Leigh Brackett Wins Retro-Hugo for Shadow Over Mars

A lot of the 2020 Hugos stuff we’ve taken a minute to look at is really bad.* This isn’t the case for the 1945 Retro Hugos.

Leigh Brackett’s book with the cute bird girl won Best Novel.

Given how bad a lot of the contemporary nominees are, it’s pretty impressive that something this good would win!

We absolutely adore Leigh Brackett, and recommend you check out everything you can get your hands on by her!

If you haven’t already, you ought to check out our illustrated edition of her Stark Planet Stories novellas!

*[See our editor Xavier’s blog for some prime examples]

Thoughts on Eric John Stark’s Ethnicity

Recently, Barnes & Noble decided to try something for Black History Month that everyone decided was a Bad IdeaTM. No, that wasn’t a Babylon Bee article, they took characters from classic works [in many cases the villains, ironically] and made them black on the cover art as part of a promotion.

Cover Only JPGLast year, we put out a fully-illustrated edition of Brackett’s Planet Stories-era Stark adventures, and one thing we wanted to be sure to do was portray him on the covers and in the interior the way he’s described: black. No, not ethnically black, but dark-skinned; easily shorthanded as “black”.

Some people take issue with or confuse Stark’s changed nature with the de jour racial politics: “How is pretending Eric John Stark’s sun-blackened skin makes him a different race any better than just straight up race swapping characters?”

Who is Stark? Is he a white man? Is he a black man? Is he a white man with black skin?

His skin is black and everyone calls him a “great black ape.”

He’s stripped of any white ethnic identity by his physical condition as well as his upbringing.

Enchantress Cover for ebookHe’s an eternal outsider.

He identifies as N’Chaka, Man with no tribe.

If Stark was ever “white”, he is no longer–he feels no racial kinship with “white” men of Earth. But he’s not “black” either, in that he is not African, nor would he feel any racial kinship with “black” men of Earth, though given his upbringing, he might feel more sympathetic towards them.

Brackett was a huge fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Tarzan, and in some ways Stark may be looked at as an anti-Tarzan.

Tarzan was Nature over Nurture. Burroughs emphasized the importance of his noble Anglo blood that always shone through despite the circumstances of his upbringing; Tarzan was always true to his blood and nothing could change that. When he meets fellow whites, he knows them to be his people.

Black Amazon of Mars Front Only

Stark was Nurture over Nature. His environment changed him physically and mentally; though he was the child of frontier settlers from earth, at his core he is a savage, more kin with the the wild Mercurian indigenous hunters than with the earth men who found him and dragged him back to earth in a cage “to civilize him”. That Stark was at some point in his early childhood a white boy would be immaterial to his ethnic identity as it presents to every other person he comes in contact with, and you can be damn sure he feels no sense of racial connection to “white” people. He’s a character who was crafted to be completely and totally an outsider among any race.

To say “he’s white with black skin” glosses over the experiment Brackett was doing with the character, creating someone with conflicting ethnic signifiers and no racial identity besides “other”.

So, when I say “Eric John Stark is black,” I’m not saying “Eric John Stark is either descended from African American slave stock or is a Sub-Saharan African”; I’m saying he’s literally black.

More details on our 70th Anniversary Illustrated Stark can be found here.

Also, be sure to check out our Spring Issue, available for pre-order now in e-book form [print pre-order coming soon!], out March 13th!

Happy Birthday, Leigh Brackett!

leigh bracket

Happy Birthday to Leigh Brackett, the Queen of Space Opera Science Fiction! Leigh Brackett was one of the best and possibly most important authors you’ve never heard of [unless you follow us, of course].

She was a fan-favorite in the pages of the pulps [and yes, the readers knew she was a woman, and if a neophyte reader misgendered her in the letters columns, editors were quick to correct them]. Some of her Hollywood screenplays are among the most beloved classics of all time.

These days, she gets short shrift in some circles, in part because of the Year Zero approach to culture that requires glass ceilings to be broken over and over again–plus the uncomfortable fact that she not only spoke up about NOT facing discrimination for being a woman in Science Fiction [Hollywood was another story], she was unapologetically /our girl/–her final sci-fi epic, Skaith, was Atlas Shrugged in Space with a black man siccing his psionic dogs on hippies and communists so that the people who worked for a living could escape to the stars with their labor intact.

We’re such huge fans of Leigh Brackett that this year, we published a fully illustrated 70th Anniversary edition of her Eric John Stark Planet Stories adventures!

Be sure to check those out [they’d make great Christmas presents] and her other many thrilling works!

A Shout-Out for Illustrated Stark

We recently got a shout-out on Cora Buhlert’s blog for our new edition of Leigh Brackett’s Stark:

Interestingly, the most recent editions by Cirsova Publishing of all companies, are the first to actually portray Eric John Stark as Leigh Brackett described him, namely as a black man.

In her post, Cora talks about how the Golden Age of Science Fiction was more diverse than it’s generally given credit for as she takes a look at the 2019 and the 1944 Retro Hugo Awards nominees (the latter of which includes a couple Brackett stories!).

One of the focuses of our own pulp review series at Castalia House (rerunning here through the end of the year) was to illustrate that the pulps were not what people have thought they were by showing what they actually were. And few if any of the nearly 150 stories we reviewed were anything like the strawman of the pulps one often hears about.

Several stories we reviewed, including Spider Men of Gharr, the Stark Stories, and more recently The Dead-Star Rover, featured non-white protagonists and/or explicitly interracial couples. Women not only were reading the pulps, they were writing them too, and we proved that “Leigh Brackett hid her gender behind her ambiguous name” was a myth, with fans referring to her as “Miss” and editors correcting letter writers who used “he.” We’ve looked at the “unexplored colonialism” meme and found that, at least in 1940s Planet Stories, the morality of colonialism and native plight were being explored, often with native Martians or Venusians as stand-in for indigenous peoples, seeking to answer the question of “How could we have done things better and treated these people with dignity?”

As for why Stark is black in our edition of Leigh Brackett’s Stark books: We love Leigh Brackett, we love Stark, and we love these stories, and we wanted to do them justice with art and illustrations from StarTwo that truly depict the stories and bring them to life. It would’ve been ridiculous for us to do it any other way!

Our edition of Enchantress of Venus is out now, and Black Amazon of Mars drops on June 28th with a foreword by Liana Kerzner.

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Short Reviews – The Enchantress of Venus by Leigh Brackett

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

[Incidentally, Cirsova Publishing’s trade paperback of The Enchantress of Venus is out today.]

The Enchantress of Venus by Leigh Brackett appeared as the featured cover story in the Fall 1949 issue of Planet Stories.  This novella is the second (chronologically the 3rd) book in the original Eric John Stark Trilogy.  While Stark is pretty badass, I’d only peg him as 4th level.  Also of note, this may be the first Brackett story I’ve read without a highly erotic scene of strangulation!

I’d planned to talk a bit more about plot of The Enchantress of Venus, but unlike so many of the stories featured in Short Reviews, this one is readily available online and for free as a work in the public domain, so instead I’ll focus mainly on the Enchantress herself.

Damsel clearly not in distress. That guy on the other hand...

Damsel clearly not in distress. That guy on the other hand…

Eric John Stark has returned to Venus in search of his friend Helvi, who has gone missing while searching for his brother.  Sensing that the pirates he’d been sailing the Red Seas of Venus with are going to pull a fast one on him and sell him into slavery, Stark dives into the thick red mists.  What ensues is a compelling drama about the last of a decadent and inbred family, the Lhari, who rules over the pirate port and uses the labor of captive to excavate the ruins of a lost reptilian race at the bottom of the bay, where the secrets of an ancient life-shaping weapon supposedly rests.

Enchantress of Venus is a slow burn compared to some of Brackett’s other stories, but the atmosphere she creates is as thick as the gaseous seas. The Lhari, particularly Varra, the titular villainess, are delicious in their cruelty, not just to those they oppress, but to each other.  While Ywain’s cruelty in Sword of Rhiannon stems from striving to be more like a man, the son her father didn’t have but needed to hold onto the empire, Varra’s cruelty comes from a place that is utterly feminine and biologically needy – the Lhari are dying out in no small part because they are horribly in-bred, as they look down on the other races and will not mix with them; Varra knows that if she’s to have any future as a ruler, it will not be as her cousin’s bride.

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70th Anniversary Illustrated Edition of Leigh Brackett’s Enchantress of Venus Out Today!

Dark Secrets of an Inhuman Race Lie Hidden Beneath the Seas of Venus!

Eric John Stark travels the shores of Venus’ gaseous red seas seeking the whereabouts of a missing comrade. Pursuing this mystery puts him in the hands of the Lhari, a cruel and power-hungry family that rules over the pirate enclave of Shuruun!

Beneath the waves, the Lhari’s doomed slaves live and toil among ancient ruins, seeking out the lost super-weapon of the precursors. And Stark must join them or die!

If Varra, a vain and petty Lhari princess, can control both Stark and this lost weapon, all of Venus may be within her grasp!

An all new edition of Leigh Brackett’s classic planetary romance, fully illustrated by StarTwo and with a foreword by Jeffro Johnson, author of Appendix N: A Literary History of Dungeons & Dragons!

Enchantress Cover for ebook

Reminder: Leigh Brackett’s Enchantress of Venus Out This Friday (5/31/2019)

Dark Secrets of an Inhuman Race Lie Hidden Beneath the Seas of Venus!

Eric John Stark travels the shores of Venus’ gaseous red seas seeking the whereabouts of a missing comrade. Pursuing this mystery puts him in the hands of the Lhari, a cruel and power-hungry family that rules over the pirate enclave of Shuruun!

Beneath the waves, the Lhari’s doomed slaves live and toil among ancient ruins, seeking out the lost super-weapon of the precursors. And Stark must join them or die!

If Varra, a vain and petty Lhari princess, can control both Stark and this lost weapon, all of Venus may be within her grasp!

Enchantress Cover for ebook

Illustrated Stark Merch Available Now!

Illustrated Stark begins coming out on 4/30–that’s tomorrow!

So, to celebrate, we’ve added some cool Stark stuff to the Merch Store:

Stark Merch

Tomorrow:

Leigh Brackett’s Illustrated Stark Deluxe Hardcover Edition

Leigh Brackett’s Queen of the Martian Catacombs

5/31/2019

Leigh Brackett’s The Enchantress of Venus

6/28/2019

Leigh Brackett’s Black Amazon of Mars

7/31/2019

Leigh Brackett’s The Complete Illustrated Stark softcover collection.

One Week and One Day Till Illustrated Stark!

The trade paperback of Queen of the Martian Catacombs, along with the deluxe hardcover omnibus, drops a week from Tuesday!

How well these two titles do will have direct bearing on how much money we will have in our budget to acquire new stories in the fall.

If you want more Cirsova in 2020, be sure to order today! (The first sales revenues for Stark will begin paying out in August).

To keep us afloat until then, consider taking out an ad in our Summer Special!

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