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Fantasy Book Review: Leigh Brackett’s Sea-Kings of Mars

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reads the rich and rewarding planetary romances of a forgotten pulp writer

What happens if you cross the Martian adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs with the pulp fantasy of Robert E. Howard? You get the planetary fantasies of Leigh Brackett, the underrated writer of ‘science fantasy’ who penned a number of hugely entertaining short stories and novellas set on Venus and Mars. Leigh Brackett hasn’t quite been forgotten, at least by those (including the fantasy and SF author Michael Moorcock) who have championed her work and, in the case of Moorcock among others, been inspired by her: Moorcock himself wrote a trilogy of Martian novels, Kane of Old Mars, which were influenced by Burroughs but also, I suspect, by Brackett. (Leigh Brackett also inspired, and later collaborated with, a young Ray Bradbury: one of their co-authored stories, ‘Lorelei of the Red Mist’, is included in the edition I mention and review below.) But nor has she ever quite got her due. Like another queen of the golden age of pulp fantasy, C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett has been allowed to fall out of print. Much of Brackett’s best writing goes unacknowledged: she also worked with Jules Furthman and William Faulkner on the critically acclaimed screenplay for the 1946 film version of Raymond Chandler’s novel, The Big Sleep, one of the classics of the noir genre. Read the rest of this entry

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Crusoe in Concrete: J. G. Ballard’s Concrete Island

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reappraises J. G. Ballard’s 1970s masterpiece

‘Art exists because reality is neither real nor significant.’ This remark by J. G. Ballard, who has a claim to being one of the most important English writers of the second half of the twentieth century, strikes at the heart of what drives his fiction. And although it’s not his most famous book, for me the remarkable tour de force that is Ballard’s 1974 novel Concrete Island best demonstrates this.

Ballard has always struck me as a curious mixture of H. G. Wells and William Burroughs, in so far as he can be likened to anybody. Certainly, his novels and stories frequently have the clarity and simplicity of concept that we see in Wells’s fiction, just as the narratives driven by these concepts proceed to undo that simplicity by showing the complications that inevitably ensue. Read the rest of this entry

Wells’s Heir? John Wyndham’s The Seeds of Time

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle dusts off the half-forgotten science-fiction stories of John Wyndham

A good many of the books that feature in this weekly Friday column are found in charity shops while I’m looking for something else. So it was with this week’s featured book, or rather pile of books, by John Wyndham, who has been called the most successful British science-fiction writer after H. G. Wells. In his lifetime, Wyndham was a bestselling novelist. How many people read his novels and short stories now, I wonder?

Like many people, I knew the titles before I picked up the books: The Day of the Triffids, The Midwich Cuckoos, The Chrysalids. A number of Wyndham’s novels have been successfully adapted for film, with The Midwich Cuckoos being made into a feature film titled Village of the Damned on not one but two occasions. ‘Triffid’ has even made it into the Oxford English Dictionary, which defines it as follows: Read the rest of this entry