Monday, January 21, 2013

The Ginger Star by Leigh Brackett (1974)

I have gushed about how much I like Leigh Brackett before, so I won't go over all her awesome qualities again except to say that she never disappoints. When I saw this copy of Brackett's The Ginger Star (1974) at a second-hand store in Omaha earlier this year, I grabbed it (along with a ton of Edgar Rice Burroughs' books) right away.

Eric John Stark was born in a mining colony on Mercury. When his parents and the rest of the humans died in an accident, he was taken in and raised by the native inhabitants of the planet. Later more humans came and killed all the "savage beasts" and took Stark as a curiosity. He was caged and humiliated until being rescued and taught English and human ways by Simon Ashton. Now Ashton, a representative of the interplanetary alliance, has disappeared on a little-known planet called Skaith and Stark will do whatever it takes to find him.

Skaith is an ancient and dying planet. Many thousands of years ago it had a vibrant artistic and scientific culture. Then planetary climate changes forced people to abandon the northern cities and resettle in the South. Much of their culture was lost in the struggle for survival and over the centuries pockets of people evolved into very different beings with very different ways of life. Over it all sit the Lords Protector -- unseen and ever present -- represented throughout the planet by their Wandsmen, wizards who maintain order and punish wrongdoing. Most of the planet scrapes by to support the lifestyle of the Wandsmen and the Farers, children of the Wandsmen who never work and only seek out pleasure in sex and drugs. But the sun that Skaith orbits is dying and the planet is gradually becoming more and more uninhabitable. A group of Iranese reach out to the interplanetary alliance and ask to be transported off the planet and resettled elsewhere. This threatens to destroy the world of the Wandsmen and the Farers and they fight back against Ashton and Stark.

Brackett is like a combination of Burroughs and Bradbury -- this is inventive, classic science fiction with an exciting action/adventure bent. As Stark traverses the planet looking for Ashton, we touch on the various inhabitants -- mer-people who had their genes altered centuries ago so they could survive the planetary changes by living under the ocean, people who join together in hypnotized religious pods before killing themselves as a group, Northern miners who harvest metal from long-abandoned ancient cities, and many more. Brackett gives each character a full description and a solid purpose but doesn't dwell on any one group, sticking instead with Stark, the ultimate instinctual outsider, as he works through his single-purposed quest.

This is the first book in a trilogy, and I liked it so much that I've already bought the other two. If you come across anything by Brackett at the used bookstore, pick it up right away -- you will not be disappointed.

***
P.S. I'm working on a theory that George R.R. Martin read and liked these Skaith novels because there are so many parallels with the Game of Thrones: a hero named Stark, a modern world reacting to an ancient and partially-forgotten past, a North/South divide, tiny mystical people called the Children who live in the far north, freaky giant wolves, an abundant use of the word Southron -- definitely something to think about!

1 comment:

JAMES MCMULLEN said...

My thoughts exactly, blatantly taking from these novels is what he did. I know because I have been working with a motion picture and TV producer to create an episodic one hour show based on the Skaith Trilogy that would tell all the Eric John Stark stories on the vast journey on Skaith. I noticed the blatant lifting of the Leigh Brackett creations right away. The show is being pitched by Bspoke Ent. out of NEW MEXICO, They have had recent success amd should be able to sell the series soon, Hopefully.