ME of course!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s