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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