BLACK AMAZON OF MARS by Leigh Brackett
Leigh Brackett was an interesting writer. She was the first bestselling female science fiction writer back during the pulp days when men generally filled the pages of those magazines. She wrote SF and mystery, and she helped write the screenplays for The Big Sleep, The Empire Strikes Back, and a couple John Wayne films among others.
One of the main characters she’s remembered for is Eric John Stark, an adventurer in the old Planet Stories pulps. I first read about stark in a novel in the 1970s called The Ginger Star. The thing that pulled me to that book the most was the cover by Jim Steranko. One of the outstanding things about the character was his dark, almost black, skin. The pulps didn’t show Stark that way when he was on the covers, but Steranko did for the novels.
“Black Amazon of Mars” stars Stark, and it’s one of those Planet Stories volumes that has haunted me since I saw the female character on the cover. The image of the axe-swinging woman in black mail armor was just amazing, the kind of SF I grew up on.
I took the time to read the story (free for the Kindle at Amazon – just click here) and enjoyed it a lot. The tale is a novella, probably clocking in at 25,000 words or so, but it’s just the right length to read in a single sitting or two.
There’s not a lot of characterization in the story, most of the characters serve their purpose and we don’t really get to know them. But there’s plenty of action. The story starts out with Stark accompanying a friend of his while the friend is dying. And upon his death, that friend leaves Stark with a task that’s going to get him nearly killed several times over.
The story moves along briskly and Stark’s danger continues to grow. I had a pretty good sense of the Martian landscape and the various areas/cities, but I wish Brackett would have taken the time to describe things a little more. However, these were the pulp days and stories had to be action-oriented and entertaining.
Stark is a savage hero, with a Tarzan like backstory and a Conan lifestyle. It was a lot of fun seeing him in his element, and I liked the various twists and turns of the story quite a lot. Brackett uses a lot of POV changes and plenty of dialogue to build up the characters and events, so it’s easy to plunge through the pages.
Readers who want a more sophisticated kind of SF probably won’t be as enchanted as I was. But if you’re looking for something comparable to the upcoming John Carter movie in the sword and planet genre, this is a great little story and the price is awesome.