Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Stark and The Star Kings

If you ever had the inclination to find and look through the juvenile-oriented science fiction magazines of the mid-to-late Fifties--Amazing, Fantastic, Imagination, Imaginative Tales, Other Worlds--you would find the letter columns filled with names you would probably recognize today, among them Roger Ebert, Greg Benford, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Ed Gorman and, I believe Bill Crider. Yes, we were all fans of the thunderous outer space tales better known space opera.

There were two gods of space opera, Edmond Hamilton and Leigh Brackett (who wrote, among other screenplays, The Big Sleep with Wm. Faulkner). They did it all and they did it brilliantly. I feel guilty for not adding Henry Kuttner to this list but by the mid-Fifties he was writing mysteries with his wife, another excellent writer of space opera and fantasy, C.L. Moore.

Now Haffner Publishing in an extremly handsome oversized collection gives us both Hamilton and Brackett in Stark and The Star Kings (Haffner, $45).

Pretty clearly Brackett is the superior writer. There's a gritty emotionalism to her work that you just don't find in most pulp stories of any kind. I'd say she learned at least some of her craft from Robert E. Howard but her prose can be so stunning and truly poetic that it leaves Howard far behind. She pretty much defines what I found exciting about space opera--desperate noirish heroes, exotic worlds, serious man-woman relationships and even, now and then, downbeat endings. Somehow her worlds had more substance than any others. You would find this quality in most of the adventure scripts she would later write for Howard Hawks.

Edmond Hamilton didn't have the literary or psychological range of his wife but he sure knew how to hook you in the first sentence and never let go of you till the very end. And he did this at every length. This is in no way to denigrate him. In fantasy/horror stories I think he was the equal, or maybe even the better, of his wife, especially in the material he wrote for Weird Tales. Strong, gripping, human stories. In the early Fifties he shocked everybody by writing half a dozen short stories that were as good as the best science fiction of that decade, original, dramatic and haunting stories that hold up well today .

You've got two novels here by Hamilton, three long stories from Brackett and one collaboration. You've got a beautifully made book and knockout covers. If you have any fondness for the old pulp days, this is the collection for you.

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