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!

Vintage Nudnikery

Recently, the topic of nudniks and their war on fun has come up again in the pulp circles. Daddy Warpig in particular had a pretty good rant on the subject the other day.

So, I thought it would be a great opportunity to share this letter from the Summer 1947 issue of Planet Stories. I touched on it here years ago, but it’s worth seeing in its entirety.

Vintage Nudnikery

Short Reviews – Action on Azura by Robertson Osborne

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Action on Azura by Robertson Osborne was featured in the Fall 1949 issue of Planet Stories.

Action On Azura Pic

Yes, ‘this fair and gentle world’ populated by giant armor-hided predators, spear throwing weasel-monkey-dog-rat things, bombardier birds, and folks with tentacles growing out of their heads…

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Short Reviews – The Wheel Is Death by Roger Dee

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

 

Ummm... Spoiler Alert!?

Ummm… Spoiler Alert!?

The Wheel Is Death by Roger Dee appeared in the Fall 1949 issue of Planet Stories.

More like “The Twist is Obvious”.

This is the only thing I’ve read in Planet Stories that I would say was terrible.  The Wheel Is Death is an incredibly short story (barely over two pages) that spends the bulk of its words pontificating on the evils of technology that destroyed man in the previous age.

The elder explains to a guy why his friend had to be killed—he invented the wheelbarrow.

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Short Reviews – Signal Red by Henry Guth

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Can you believe the guy on the right is the hero?

Can you believe the guy on the right is the hero?

Signal Red by Henry Guth appeared in the Fall 1949 issue of Planet Stories.

Signal Red is not a bad story; it’s just, much like the other stories I’ve read in this issue, not what I’d gotten used to from Planet Stories from just a few years earlier.

Humanity has outposts and travel throughout the Solar system, from bases on Mercury to mines on Pluto, however Uranus is at war with the inner planets and their fleets raid and skirmish the vessels travelling between those worlds.  Shano, a dying man whose lungs have been gummed up with crud from his days in the vanium mines of Pluto, makes it onto the last flight out of Mercury bound for Earth just before the general warning of a possible impending attack from Uranian raiders. Those who go out into space during a Signal Red do so at their own risk, but Shano doesn’t care; he just wants to make it back to Earth to see his homeworld one last time before he dies.

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Short Reviews – Captain Midas, by Alfred Coppel, Jr.

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Captain Midas by Alfred Coppel, Jr. appeared in the Fall 1949 issue of Planet Stories.

Captain Midas is another ‘tough’ story of the hard, grizzled men of space, but without some of the silliness of Ordeal in Space.  Let me start off by saying this would’ve made a great episode of The Outer Limits.

The story starts with the narrator doing the whole badass cynical ‘man of the sea’ bit, telling the story from old spacemen’s home.  He makes a point of noting that he’s old and dying, waiting for death to take him at last:

“My hair is gray and my face…my face is a mask.  The flesh hangs on my bones like a yellow cloth on a rickety frame.  I am old, old. And I wait for the weight of years I’ve never lived to drag me under and let me forget the awful things my eyes have seen.”

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Short Reviews – Ordeal in Space by Ralph Sloan

Ordeal in Space by Ralph Sloan appeared in the Fall 1949 issue of Planet Stories.  It is unrelated to the Robert Heinlein story by the same name.Planet Stories Logo

Ordeal in Space is a gritty story of a cop who’s walking a dangerous line between the law and his desire for revenge.  It’s a pretty ‘tough’ tale that’s only slightly marred by one of the sillier sci-fi elements, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Space Patrol Lt. Mike Logan approaches a prison cell with hate and revenge in his heart – he’s going shoot Edward Snyder, the criminal who murdered his brother.  Before he can pull the trigger, Logan is apprehended by one of the prison guards.

Logan’s punishment is to personally take Snyder back to Earth to be hung and see that he gets there alive and in one piece.

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Short Reviews – The Giants Return by Robert Abernathy

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

The Giants Return by Robert Abernathy appeared in the Fall 1949 issue of Planet Stories.Planet Stories Logo

Quest III has been on a 900 year voyage from an Earth whose burgeoning population threatens the future of Mankind.  As one of three ships sent forth to scout out likely locations to establish colonies to transplant large segments of the human race, Quest III is ultimately returning in failure.  While it has been ten long years for the crew—many of whom have children who have yet to see the earth—due to time dilation from near-light speed travel, an epoch has passed on Earth.

The crew and captain wonder if their mission was even remembered and how what government now in charge—if there even is a government—will receive them and do with the information they return with.

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Short Reviews – Coming of the Gods by Chester Whitehorn

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Coming of the Gods by Chester Whitehorn was featured in the Summer 1945 issue of Planet Stories.Planet Stories Logo

One of the many reasons why I’m doing Short Reviews is to share what stories from the pulps were like and what they were about, as many of these have never been collected or reprinted; I feel that it’s important because the on-going meme you hear about the pulps is how sexist, regressive, racist, anti-diversity and pro-colonialist they were and that could not be further from the truth! Coming of the Gods is another piece that shows how people who claim the pulps were just dumb action tripe and should be buried in favor of more ‘serious’ science fiction could not be more wrong.

Coming of the Gods is an interesting twist on the Planetary Romance in which the story is told not from the point of view of some heroic Earth-man arriving on a strange world to save the day but an alien primitive saving the hapless space pioneers from the mess that they inadvertently brought to his world.  Kinda like Tarzan, but it should be noted that the hero here is an indigenous African Martian.  Again, we have a classic pulp sci-fi story featuring an explicitly non-white protagonist exploring some interesting themes including human commonality and the institution of marriage.

On the jungle planet of Mars (yeah, that Mars), Ro has just returned from a long and dangerous journey to the far north.  He looks forward to rejoining his tribe and marrying his love, but he arrives to find that disaster has struck.  After rescuing his beloved Na from an Oan, one of the Martian Rat-men, Ro learns what befell his people.  In Ro’s absence, a magic flying sphere landed carrying four white-skinned beings; these visitors were able to communicate telepathically and befriended the Martians, but apparently were not too cautious about keeping their ray guns secure, because the Oan managed to get ahold of them, and the result was a massacre.

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Retro Fandom Friday (On a Monday): Fans Have Always Fought

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Again it’s time to look at the letters to the editor sections of SF mags from the days of yore in search of juicy tidbits and glimpses of what was relevant and interesting to fans at the time.  I’ll give you a hint: it starts with D and rhymes with ‘aims’.

While some fans have complained about the pulps resorting to cheap tricks like scantily clad ladies, there are plenty who will rise to their defense.

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