Tuesday, January 6, 2015
The Ginger Star
The Ginger Star by Leigh Brackett is the first in her Eric john Stark books. Brackett is perhaps best known for being an early contributor to The Empire Strikes Back screenplay, but she was also a prolific early science fiction writer. The Ginger Star is the story of Stark, a man who finds out that his good friend has gone missing on Skaith, a newly opened world in the Orion Spur. Ashton was like a father to Stark, so he resolves to go to Skaith and find him- whatever the cost.
Stark arrives on Skaith and finds a dying world- the sun is slowly fading and life has taken on a decadent tone. The starport of Skeg is the only place where offworlders are welcome, and visitors are not allowed to leave the city under any circumstances. Stark of course doesn't let this stop him, and after making some inquiries soon finds himself the object of the Wandsmen's ire- the Wandsmen being the enforcement arm of the Lords Protector, the rulers of Skaith. Stark finds himself on the run and alone in his quest to find Ashton- but he doesn't stay alone long. He soon drawn into a conflict involving a rebellious city that wants to have contact with the galaxy,, and meets Gerrith, a wise woman and seer of that city who has the gift of prophecy and has visions of Stark's future. Together they venture north, towards the mysterious Citadel of the Lords Protector, where Ashton has apparently been taken.
Stark and Gerrith are drawn to each other on the long road north, and face all manner of dangers as they make a few allies and many more enemies. Stark's companions are all native of Skaith, and have a vested interest in their own goals, whereas Stark just wants to survive and get his friend off planet again. The odds are against him, but Stark is unique in that his offworld mindset and experiences will help him to survive- especially when he faces the Northhounds who guard the Lords Protector.
This is a space fantasy in many ways, with swords and magic and many fantasy elements. At the same time Skaith is a dying world, with ruined cities and mutants who live in the seas and underground. A fascinating melange. Brackett explores what it would be like for a low tech world to suddenly be visited by starships from other worlds, and how that revelation might not be welcome- indeed how it could overturn the entire established social order. This theme is a large part of the story, and Stark often wonders about turning a planet upside down for one man- but Ashton is his friend and he will stop at nothing to find him. But if he does find him, can they survive the long journey southward again, and win their way back to the starships?
Presently, Stark saw the first of the Three Ladies, magnificent star- clusters- the ornament of Skaith's night skies- that made it impossible to come by a decent darkness. He glowered at the Lady, admiring her beauty but thinking that she and her sisters could make things very difficult for him.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Ginger Star. It's fast moving, brisk and something is always happening. Stark is confident and capable but not a superman, and he gets captured a lot in this story- there are so many factions and groups that he runs into, each with its own agenda- after a while I was wondering how many times he would change hands as a captive- but the narrative pace is brisk and I appreciated that. Nowadays books are longer and it takes forever sometimes to get anything done- here, as in many older science fiction novels, the story moves and is done in less than two hundred pages, but you still get a story, and in this case a good one. If you want a story about a man, driven to fight against impossible odds to save his only friend, against a dying and decadent world, this is a great choice.
She smiled at him. It was night, with the Three LAdies shining through gaps in scudding cloud-wrack. They were in an unfamilair quarter of the sky now, but still beautiful. Old friends. Stark had grown quite fond of them. Nearer at hand, the light of a little fire flared and flickered across Gerrith's face.