2017 author author


The third and final book in the Eric John Stark sword and planet trilogy.

Another very nice Steranko cover but Stark still isn’t white.

Publication year: 1976
Format: print
Page count: 208
Publisher: Ballantine Books

Betrayed!

The previous book, the Hounds of Skaith, ended in hopeful tones because a starship captain had agreed to take Stark and his friends to the stars. But the captain, Penkawr-Che, was overcome with greed. He kidnapped Stark and Ashton, and demanded ransoms for the others.

The story begins when the captain tortures Stark for information about a huge treasure trove of artifacts from Skaith’s ancient past. But Stark and his foster father Ashton manage to escape. The starship crews plunder nearby towns and temples while Stark and Ashton try to find another way to contact off-worlders. Meanwhile, the wise woman Gerrith and Stark’s loyal Northhounds are far away. But Gerrith has had a vision: they must reach Stark and Ashton before the duo reaches the sea. If not, Stark will die and Skatih is doomed. So, Gerrith and the few allies Stark have start a dangerous journey towards Stark and Ashton.

We get to see again the places and peoples we saw in the previous books but somewhat changed. Again, Stark gathers allies where he can, even from former enemies. They know that one Wandsman has an off-word communications device and they must try to get it.

We also see briefly how Penkwar-Che’s crew deals with some other familiar characters when Starks isn’t there to witness it. Also, the whole climate on the planet is changing: winters getting longer and harsher, summers shorter. This makes the people more ruthless and desperate.

The book starts with three maps and glossaries of places, peoples, and characters. There’s also enough recapping to maybe start the story here but I recommend reading the previous volumes first.

The Reavers of Skaith has more named female characters than either of the previous books. Some of them are only seen briefly but they all (except one) have life beyond their encounter with Stark. Interestingly enough, Stark’s foster father Simon Ashton often fills the role of a typical female romantic interest: the series starts when the Wandsmen have kidnapped Ashton and Stark comes to the planet to rescue him, and Ashton isn’t a warrior and has to rely on Stark to protect him. Ashton is an accomplished diplomat but rarely has a chance to use his skills on this violent planet.

The Skaith trilogy is a very good sword and planet story with a satisfying ending. Stark is a relentless (and humorless) main character with deep loyalty to people he likes. He doesn’t trust easily and he doesn’t consider himself a civilized man. He also has to rely on his “beast side” to survive, especially with the hounds.

However, there’s a brutality to the story, in the people, the environment, and Stark himself which makes this story feel very different from the light-hearted (if with a high body count) adventures in Barsoom. I wouldn’t want to read books like these all the time and I don’t think anyone would categorize these stories in the children section, as Barsoom books are now (at least here in Finland).

The second book in the Eric John Stark sword and planet trilogy.

Impressive cover from Steranko, but Stark is a black man

Publication year: 1974
Format: print
Page count: 184
Publisher: Ballantine Books

In the first book, the Ginger Star, former mercenary Eric John Stark followed his adopted father Simon Ashton to the planet Skaith which is at the fringes of the Galactic Union. The people on the planet don’t allow advanced technology, indeed many of them don’t believe that other planets exist, and so Stark couldn’t bring any with him. The local rulers, who don’t want new people coming to Skaith and giving the local oppressed people any ideas, kidnapped Ashton, and Stark had to fight his way to the Citadel where Ashton was held captive. Along the way, Stark made many enemies and a few allies. Now, Stark has reached Ashton and destroyed the Citadel, but the local rules, called the Lords Protector, have fled and taken some of Stark’s allies captive: the wise woman Gerrith and a wounded warrior Halk. Stark still has the nine huge Northhounds and with them and Ashton he follows the Lords Protector to the sandy but cold desert.

Skaith has ruins of old, fallen civilizations and among them live many unhappy groups of humans. The planet also has near-humans who are apparently the results of genetic engineering long ago. The Wandsmen are the minions of the Lords Protector and rule over everyone. They also want to keep their power and so are enemies of Stark. The Hooded Men are in turn the Wandsmen’s minions intent on keeping their own power. The planet has also winged humans who control the winds, a group of people who live underground, and a couple of people who live in the sea. It also has Runners, people who are mostly skin and bones and apparently nearly mindless, just wanting to hunt and kill.

The book has many big battles. Stark is grim and relentless in chasing his goals. At first, he wants to free his two friends but soon it becomes clear that he will have to plan big if he intends to keep all of them alive. So he does what he must.

Even though the story is set on a planet and the first book had some planetary travel, Stark had to give up all of his advanced tech and the fighting is done hand-to-hand with swords. This gives a very archaic or fantasy feeling to the book.

The fights are written very clearly, and now and then Brackett uses quite poetical language. But this a very harsh book; no humor at all and lot of violence.

My favorite things in the book were the hounds. They live like wolf packs, led by the strongest hound. But they also obey the Wandsmen and can’t hurt them. Stark defeated the previous pack leader and now leads them like a hound. If he is wounded, the next strongest will challenge him. The hounds can send fear telepathically and then bring down their pray, no matter if it’s a man or an animal. Stark survived the fear sent to him because he’s not a civilized man; he was able to reach inside for strength to endure it. The hounds can also communicate with him and some others telepathically.

The female characters are very much sidelined this time. Men decide the fate of their cultures through swords.

The ending gives some closure but it’s clear that the story continues.

Set in 1878 in Rapid City in Washington State, it’s a steampunk Western detective story.

Publication year: 2015
Format: print
Page count: 351
Publisher: TOR

Let’s get something out of the way: Karen Memory is a prostitute and she lives in a brothel. She’s also around 17 and not the youngest girl there. She’s also smart and loyal and cares for the other girls. But she prefers to work in Madame Damnable’s brothel to working in a factory, which was at the time dangerous and very dirty.

The book is Karen’s journal and so written in first person and with a dialect.

There are (at least) two main brothels in Rapid City. Hôtel Mon Cherie is run by Madame Damnable who doesn’t allow the girls to drink too much and keeps her place clean. The girls are like family to each other. Also, one of them was born a man. The girls also gather around at evenings, after the clients have gone, and read different sorts of books.

Then there’s Peter Bantle’s place where the girls are kept prisoners, underfed, and beaten. Unfortunately, Bantle is quite influential. One Chinese woman, Merry Lee, tries and sometimes succeeds in freeing Bantle’s girls.

The story starts when Merry Lee comes into Mon Cherie shot and supported by one of Bantle’s escaped slaves. Bantle follows with his goons but Karen and a couple of the other girls and Madame manage to send them away. But a war starts between the two brothels.

Also, a new marshal is in town following a man who murders prostitutes gruesomely. Marshal Bass Reeves is black and he isn’t going to get much help from the locals, except from Karen and her friends.

I really enjoyed this tale a lot. I did have difficulty with the language sometimes, though. I also really enjoyed the side characters and the references to earlier steampunk books, such as to Jules Verne’s books.

The first book in a science fantasy series.

Publication year: 1974
Format: print
Page count: 186
Publisher: Ballantine Books

Brackett’s pulp hero Eric John Stark returns. His parents are from Earth but he spent his childhood on Mercury. After his parents died, a native tribe adopted and raised him, and he doesn’t consider himself a civilized man. After his foster parents were killed, Simon Ashton took the young, barbaric Eric in. Ashton works for the galactic government and now he’s missing. He went to a newly found planet, Skaith, and hasn’t been heard from since. Stark goes after him.

Much like Brackett’s Mars, Skaith is also an ancient, dying planet where the current people live among the ruins of old civilizations, killing and robbing each other. Off-worlders aren’t welcome and are confined to stay in just one of the city-states. Indeed, most of the population has trouble with the whole concept of other people living on other planets. Some of them consider the whole idea blasphemy. However, when Stark finds out that the local equivalent of law, the Wandsmen, have taken Ashton, he’s determined to search the whole planet if need be. Much to his surprise, he hears that he is now the focus of a local prophesy: he’s the Dark Man who will destroy the Lords Protector and lead people away from Skaith. But the mythical and tyrannical Lords Protector and their Wandsmen want to stop anyone from leaving Skaith. Stark must defend himself from constant attacks while looking for Ashton. Some locals could be allies but can he trust them?

The Ginger Star is a grim book. The people on Skaith are oppressed by the Wandsmen and by their own limiting beliefs. They’re often hungry and cold. The Wandsmen’s minions are the Farers who keep the other people in check with violence. The Farers are often naked and don’t do any other work. The planet has several humanoid races which are apparently results of human groups inbreeding too much and/or genetic engineering. The children of the sea live in waters and have gills. They’re also cannibals and make any use of water very dangerous. The human groups practice human sacrifice. Some throw sacrifices to the sea creatures, other sacrifice humans to the Old Sun.

The book has several named female characters. They all have lives away from Stark and some have even high social standing. Almost all of them are naked when we meet them.

After Stark lands on Skaith, we don’t see much use of science. His weapons are taken away so he has to use knife and sword and his bare hands to fight.

This is a fast-paced book and a good addition to the pulp genre. Considering the shortness of the book, the world-building is amazing. Again, people aren’t described much but the places and the setting is vivid. It doesn’t end in a cliffhanger but it’s definitely not the end of Stark’s adventures on Skaith.

A stand-alone SF/planetary romance book.

Publication year: 1955
Format: print
Page count: 141
Publisher: Ace Books

Matthew Carse was born on Earth but spent most of his life on Mars. He’s a former archeologist and now more of a treasure hunter on the hot, dry, dying plains of Mars. When a native Martian, Penkawr, follows him, he ambushes the Martian who then shows Carse a great treasure: the Sword of Rhiannon, the ancient Martian god, the Cursed One. Penkawr is afraid that if he shows the sword to anyone else, that other person would rob him. Instead, Carse realizes that Penkawr must have gotten the sword out of the legendary Tomb of Rhiannon which should be filled with treasures. So, Carse forces Penkawr to guide them into the tomb. However, once inside Penkawr finds a way to pay back: he shoves Carse into a strange, dark ball of energy.

Carse feels he’s falling for a long time and that even something strange is messing with his brain. When the fall ends, he finds himself back in the tomb but it doesn’t take long for him to realize that he’s traveled to the past. A million years to the past where Mars is verdantly green and the Sea Kings sail the milky oceans. Carse is now in a strange land whose people and customs he doesn’t know. (Thankfully, they all still speak High Martian so Carse only has a strange accent…)

This is pulp fiction with sea pirates on Mars, ancient gods, and curses. Carse explores the old world together with the reader. He’s also a pulp hero, very sure of himself and without much depth. He even gets a thief side-kick for comic relief.

The book has two named female characters. They both are women of power in their respective societies but I got the feeling that the societies are otherwise patriarchal. Ywain is a proud and cruel woman, ruler of her country while the other woman is a seer.

The storyline was different than I expected, which is usually a good thing. Carse is quickly arrested and spends time as a galley slave.

Brackett has a very sparse style. While she does describe places, we don’t get much description of people. For example, Earth humans and Martian humans can tell each other apart with a glance. I don’t know what their differences are. Indeed, individual people aren’t described at all.

This million-year-old Mars has three humanoid races collectively called Halflings. They’ve evolved from different species than apes. I found them fascinating but we don’t spend much time with them.

If you enjoy fast-paced pulp science fiction, you could enjoy this book but don’t expect it to be anything else.

Worlds without end is hosting the Author! Author! reading challenge:

This challenge is for those wishing to delve further into a favorite author, or pursue a new discovery, by reading several books by a single author during 2017.

The “Experienced” reading level represents a commitment to read four books one author. As you move up the reading levels, each level should consist of another four books by that same author or four by another author. You can choose to read four, eight, twelve, or sixteen books by one author, or read four (or a multiple of four) by more than one author. For example, if you choose the “Virtuoso” reading level, you could choose sixteen books by C. J. Cherryh, or eight by Cherryh and eight by Frank Herbert, or four each by Cherryh, Herbert, Le Guin, and Gibson. Rereads of old favorites are also fair game for this challenge.

Reading multiple books by the same author within a fairly short timeframe can give you insights into that author’s themes, style, or obsessions not apparent from an individual book. Consider sharing your insights on the forum thread dedicated to this challenge!

Challenge Details
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror
Challenge Span: January 2017 – December 2017

I have lots of authors I want to read more but I’m joining at first for Afficionado level with eight books, with four books from Elizabeth Bear and four from Leigh Brackett. Later, I could well end up adding more authors.

Books read:
1, Leigh Brackett: The Sword of Rhiannon
2, Leigh Brackett: The Ginger Star
3, Elizabeth Bear: Karen Memory
4, Leigh Brackett: the Hounds of Skaith
5, Leigh Brackett: the Reavers of Skaith
6,