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Leigh Brackett
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Leigh Brackett

Leigh Brackett, although best known for her fantasy and science fiction, also wrote mystery novels and Hollywood screenplays, most notably The Big Sleep (1945), Rio Bravo (1958) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980) She received the Hugo award posthumously for this in 1981. The last was a departure for Brackett, since until then, all of her science fiction had been in the form of novels and short stories rather than screenplays.

Her first published science fiction story was Martian Quest, which appeared in the February 1940 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Her first novel, No Good from a Corpse, published in 1944, was a hard-boiled mystery novel in the tradition of Raymond Chandler. Hollywood director Howard Hawks was so impressed by this novel that he had his secretary call in this guy Brackett to help William Faulkner write the script for The Big Sleep (1946). The film, starring Humphrey Bogart and written by Leigh Brackett, William Faulkner, and Jules Furthman, is considered one of the best movies ever made in the genre.

In 1946, Brackett married science fiction author Edmond Hamilton, and may well have had a positive influence on the quality of his own writing. In the same year, Planet Stories published one of Brackett's most influential short stories, Lorelei of the Red Mists, a collaboration with Ray Bradbury, featuring Eric John Stark, Brackett's hallmark science fiction character.

While Brackett published mainly short fiction in the 1940s, she concentrated on longer works of fiction in the fifties and early sixties. By the mid-1950s, however, most of Brackett's writing was for the more lucrative film and television markets. She returned to science fiction in the seventies with the publication of The Ginger Star (1974), The Hounds of Skaith (1974) and The Reavers of Skaith (1976), collected as The Book of Skaith in 1976, again featuring Eric John Stark.

Most of Brackett's science fiction is best characterized as either Space Opera or Planetary Romance, the latter mainly centering on a Martian venue influenced by Percival Lowell and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Brackett's Mars is a world of Science Fantasy, an arid, dying planet, populated by ancient, decadent and mostly humanoid races (see Mars in fiction). Their iron-age technology allows for plenty of swordplay and similar action, while the remnants of ancient super-technology and occasional psi powers play the part of magic. Brackett's seventies venue Skaith is less arid but otherwise similar.

Eric John Stark, Brackett's most memorable character, is sometimes compared to Robert E. Howard's Conan, but is in many respects closer to Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan or Rudyard Kipling's Mowgli. Stark, an orphan from earth, is raised by the semi-sentient aboriginals of Mercury, who are later killed by earthmen. He is saved from the same fate by a terran official, who adopts Stark and becomes his mentor. When threatened, however, Eric John Stark frequently reverts to the primitive N'Chaka, the man without a tribe he was on Mercury. Thus, Stark is the archetypical modern man—a beast with a thin veneer of civilization.

Brackett's critically most acclaimed science fiction novels are The Sword of Rhiannon (1953) and The Long Tomorrow (1955). The former is most memorable for its vivid description of Mars before its oceans evaporated. The latter describes an agrarian, deeply technophobic society that develops after a nuclear war, and is singled out for praise because of its more obvious relevance to the present rather than its stylistic merits.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2004.

Leigh Brackett Facts

OccupationScreenwriter, Writer
BirthdayDecember 7, 1915
BirthplaceLos Angeles, California, USA
Date of deathMarch 18, 1978 (age 62)

Selected Filmography

Not available.