Short Reviews – Black Amazon of Mars, by Leigh Brackett

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Black Amazon of Mars by Leigh Brackett originally appeared in the March 1951 issue of Planet Stories. It can be read online here at [or you can buy our illustrated version out now]


Black Amazon of Mars completes Brackett’s original trilogy of Stark stories. Black Amazon finds Stark on his way to the polar city of Kushat to fulfill the dying wish of his sword companion to return the ancient amulet of Ban Cruach to its home. Kushat was built by the ancient Martian warlord to stand guard over a pass known as The Gates of Death, and legend has it that his amulet protects the city from destruction-Stark must take the amulet back before disaster strikes the city.

Well, disaster does strike, but being a Brackett story, it strikes in the form of a tough dame. Ciara, the titular Black Amazon, is leading a host of Norland barbarians and plans on conquering the city of Kushat and possibly plunder the mysterious treasures beyond The Gates of Death. After a daring escape from the Norlanders, Stark fails to convince the lords of Kushat of their danger and discovers that the Death waiting beyond the Gates is a race of terrible Lovecraftian horrors that want to usher in another ice age but are kept at bay by Ban Cruach’s mummy and sword (a sci-magic microwave device that works kind of like the ray sabers from Maza of the Moon).

Like the other two Stark novellas, Black Amazon feature Stark and two women: the titular character and a woman of Kushat named Thanis. What is interesting to me is that, while these stories share this basic pattern, Brackett doesn’t retread with her female characters. While they share the function as Primemover and contrasting actor, these characters are all very different.

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Ciara, the Black Amazon of Mars — StarlitDen

It’s time for the last book’s heroine to come forth. Praise Ciara from the third volume of the Illustrated Stark: Black Amazon of Mars by Leigh Brackett. All illustrations and covers of the three volumes are by us, StarTwo, and it’s published by the sci fi fan favourite, Cirsova Publishing. Ciara is truly a character […]

via Ciara, the Black Amazon of Mars — StarlitDen

Short Reviews – Stalemate in Space, by Charles L. Harness

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Stalemate in Space by Charles L. Harness appeared in the Summer 1949 issue of Planet Stories. It can be read here at Stories Logo

So far, I’ve read plenty of stories with great dames who are gorgeous, brave, competent and excellent foils for their male counterparts. But Stalemate in Space is the first Raygun Romance I’ve read so far that features a lone female protagonist, tells the story and goes through the character arc of the female lead from her perspective while adhering to the romantic tropes of the Sci-Fi dame.

This isn’t a story where the genders are simply flipped, with a ‘man-with-boobs’ character out-performing her foes in terms of physicality – Evelyn Kane is the very capable and very feminine heroine who relies on her traditionally feminine strengths to achieve her goals. Evelyn is like a reverse Matthew Carse – she wins over the heart of the evil space warlord by being a tough, smart, sexy no-nonsense dame, embodying the pulp feminine ideals, just as a male pulp protagonist would win over the evil space princess with his virtu.

The Terrans are at war with a humanoid race called the Scythians. Both sides have built what are basically Death Stars, but the Scythian death star, The Invader, was finished before the Terran Death Star The Defender. During the initial battle, the two death stars crashed into each other, resulting in massive and prolonged ship to ship combat. The Scythians spent nine years conquering the human’s death star. Evelyn Kane, daughter of Lord Gordon Kane, commander of The Defender, has vowed to die fighting the Scythians rather than abandon the ship on the last escape pod.

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Short Reviews – Garden of Evil, by Margaret St. Clair

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Garden of Evil by Margaret St. Clair appeared in the Summer 1949 issue of Planet Stories. It can be read here at

Garden of Evil is a short, sweet, absolutely delicious swipe at anthropologists.

When I had finally read some of Vance’s Gaean Reach, I had an “aha” moment—“So, THIS is what LeGuin was trying to do with her Hainish books!” I see now that she may have stolen a bit from Margaret St. Clair, as well. Given how awful the last Hainish book I read was, I probably won’t be reading any more LeGuin soon, but St. Clair is on my list.

Ericson is an ethnographer on the planet Fyhon, a lush world that is roughly equivalent to Cenozoic Earth, who’s recovering from violent drug addiction with the help of a green-eyed, green-skinned native girl named Mnathl. Ericson had gotten hooked on byhror, something similar to the coca plant, which he used to give him the strength and endurance he needed to return from a failed solo expedition into the wilds of the southern continent.

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Short Reviews – Peril Orbit, by C.J. Wedlake

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Peril Orbit by C.J. Wedlake appeared in the Summer 1949 Issue of Planet Stories. It can be read here at Stories Logo

If Payne needed to fill up a couple of pages, he picked the right piece to do it with.

Peril Orbit is a (very) short story of a one man craft that had attempted to use the Sun to slingshot from Earth to Venus when something went wrong, and he got stuck in a decaying solar orbit.

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Varra, the Enchantress of Venus ~ Lines — StarlitDen

Let there be more lines for the pinups of the Illustrated Stark: 70th Anniversary of Leigh Brackett’s characters we did for the volumes published by Cirsova Publishing. Here are Varra’s lines! The heroine of the second volume and her silver curls. Click on the image captions to visit their respective posts and additional info! Fancy […]

via Varra, the Enchantress of Venus ~ Lines — StarlitDen

Short Reviews – The Starbusters, by Alfred Coppel, Jr.

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

The Starbusters by Alfred Coppel, Jr. appeared in the Summer 1949 issue of Planet Stories. It may be read here at Stories Logo

Sometimes a story can have all the right pieces, but they can fail to come together in a satisfying way. Sadly, that is the case for Alfred Coppel’s The Starbusters.

Commander “Strike” Strykalski and the Whedonesque crew of the T.R. Cleopatra will be reunited with their old Engineering Officer (and Strike’s old flame), Ivy Hendricks, to test out a new warp drive engine right as humanity is on the brink of total war with the tentacular hive-mind of Eridani who are preparing to invade the Centauri system. Naturally, they’re called on to help fight against the gathering Eridan fleet AND try to test out the warp drive engines the Cleopatra has been fitted out with, and they turn a near catastrophe into a decisive victory.

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