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Leigh Douglass Brackett (December 7, 1915 – March 18, 1978) was an Americamarker author, particularly of science fiction. She was also a screenwriter, known for her work on famous films such as The Big Sleep (1945), Rio Bravo (1959), The Long Goodbye (1973) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980).


Leigh Brackett was born and grew up in Los Angeles, California. On December 31, 1946, she married Edmond Hamilton in San Gabriel, CAmarker, and moved with him to Kinsman, Ohio. She died in 1978.


Brackett's first published science fiction story was "Martian Quest", which appeared in the February 1940 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Her earliest years as a writer (1940-1942) were her most productive in numbers of stories written; however, these works show a writer still mastering her craft. The first of her science fiction stories still attempt to emphasize a quasi-scientific angle, with problems resolved by an appeal to the (usually imaginary) chemical, biological, or physical laws of her invented worlds. As Brackett became more comfortable as an author, this element receded and was replaced by adventure stories with a strong touch of fantasy. Occasional stories have social themes, such as "The Citadel of Lost Ships" (1943), which considers the effects on the native cultures of alien worlds of Earth's expanding trade empire.

Brackett's 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.

At the same time, Brackett's science fiction stories were becoming more ambitious. Shadow Over Mars (1944) was her first novel-length science fiction story, and though still somewhat rough-edged, marked the beginning of a new style, strongly influenced by the characterization of the 1940s detective story and film noir. Brackett's heroes from this period are tough, two-fisted, semi-criminal, ill-fated adventurers. Shadow's Rick Urquhart (reputedly modelled on Humphrey Bogart's shadier film characters) is a ruthless, selfish space drifter, who just happens to be caught in a web of political intrigue that accidentally places the fate of Mars in his hands.

In 1946, the same year that Brackett married science fiction author Edmond Hamilton, Planet Stories published the novella "Lorelei of the Red Mist". Brackett only finished the first half before turning it over to Planet Stories' other acclaimed author, Ray Bradbury, so that she could leave to work on The Big Sleep. "Lorelei"'s main character is an out-and-out criminal, a thief called Hugh Starke. Though the story was well concluded by Bradbury, Brackett seems to have felt that her ideas in this story were insufficiently addressed, as she returns to them in later stories—particularly "Enchantress of Venus" (1949).

Brackett returned from her break from science-fiction writing, caused by her cinematic endeavors, in 1948. From then on to 1951, she produced a series of science fiction adventure stories that were longer, more ambitious, and better written than her previous work. To this period belong such classic representations of her planetary settings as "The Moon that Vanished" and the novel-length Sea-Kings of Mars (1949), later published as The Sword of Rhiannon, a vivid description of Mars before its oceans evaporated.

With "Queen of the Martian Catacombs" (1949), Brackett found for the first time a character that she cared to return to. Eric John Stark 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" that he was on Mercury. Thus, Stark is the archetypical modern man—a beast with a thin veneer of civilization. From 1949 to 1951, Stark (whose name obviously echoes that of the hero in "Lorelei") appeared in three tales, all published in Planet Stories; the aforementioned "Queen", "Enchantress of Venus", and finally "Black Amazon of Mars". With this last story, Brackett's period of writing high adventure ended.

Brackett's stories thereafter adopted a more elegiac tone. They no longer celebrated the conflicts of frontier worlds, but lamented the passing away of civilizations. The stories now concentrated more upon mood than on plot. The reflective, retrospective nature of these stories is indicated in the titles: "The Last Days of Shandakor"; "Shannach — the Last"; "Last Call from Sector 9G".

This last story was published in the very last issue (Summer 1955) of Planet Stories, always Brackett's most reliable market for science fiction. With the disappearance of Planet Stories and, later in 1955, of Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories, the market for Brackett's brand of story dried up, and the first phase of her career as a science fiction author ended. A few other stories trickled out over the next decade, and old stories were revised and published as novels. A new production of this period was one of Brackett's most critically acclaimed science fiction novels, The Long Tomorrow (1955). This novel describes an agrarian, deeply technophobic society that develops after a nuclear war.

But most of Brackett's writing after 1955 was for the more lucrative film and television markets. In 1963 and 1964, she briefly returned to her old Martian milieu with a pair of stories; "The Road to Sinharat" can be regarded as an affectionate farewell to the world of "Queen of the Martian Catacombs", while the other – with the intentionally ridiculous title of "Purple Priestess of the Mad Moon" – borders on parody.

After another hiatus of nearly a decade, Brackett 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. This trilogy brought Eric John Stark back for adventures upon the extrasolar planet of Skaith (rather than his old haunts of Mars and Venus).

Most of Brackett's science fiction can be characterized as space opera or planetary romance. Almost all of her planetary romances take place within a common invented universe, the Leigh Brackett Solar System, which contains richly detailed fictional versions of the consensus Mars and Venus of science fiction in the 1930s–1950s. Mars thus 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 Brackett's other worlds with fantasy elements.

The fact that the settings of Brackett's stories range from a rocket-crowded interplanetary space to the superstitious backwaters of primitive or decadent planets allows her a great deal of scope for variation in style and subject matter. In a single story, Brackett can veer from space opera to hard-boiled detective fiction to Western to the borders of Celtic-inspired fantasy. Brackett cannot, therefore, be easily classified as a Sword and planet science fantasy writer; though swords and spears may show up in the most primitive regions of her planets, guns, blasters and electric-shock generators are more common weapons.

Though the influence of Edgar Rice Burroughs is apparent in Brackett's Mars stories, the differences between their versions of Mars are great. Brackett's Mars is set firmly in a world of interplanetary commerce and competition, and one of the most prominent themes of Brackett's stories is the clash of planetary civilizations; the stories both illustrate and criticize the effects of colonialism on civilizations which are either older or younger than those of the colonizers, and thus they have relevance to this day. Burroughs' heroes set out to remake entire worlds according to their own codes; Brackett's heroes (often anti-heroes) are at the mercy of trends and movements far bigger than they are.

The Empire Strikes Back

Brackett worked on the screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back. The movie won the Hugo Award in 1981. This script was a departure for Brackett, since until then, all of her science fiction had been in the form of novels and short stories.

The exact role which Brackett played in writing the script for Empire is the subject of some dispute. What is agreed on by all is that George Lucas asked Brackett to write the screenplay based on his story outline. It is also known that Brackett wrote a finished first draft which was delivered to Lucas shortly before Brackett's death from cancer on March 18, 1978. The screenplay was revised for filming by Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan, and both Brackett and Kasdan (though not Lucas) were given credit for the final script.

Many reviewers believed that they could detect traces of Brackett's influence in both the dialogue and the treatment of the space opera genre in Empire. However, Laurent Bouzereau, in his book Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays, states that Lucas disliked the direction of Brackett's screenplay and discarded it. He then produced two screenplays before turning the results over to Kasdan, who did not work directly with Brackett's script at all. By this scenario, Lucas' assignment of credit to Brackett was a mere courtesy or mark of respect for the work she had done during her illness. Support for this view comes from Stephen Haffner, owner of the press that printed Martian Quest: The Early Brackett, who has read Brackett's script, and claims that—outside Lucas' storyline—nothing of Brackett's personal contributions survives in the finished movie.

Brackett's screenplay has never been published. According to Haffner, it can be read at the library of the Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, New Mexicomarker, but may not be copied or borrowed off-site.


Short science fiction





After 1955

  • The Other People (novelette; Venture Science Fiction Magazine March 1957) - also published as The Queer Ones
  • All the Colors of the Rainbow (novelette; Venture Science Fiction Magazine November 1957)
  • The Road to Sinharat (novelette; Amazing Stories May 1963)
  • Purple Priestess of the Mad Moon (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction October 1964)
  • Come Sing the Moons of Moravenn (The Other Side of Tomorrow, 1973)
  • How Bright the Stars (Flame Tree Planet: An Anthology of Religious Science-Fantasy, 1973)
  • Mommies and Daddies (Crisis, 1974)
  • Stark and the Star Kings (2005), with Edmond Hamilton (in the collection of the same name)

Science fiction novels

  • Shadow Over Mars (1951) - first published 1944; published in the U.S. as The Nemesis from Terra (1961)
  • The Starmen (1952) - also published as The Galactic Breed (1955, abridged), The Starmen of Llyrdis (1976)
  • The Sword of Rhiannon (1953) - first published as Sea-Kings of Mars (1949)
  • The Big Jump (1955)
  • The Long Tomorrow (1955)
  • Alpha Centauri or Die! (1963) - fixup of The Ark of Mars (1953) and Teleportress of Alpha C (1954)
  • The Secret of Sinharat and People of the Talisman (1964) - expansions of Queen of the Martian Catacombs (1949) and Black Amazon of Mars (1951), respectively, packaged back-to-back as an Ace Double novel; republished under one title as Eric John Stark, Outlaw of Mars (1982)
Skaith novels
  • The Ginger Star (1974) - first published as a two-part serial in Worlds of If, February and April 1974
  • The Hounds of Skaith (1974)
  • The Reavers of Skaith (1976)

Science fiction collections

  • The Coming of the Terrans (1967)
    • Includes The Beast-Jewel of Mars, Mars Minus Bisha, The Last Days of Shandakor, Purple Priestess of the Mad Moon, and The Road to Sinharat.
  • The Halfling and Other Stories (1973)
    • Includes The Halfling, The Dancing Girl of Ganymede, The Citadel of Lost Ages, All the Colors of the Rainbow, The Shadows, Enchantress of Venus, and The Lake of the Gone Forever.
  • The Book of Skaith (1976) - omnibus edition of the three Skaith novels
  • The Best of Leigh Brackett (1977), ed. Edmond Hamilton
    • Includes The Jewel of Bas, The Vanishing Venusians, The Veil of Astellar, The Moon that Vanished, Enchantress of Venus, The Woman from Altair, The Last Days of Shandakor, Shannach — The Last, The Tweener, and The Queer Ones.
  • Martian Quest: The Early Brackett (2000) - Haffner Press
    • Includes all of Brackett's early short stories published up to March 1943.
  • Stark and the Star Kings (2005), with Edmond Hamilton
    • Includes Queen of the Martian Catacombs, Enchantress of Venus, Black Amazon of Mars, Stark and the Star Kings (collaboration with Hamilton)
  • Sea-Kings of Mars and Otherworldly Stories (2005) - Volume 46 in Gollancz's Fantasy Masterworks series
    • Includes The Sorcerer of Rhiannon, The Jewel of Bas, Terror out of Space, Lorelei of the Red Mist, The Moon that Vanished, Sea-Kings of Mars, Queen of the Martian Catacombs, Enchantress of Venus, Black Amazon of Mars, The Last Days of Shandakor, The Tweener, and The Road to Sinharat
  • Lorelei of the Red Mist (2007) - Haffner Press
    • Includes The Blue Behemoth, Thralls of the Endless Night, The Jewel of Bas, The Veil of Astellar, Terror Out of Space, The Vanishing Venusians, Lorelei of the Red Mist, The Moon That Vanished, The Beast-Jewel of Mars, Quest of the Starhope, The Lake of the Gone Forever, and The Dancing Girl of Ganymede

Science fiction, as editor

  • The Best of Planet Stories No. 1 (anthology; 1975)
  • The Best of Edmond Hamilton (collection; 1977)

Other genres

  • No Good from a Corpse (crime novel; 1944)
  • Stranger at Home (crime novel; 1946) - ghost-writer for the actor George Sanders
  • An Eye for an Eye (crime novel; 1957) - adapted for television as Markham (1959-60; CBS)
  • The Tiger Among Us (crime novel; 1957; UK 1960 as Fear No Evil), filmed as 13 West Street (1962; dir. Philip Leacock)
  • Follow the Free Wind (western novel; 1963) - received the Spur Award from Western Writers of America
  • Rio Bravo (western novel; 1959) - novelization based on the screenplay by Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett
  • Silent Partner (crime novel; 1969)

See also


External links

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