Lorelei of the Red Mist by Leigh Brackett and Ray Bradbury first appeared in the Summer 1946 issue of Planet Stories. The version reviewed was the 1953 reprint in the Fall issue of Tops in Science Fiction featuring art and illustrations by Frank Kelly Freas.
I am very disheartened to find that Tops in Science Fiction only lasted for two issues. It was originally conceived as something like a “Best of Planet Stories” as a way for Love Romances Publishing to repackage older 1940s sci-fi with some new artwork. It’s hard to say what might have been from this short lived title, but the contents and artwork, particularly Frank Kelly Freas’ contributions, were top notch.
I’ll probably get around to talking about everything in this issue (except for Robert Abernathy’s Saboteur of Space; after the previous 4 stories of alien queens, space grifters, Neptunian lizard Nazis, and body snatching parasites, a story where space ships were the only really fantastic element was just kind of boring), but with all of the Leigh Brackett stuff going on, I wanted to focus on Lorelei of the Red Mists first.
Criminal fugitive and d4 thief Hugh Starke (no relation to Eric John Stark) just stole a million credit pay shipment and has crash landed on a Venus filled with beautiful, statuesque naked* people who are pre-occupied with killing each other. Naturally, Starke dies in the crash, but a very beautiful and very naked blue sorceress named Rann is all ‘don’t worry, I’ve got this’, and brings his consciousness back to life in the body of Conan**, warrior of Crom Dhu. Of course, this Conan guy is chained up in Crom Dhu as a traitor, because he betrayed his people to the lovely and wicked Rann. Rann is hoping that she can use Starke to finish off Faolan, the Lord of Crom Dhu that Conan blinded with his own hand, and the lovely warrior maiden Beudag, Faolan’s sister to whom Conan had been betrothed.
What follows is a story of love, betrayal, torture, bondage, zombies, and highly eroticized scenes of strangulation. Seriously, I’m starting to think that Leigh Brackett might get off on the thought of women being strangled. Also, holy shit, Brackett and Bradbury pulled off the whole Dead Men of Dunharrow shtick even better than Tolkien did!
It would be interesting to see the exact lines and boundaries of collaboration between Brackett and Bradbury here; from what I’ve read, Brackett started it, but got swamped with other writing projects like The Big Sleep so allowed Bradbury to finish it. Everything about this story screams Brackett, though the violent and erotic aspects are ramped up even by her standards. I wonder if Bradbury blushed when he was handed what Brackett had already written? Then again, we tend to remember Bradbury as the kindly old man of Ray Bradbury Theater, the guy who wrote scary kids stories and that book you had to read in school, when in 1947 fandom was asking “how did you wean Ray Bradbury away from his naked dames long enough to write Rocket Summer?”
* : Justified for the people of Crom Dhu in that the endless war has ruined their textile industry. Rann just likes showing off her emerald tits.
**: According to Brackett, it was supposed to be an homage to Howard but later considered naming the character Conan a mistake.