I have a few friends who keep suggesting I read stories by Leigh Brackett. They pointed out that she co-wrote the screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back, which I loved, so I should like her works. So, when I saw the Black Amazon of Mars novella on Audible, I decided to give it a try.
Eric John Stark is a tough man, born on Mercury and raised by primitive peoples from that sun-blasted planet. As silly as that sounds to a 21st-Century mind, understand that this story was originally released in March 1951—more than six years before the October 1957 launch of Sputnik. This story takes place on a Mars populated with humans and native Martians alike, with some obvious nods to the Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Brackett has an easy rhythm to her writing. Black Amazon of Mars is the epitome of the action-packed pulps of the time. However, it takes more time to explore some of the issues brought up in the story instead of simply glossing over them in favor of the action. Her descriptions of the landscape and peoples are extremely vivid, igniting the imagination. She is called the “Queen of Space Opera” for good reason. She made space travel and adventures sound very, very appealing.
My 21st-Century mind was appalled at resolution of the story. It did fit in with the prevailing attitudes of the times, however, where the natives of any given place are not treated very well. It was couched in terms of the natives being “evil”, but I read their concerns as more of “we were here first”. Despite that, I was thoroughly engrossed in the story right from the start.
The Black Amazon of Mars audiobook suffered from poor production values. I suspect the audio was not recorded or mastered in an actual studio, due to the tinny qualities and feedback pops that kept coming up. In addition, the narrator kept pronouncing “talisman” as “tailsman”. He got it right once, at the very beginning, and then never pronounced it correctly after that. Since the talisman was an important part of the story, this got irritating.
I highly recommend checking out this story. It’s quite different than most stories seen today, and that’s a good thing. If you like the Barsoom series, anything by James H. Schmitz, very early Heinlein or Hubbard, or anything by H. Beam Piper, Black Amazon of Mars is along those lines. If you haven’t ever read (or listened to) classic science fiction adventures, start here.
Release Date: June 19, 2014 (USA)
Original Release Date: March 1951 (USA)
Original Publisher: Planet Stories
Narrator: Phil Chenevert
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (brief social alcohol)
Language: 1 (very rare, mild)
Sexuality: 1 (brief description of naked woman)
Violence: 2 (beating with a whip, brief battle scenes, death, nothing graphic)