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The Secret of Sinharat &
People of the Talisman
Leigh Brackett
Planet Stories, 237 pages
The Secret of Sinharat
Leigh Brackett

Leigh Douglass Brackett (1915–1978) wrote science fiction and mystery novels and Hollywood screenplays; notably those for The Big Sleep (1946), Rio Bravo (1959), The Long Goodbye (1973) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980), though the latter was, by some accounts not used or much modified. Her first published science fiction story was "Martian Quest" (Astounding Science Fiction, Feb. 1940); Shadow Over Mars (1944) was her first novel-length science fiction story. In 1944, she published her first novel, No Good from a Corpse, a hard-boiled mystery in the style of Raymond Chandler, which caught the eye of Hollywood director Howard Hawks, led to her co-scripting The Big Sleep (1946) with William Faulkner. In 1946 Brackett married science fiction author Edmond Hamilton. After the demise of many of the pulps in the 1950s, Brackett began writing for the film and television markets, though she returned occasionally to writing science-fiction pieces. Brackett also won a Spur Award for best western novel with Follow the Free Wind (1964). Brackett died of cancer on March 18, 1978, soon after submitting her screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back.

Wikipedia page on Leigh Brackett
Sites about Leigh Brackett: 1, 2, 3, 4
Publisher's page

Past Feature Reviews
The Secret of Sinharat (1964)
People of the Talisman (1964)
The Secret of Sinharat (1971)
People of the Talisman (1971)
A review by Georges T. Dodds

The complex history of original publication, revisions by Brackett and her husband, retitlings and reprintings of The Secret of Sinharat and People of the Talisman can be found in the preceding links. The text of this edition appears to that of the 1964 Ace Double edition (reprinted 1971).

I don't quite know why I hadn't as yet read any of Leigh Brackett's John Stark of Mars novel(la)s. I'd enjoyed Brackett's post-world disaster novel, The Long Tomorrow (Ace, 1955), though I don't think I ever got through her collection of SF short stories The Halfling and Other Stories (Ace, 1973); so it wasn't as if I hadn't heard of her. Mainly, I think, it's that I didn't discover her until I was thoroughly jaded of the genre, and then I just assumed that John Stark was just another spaceman with a gun. Certainly there is some painfully bad material in this genre (see for example Sensuous Science Fiction from the Weird and Spicy Pulps, Bowling Green State Popular Press, 1984). However, the John Stark stories are clearly in the must read segment of the genre.

John Stark, besides being a tough and independent mercenary, is interesting in that he is a man with a very thin veneer of civilisation overlying an almost animalistic core. In somewhat of a parallel with Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes, Stark was raised from infancy by barely-human Mercurian aborigines, and under certain stressful situations, which are not uncommon in his business, he reverts to his origins and lives by his quasi-animalistic instincts. The more human side of Stark is at least somewhat that of a male character in a hard-boiled detective novel, street smart, tough as nails, and with a healthy interest in the 'dames,' the more dangerous the better. Not being much of a reader of westerns, I can't attest to what degree Brackett's prize-winning western writing is an influence on these stories, but certainly some situations in these novels could easily be transposed into that genre.

As trite as this may sound, it sums up why these novel(la)s are so good, regardless of the genre they may fall into: Leigh Brackett was an excellent Writer. Her characters are well drawn, the story well-paced, the situations imaginative, the landscape well depicted, and given her success in genres as different as science fiction, hard-boiled detective and western, and in a wide range of outlets, from pulp magazines to films, it is clear that she could easily compete with any of her male contemporaries. This makes for a story where the reader doesn't need to provide a great deal of energy in sorting things out, but is drawn along almost effortlessly into the action.

In The Secret of Sinharat, Stark serves as a mole inside an organisation seeking to foment an uprising that could spread across Mars. Stark must find out who are front-men and who are the puppet-masters, and some of the latter are mighty seductive, and much more dangerous than might at first appear. Having pulled through this adventure, in People of the Talisman, Stark goes to a physically and socially decaying city in the Mars' polar regions, bearing a stolen artefact which his late travelling companion made a promise to return to the city's keepers. He reaches the city one step ahead of a horde of barbarians intent on destroying the city, the leader of which isn't exactly among Stark's closest friends. When the city falls, Stark along with the swordswoman Ciaran, take the artefact through the Gates of Death to the abode of one of Mars' most ancient and now most degenerate races, and find out why so few have returned from there.

The Secret of Sinharat includes an informative and heartfelt Introduction by Michael Moorcock on the Leigh Brackett he knew personally and her various writings. This new edition of these two John Stark tales, along with further available adventures (The Ginger Star) and more to come (Hounds of Skaith and The Reavers of Skaith) promise some top-notch science-fiction adventure material will be available, and more readers can (re)discover John Stark.

Copyright © 2008 by Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist whose interests lie predominantly in both English and French pre-1950 imaginative fiction. Besides reviews and articles at SFSite and in fanzines such as Argentus, Pulpdom and WARP, he has published peer-reviewed articles in fields ranging from folklore to water resource management. He is the creator and co-curator of The Ape-Man, His Kith and Kin a website exploring thematic precursors of Tarzan of the Apes, as well as works having possibly served as Edgar Rice Burroughs' documentary sources. The close to 100 e-texts include a number of first time translations from the French by himself and others. Georges is also the creator and curator of a website dedicated to William Murray Graydon (1864-1946), a prolific American-born author of boys' adventures. The website houses biographical, and bibliographical materials, as well as a score of novels, and over 100 short stories.

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