The Ginger Star by Leigh Brackett
found this little book in a used bookshop and its paperback cover
has been laminated to protect it. It was $1.25 when it first came out
in 1974 and I bought it for $.95 22 years later. I wonder if Brackett
would appreciate how little her work has depreciated in the intervening
You know Leigh Brackett from Empire Strikes Back script (though how much she had to do with it is debated) and from The Big Sleep screen adaptation that she did with William Faulkner (that was a question on Jeopardy
last Friday), but little of her work is still in print. It’s really too
bad. She was well loved and respected by her peers and her work is fun,
adventurous, and classic sf.
The Ginger Star is the reintroduction of her great character Eric John Stark. Stark is a larger than life survivor straight out of romance literature
(like James Fenimore Cooper’s characters, not "romance" genre sort of
thing). He was orphaned, rescued and raised by near beasts who were
destroyed by humans. He was then adopted by Simon Ashton who was the
first person to really care for him. At the start of The Ginger Star,
Stark is all grown up and currently on Pax, the planet for politics,
looking for information on Simon Ashton.
It seems his mentor has
disappeared while traveling to a distant, backward planet called
Skaith, where he had gone to help an enslaved people leave the dying
planet. Stark follows, only to find that there has been a prophesy
about his coming which has alerted the authorities to him and his
purpose before he even got there. From the get go he is a hunted man.
He does find friends among the enslaved people Ashton went to help, but
they are not interested in rescuing Ashton. They want to continue the
work to get them off planet. Stark doesn’t care about them and their
problems; he just wants his mentor or to avenge Ashton’s death,
depending on whether or not he is still alive.
It ends a little
abruptly with many questions unanswered, but that is because it is one
of two. The sequel presumably wraps things up, though I still have to
find it. I think the reason Brackett’s work hasn’t been widely
reprinted isn’t because of lack of merit in her work, but because it is
an older kind of writing. It is more Edgar Rice Burroughs than Issac
Asimov. Her Venus is a lush, tropical planet and Mars is a desert. It
all follows astronomy of the day, however, it strikes the modern reader
as false. It is also, irrepressibly, a fun, action story.
That’s why I linked to Doyle’s Genre Rant.
The modern reader tends to believe current literary trends about what
makes good literature. (I blame Mark Twain for getting the whole thing
started by skewering James Fenimore Cooper.
Cooper wasn’t trying to write that kind of book, but Twain had to come
along and make historical romance into some kind of bad thing. Less
intellectual. And now it has gotten so bad that anything with a true
hero for a character and a few explosions is listed as "genre" and
discounted unless the author manages some horribly pretentious style.)
Brackett doesn’t fit the current mold. I doubt, if she were writing
today, she would have gained the attention and respect she had when she
was alive. And it is too bad because she brings up some questions that
are worth considering: How far should we push a foreign government to
rescue or help marginalized peoples? What are our responsibilities to
those people and to the laws of their land? How do you respect
another’s beliefs and religion that is different and even counter to
your own? How do I get a pack of Northhounds of my own? Because,
seriously, those things are just cool.