Okay, a while ago I started doing an A-Z of women sf writers. I didn’t get very far, so it’s time to pick up that idea again and move on to B.
There’s lots I could choose here. If you like space opera there’s Lois McMaster Bujold, for instance, who has won the Hugo Award for Best Novel four times, for The Vor Game, Barrayar, Mirror Dance and Paladin of Souls; or for more experimental literature try Christina Brooke-Rose’s Xorandor. But I’ve chosen someone who’s probably not as well remembered these days as she should be: Leigh Brackett.
Now you almost certainly know her work even if you’ve never consciously read any of her books, because she wrote the screenplays for a host of top Hollywood movies, including The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo and The Empire Strikes Back. But it’s her fiction I want to talk about here.
She wrote both mystery stories and science fiction, and her sf tends to have the tight structure and the sharp, laconic dialogue of the best mystery stories. What’s more, even though she was one of the very best writers of planetary romances, there was always that edge of the criminal in her stories, particularly in her most famous character, the interplanetary thief, Eric John Starke.
For anyone wanting to get a taste of Leigh Brackett’s fast moving and colourful science fiction adventures, these are five of the best:
The Sword of Rhiannon
Matthew Carse, an archaeologist turned thief, is approached to steal a legendary treasure from an ancient Martian tomb, but when he does so he finds himself propelled back in time to a period when Mars was covered by oceans. He becomes a galley slave, but is caught up in a desperate struggle to save the planet.
The Long Tomorrow
After an atomic war, the survivors have turned their backs upon technology, but one town is rumoured to retain the old ways, and two boys set out to discover it.
The Big Jump
The first spaceship to visit another star has finally returned, but only one member of the crew is still alive, and he has been changed out of all recognition. Can one man work out what happened, and rescue the members of the original crew?
Sea Kings of Mars
An omnibus collection of three early novels and related stories featuring the return of her brooding anti-hero, Eric John Starke, born on Mercury and involved in a series of vivid adventures on Mars and Venus.
The Best of Leigh Brackett
Much of her best work, particularly at the start of her career, was in short stories, and this wonderful collection, edited by her husband, Edmond Hamilton, brings together a host of great work that first appeared in Astounding, Planet Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories and similar venues throughout the 1940s and early 50s.
From Nebula and Hugo Award–nominated Carolyn Ives Gilman comes Dark Orbit, a compelling novel featuring alien contact, mystery, and murder.
Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate.