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Bewildering Stories

Leigh Brackett, Lorelei of the Red Mist:
Planetary Romances

reviewed by Bertil Falk

Author: Leigh Brackett
Illustrator: Kelly Freas
Publisher: Haffner
Hardcover: $40 U.S.
Length: 496 pp.
ISBN: 978-1893887244
Have you ever read a Greek tragedy with a happy ending? Written in a beautiful style, in a beautiful language and plotted in an ingenious way and for almost sixty years lost in the limbo of forgotten masterpieces? I am talking about “The Lake of the Gone Forever,” originally published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, October 1949.

And when did you last time read an adventure story, written like a prose poem, a story that is like a beauteous description of a horrible journey through Purgatory and that ends up in an existential surprise? I am talking about “Terror Out of Space,” originally published in Planet Stories, Summer 1944. As far as I know the two stories have never before been reprinted.

At least I did not stumble upon these marvelous tales until Haffner Press (Royal Oak, Michigan) published the collection Lorelei of the Red Mist Planetary Romances by Leigh Brackett (1915-1978) with a wonderful foreword by Ray Bradbury, who describes his friendship with Brackett and her husband Edmond Hamilton. Talk about a great friendship!

Hamilton & Brackett
This new collection is vintage Leigh Brackett and includes some of the most impressive planetary romances she ever penned, like “The Jewel of Bas” and “The Veil of Astellar” and also “Lorelei of the Red Mist,” a famous collaboration between Leigh Brackett and her “trainee” Ray Bradbury. They have been reprinted before, and I wrote about them in my essay “Leigh Brackett: Much More Than the Queen of Space Opera,” in Bewildering Stories, issue 250.

But this new collection also has lesser-known pieces of outstanding and bewildering pulp fiction, like the above-mentioned “Terror out of Space,” a cruel beauty, and “The Lake of the Gone Forever,” stories on par with the best stories she ever wrote. In “Terror out of Space,” Brackett applies the method that can be described as “begin with the world’s end and move on from that.” The end of the story hits me like a revelation.

“The Blue Behemoth,” “Thralls of the Endless Night,” “Quest of the Starhope” and “The Dancing Girl of Ganymede” were new to me and they all have that very special Brackettian quality! It is a shame they have been collecting dust for such a long time and the publisher should be praised for lifting them out of oblivion.

I ask myself: How come that these stories are not always on display at Barnes & Nobles and similar outlets? The work of William Faulkner, Brackett’s co-writer of the script for the Bogart-Bacall movie The Big Sleep, is always available, while much of Brackett’s work has been collecting dust in old pulps for more than fifty years.

Early Brackett
For sure, her fictional dreams are both tough and sophisticated, but her stories are not difficult to read. The reason her stories have been neglected is probably that her fairy tales belong to the realm of fantasy and science fiction, genres that for some reason are supposed to be less “literary” than mainstream.

I have made the interesting observation that anthologies supposed to include the best stories from the English language, the best American short stories, etc. always include a lot of so-called literary writers. They never carry any mysteries, science fiction, western or other genre stories.

Many of e.g. Brackett’s stories would easily replace some well-written but yawn-creating stories put forward in those “best of” anthologies. As if genres as such can be less “literary” or less “artful”! Every piece of fiction ought to be judged by its own qualities, not by critical prejudice.

Hardboiled Brackett
There is an ongoing Brackett renaissance. This is the fourth collection with stories by Brackett that has been published since 1999, when her collected hardboiled detective stories No Good from a Corpse was published by DennisMcMillan Publications, of Tuczon Arizona. It was followed by Martian Quest, The Early Brackett (2002), and Stark and the Star Kings, stories by Brackett and Edmond Hamilton, her husband (2005) and now Lorelei of the Red Mist (2007), all three published by Haffner.

If the bad news is that a lot of Brackett’s stories are still collecting dust, the good news is that another Brackett collection, Shannach the Last: Farewell to Mars is in preparation.

Copyright © 2008 by Bertil Falk

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