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The Ginger Star, by Leigh Brackett

Second paragraph of third chapter:
He had the advantage of surprise, but that was short-lived. In the matter of strength and reflexes he was as near animal as a man can reasonably be, but the creature he fought with was in its own element. Stark grappled with it and it shot upward from the water like a tarpon, breaking his grip. He saw it briefly above him in the cluster-light, outstretched arms shaking diamond drops, body girdled with foam. It looked down at him, laughing, and its eyes were like pearls. Then it was gone in a curving arc that drove it beneath the surface. Its form was manlike, except that there seemed to be webs of skin in odd places, and the head was earless.
A planetary fantasy, Brackett’s first after a ten-year hiatus, published in the mid-1970s but really belonging to an earlier decade. Our hero, Eric John Stark, lands on the planet Skaith to seek his mentor Ashton, who has disappeared; he himself was raised by primitives on Mercury before Ashton rescued him and educated him in the ways of humans. (His name on Mercury was N’Chaka, which is suggestive.) On his quest northwards he runs into one well-written peril after another, aided sometimes by Gerrith, daughter of Gerrith, whose vision is that he will destroy the regime of the Lords Protector. (Guess what happens at the end?)

Brackett’s earlier stuff (or at least what I have read for Retro-Hugo purposes) was better, but this is still not bad if pulpy, and frankly much better than the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels which inspired it. But it’s curiously out of place in 1974; The Dispossessed, published the same year, a planetary romance much more in tune with the times, won both the Hugo and the Nebula, and I think most people would agree that the voters got it right. You can get it here.

This was my top unread book acquired in 2014. Next on that list is Earth Girl, by Janet Edwards.

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Gregory Hullender
Sep. 15th, 2018 03:32 pm (UTC)
Skaith Trilogy
I read the whole trilogy as a teenager. I got all three in one volume from the Science Fiction Book Club, and I remember reading it during a snow storm (ideal, given the subject) so maybe winter of 1977 when I was 18.

Forty years later, I can remember quite a bit of it, so I suppose that says a lot for its memorability. Much of the fun of the trilogy was exploring the world, and there genuinely were interesting things in each new location. I definitely liked the action/adventure aspect. However, what I remember most was how much the disregard for scientific accuracy and the overt political message annoyed me.

Ostensibly, this one starts off as a straight SF story, with the hero visiting a planet that is suffering because its star is getting dimmer for some reason. When I learned the main character had been raised on Mercury by natives I almost abandoned the book. I wasn't happy when he found the people who lived underground on Skaith and it turned out they had magic. They shouldn't have cared about the dimming of the star, but apparently this was causing the planet's internal heat supply to cool as well. Gaah!

The political message, that if you give people welfare, they'll feel entitled and ungrateful, they'll control your government and eventually they'll destroy everything, was really heavy-handed. I'd grown up in a conservative Southern family who largely agreed with that message, and, at that age, I hadn't rejected it yet, so I wasn't upset because I thought the message was wrong, just that the delivery was lame.

Now one can argue that this was a future fantasy (I like "Planetary Fantasy" as a subgenre, though), not an SF story, but that's a genre that's hard to pull off, even today. This one is pretty much a sword-and-sorcery story in SF drag. I'd probably be more willing to forgive that if I read it today. The message fiction, not so much.

I think your comparison with "The Dispossessed" is spot on; I read that book the summer before and dearly loved it. I reread it a year or two ago, and found it even better than I'd remembered it.

Upshot: I did finish all three Skaith books, but I was never willing to ready anything else by Leigh Brackett.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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