Sunday, June 21, 2020

Leigh Brackett: Golden Age Space Opera Tales

Leigh Brackett: Golden Age Space Opera Tales

The Golden Age of Pulp Magazine Fiction derives from pulp magazines (often referred to as “the pulps”) as they were inexpensive fiction magazines that were published from 1896 to the late 1950s. The term pulp derives from the cheap wood pulp paper on which the magazines were printed. In contrast, magazines printed on higher-quality paper were called “glossies” or “slicks”.

The pulps gave rise to the term pulp fiction. Pulps were the successors to the penny dreadfuls, dime novels, and short-fiction magazines of the 19th century. Although many writers wrote for pulps, the magazines were proving grounds for those authors like Robert Heinlein, Louis LaMour, “Max Brand”, Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, and many others. The best writers moved onto longer fiction required by paperback publishers. Many have never been out of print, even long after their passing.

Space opera is a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes space warfare, melodramatic adventure, interplanetary battles, chivalric romance, and risk-taking. Set mainly or entirely in outer space, it usually involves conflict between opponents possessing advanced abilities, futuristic weapons, and other sophisticated technology.

The term has no relation to music, as in a traditional opera, but is instead a play on the terms “soap opera”, a melodramatic television series, and “horse opera”, which was coined during the 1930s to indicate a clich├ęd and formulaic Western movie. Space operas emerged in the 1930s and continue to be produced in literature, film, comics, television, and video games.

Leigh Douglass Brackett (December 7, 1915 – March 18, 1978) was an American writer, particularly of science fiction, and has been referred to as the Queen of Space Opera. She was also a screenwriter, known for her work on such films as The Big Sleep (1946), Rio Bravo (1959) and The Long Goodbye (1973).

She also worked on an early draft of The Empire Strikes Back (1980), elements of which remained in the film; she died before the film went into production. She was the first woman shortlisted for the Hugo Award.

Brackett’s Solar System

Often referred to as the “Queen of Space Opera”, Brackett also wrote planetary romance. Almost all of her planetary romances take place in the Leigh Brackett Solar System, which contains richly detailed fictional versions of the consensus Mars and Venus of science fiction from the 1930s to the 1950s. Mars appears as a marginally habitable desert world, populated by ancient, decadent and mostly humanoid races; Venus as a primitive, wet jungle planet, occupied by vigorous, primitive tribes and reptilian monsters. Brackett’s Skaith combines elements of her other worlds with fantasy elements.

Though the influence of Edgar Rice Burroughs is apparent in Brackett’s Mars stories, her Mars is set firmly in a world of interplanetary commerce and competition. A prominent theme of her stories is the clash of planetary civilizations; the stories illustrate and criticize the effects of colonialism on civilizations that are either older or younger than those of the colonizers.

Burroughs’ heroes set out to remake entire worlds according to their own codes; Brackett’s heroes (often antiheroes) are at the mercy of trends and movements far bigger than they are. After the Mariner missions proved there was no life on Mars, she never returned to her solar system. When she started to write planetary romance again in the 70s, she invented a new solar system outside our own. (Wikipedia)

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