Leigh Brackett was born on December 7, 1915 and died on March 18, 1978.
Leigh Brackett was the first woman ever to appear on a Hugo ballot when she was nominated for her novel The Long Tomorrow in 1956, and was nominated for two Retro Hugo Awards in 2016. Her collection Sea Kings of Mars and Otherworldly Stories was nominated for a British Fantasy Award. In 1978 she received a Forry Award from LASFS, and she was named the recipient of the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award in 2005. In 2014 Brackett was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Brackett and her husband, Edmond Hamilton, were guests of honor at Pacificon II, the 22nd Worldcon, held in Oakland, California in 1964. She worked in Hollywood and is one of the credited co-writers of The Empire Strikes Back as well as The Big Sleep, on which she shared a writers credit with William Faulkner. She collaborated on fiction with Ray Bradbury and her husband. She published one of her non-genre novels using the pseudonym George Sanders. The Empire Strikes Back was dedicated to her memory.
“Interplanetary Reporter” was first published in the May 1941 issue of Startling Stories, edited by Mort Weisinger. It wasn’t reprinted until 2002, when Steve Haffner included it in the Brackett collection Martian Quest: The Early Brackett. In 2008 the story was included in an e-collection issued by Baen Books, Swamps of Venus. In 2009 Adventure House reprinted the original issue of Startling Stories that contained this tale.
Brackett was known for her planetary adventures and in “Interplanetary Reporter,” she places IP reporter Chris Barton in the Venusian city of Vhia. A grizzled war reporter, Barton has decided he is done with working as a reporter and is planning on telling IP editor John Sanger of his decision. On the way into Sanger’s office he spots the beautiful Kei Volhan, who is engaged to cub reporter Bobby Lance. Just as Barton announces his decision, Vhia comes under attack by a Jovian military force.
Partly to keep from saving face in front of Volhan, Barton allows himself to be convinced that he need to go into space to report on the Jovian attack. The two reporters and Volham manage to make their escape in an IP news spaceship and once they achieve orbit, they quickly learn that the surprise attack is not Jovian, but rather Martian in origin as Mars is trying to start a war between the Jovians and Venusians in order to gain a better deal on water rights.
Although Leigh Brackett (1915–1978) wrote planetary adventures during the Golden Age of Science Fiction and was married to Edmond Hamilton, one of the Golden Age’s most praised masters, she seems to, well, bracket the era rather than belong to it. Her stories set on fantastical versions of Mars and Venus are indebted to Edgar Rice Burroughs, while her dark emotional intensity looked forward to New Wave SF of the ‘60s. In his introduction to Martian Quest: The Early Brackett, Michael Moorcock wrote that “It’s readily arguable that without her you would not have gotten anything like the same New Wave … echoes of Leigh can be heard in Delany, Zelazny and that whole school of writers who expanded sf’s limits and left us with some visionary extravaganzas.”
The cocktail of Leigh Brackett’s style — mixing ERB and Robert E. Howard (Brackett could’ve written fantastic straight sword-and-sorcery) with the influences that shaped authors like Gene Wolfe and Jack Vance — is what makes her explode off the page in a way many of her Golden Age contemporaries no longer do. She feels startlingly fresh even when her stories occur in an impossible solar system. All the data NASA has brought back from the other planets cannot dampen Leigh Brackett’s power.
James McGlothin has been providing excellent continuing coverage on Black Gate of Del Rey’s famous “The Best Of…” anthologies that shaped many SF readers in the 1970s. He was kind enough to allow me to take a pile of notes I’d assembled for Del Rey’s The Best of Edmond Hamilton (1976) and do an entry in the series. I also sought the blessing of our editor John O’Neill because Edmond Hamilton is his favorite pulp author and I wanted to feel sure I wasn’t intruding too far into another’s territory. Both James and John are welcome to trash Edgar Rice Burroughs and Godzilla as much as they want after this.
I’ll admit to having absorbed less Edmond Hamilton than I should. I’ve read some of his short fiction, but only one of his novels, The Star Kings (1947), a science-fiction variant on The Prisoner of Zenda that’s about as thrilling as Golden Age space opera gets. (Because John O’Neill will ask, I read the original magazine version of The Star Kings, not the later book revision with the sequel-friendly ending.) I’m more familiar with the work of Hamilton’s wife, Leigh Brackett, one of the great science-fiction writers and one of my favorite authors of all time. Their marriage didn’t lead to frequent collaborations, as the marriage of C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner did. I’m glad Hamilton and Brackett maintained separate writer identities, and the feeling became sharper after reading this selection of what Brackett thought was her husband’s finest short fiction.
I’ve read many of the Del Rey “Best Of…” volumes, but few that I’ve enjoyed as consistently as this one. It’s not only because Hamilton was a superb writer — all the authors in the series were first-rank SF masters — but because of two specific factors.
The world of hardboiled pulp is certainly male-dominated, but there have been female authors who have given the masters of the sub-genre a run for their money. Leigh Brackett is certainly the best known female hardboiled writer, if only for her screenplay adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep (1945) for director Howard Hawks’s acclaimed film featuring Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe. Brackett also adapted Chandler’s The Long Goodbye (1973) for director Robert Altman’s deconstruction of the genre with Elliott Gould as Marlowe. Less well-remembered is the hardboiled novel that won Brackett the chance to first adapt Chandler, No Good from a Corpse (1944).
From the outset, it is clear this is Chandler territory. Brackett’s tough guy private eye hero Ed Clive (named for Brackett’s husband and fellow pulp author, Edmond Hamilton) is very much in the Marlowe tradition and the Los Angeles setting only enhances the authentic feel. More than the trappings, it is the fact that Brackett writes convincingly as a man (particularly in her observations of women as objects of lust who are never to be entirely trusted) that is the most startling. One understands Howard Hawks’s surprise when he hired Brackett as a screenwriter on the strength of this book and found out she was a woman. Murder, blackmail, sultry singers, and beatings and shootings aplenty make No Good from a Corpse an unsung classic of pulp detective fiction.