Sunday, November 25, 2012


The Ginger Star
The Hounds of Skaith
The Reavers of Skaith

By Leigh Brackett

Leigh Brackett is my favorite Sword & Planet writer. Erik John Stark is like Tarzan, on Barsoom, as re-imagined by Raymond Chandler for a John Ford Western. But like Tarzan and cowboys, planetary adventurers need space. The problem is that in her lifetime Brackett scientific exploration overtook her. Mars rovers made it all too plain that the Red Planet hosted no lost civilizations, no ruined cities on the edge of drying seas, no silver-prowed galleys sweeping through ancient canals.

So Brackett just moved her hero a little deeper into space. The early Stark stories featured colonialist earthmen with spaceships, so why not get out of the solar system altogether? Stark is sent to the planet Skaith, out where Earth’s influence is at its ragged edge. Skaith is a dying planet under a dying sun. The whole dying thing speeds up when the locals piss off Stark.

Just as Stark’s Mars is a distinct take on Barsoom, Skaith owes a certain debt to Vance’s Dying Earth and perhaps to Flash Gordon’s duel with Ming the Merciless. It is a world under a theocracy. The Lords Protector and their enforcers the Wandsmen  enforce a rigid sort of wealth transfer between the shrinking base of producers and the class of wandering parasites called the Farers. Moreover, on Skaith humanity has fragmented, morphing their forms adapted to the environment at the cost of having anything in common with their fellows. Culture is fragmented as well, consisting of isolated and backward city-states. But there are prophecies of a Dark Man who will overturn the world.

Stark does some overturning alright. He’s there to look for a friend who disappeared while helping some of the productive people escape the tyranny of the Wandsmen. The novels are a series of adventures as Stark wanders Skaith giving the Lords Protector hell. It’s a bit like a hard-boiled movie serial.

The real secret is that Skaith is Earth, specifically America c. 1970. The Farers are hippies gone feral, the Wandsmen are the PC police of a decadent welfare state. It’s an interesting take though perhaps your mileage may vary. I rather liked the Skaith novels, though I find the early Stark tales, rooted in nostalgia rather than insecurely clinging to it, better.
-Dave Hardy


Charles Gramlich said...

I actually read the Skaith novels before the earlier Mars Stark tales. AFter due consideration, I think I like the mars ones better but the Skaith tales are definitely fun.

Dave Hardy said...

With all the interest in Sword & Planet adventure, the Skaith stories should get some attention. They are very good, it's just that the early Stark tales are faultless.

James McMullen Jr said...

A production company out of New Mexico is shopping around an idea to make E.J.Stark come to life on an episodic TV show. This show would be an hour long each episode and centers around SKAITH. STARK's history and earlier adventures would be written in to the story as needed. Wouldn't it be great to see STARK in command of a pack of NORTHHOUNDS? There is a problem though, the production company can not even get their foot in the door due to the recent failure of JOHN CARTER at the box office. I have read the pitch for the series and I believe it will be spectacular in the right hands.

Dave Hardy said...

That sounds very interesting. I think a lot of SF fans would enjoy something on those lines. Keep us posted!