The Planetary Adventures of Eric John Stark
by Leigh Brackett
Originally published by Fiction House (1949)*
Republished by Wonder Publishing Group (2010)
* The Road to Sinharat was published in 1963.
Eric John Stark — also known as N’Chaka, the Man Without a Tribe — ventures through the Solar System, battling vicious tribal leaders, frightening monsters, and ancient spirits. Though he has the intellect of a civilized man, he retains the battle-hardened, savage nature imparted by his barbarian upbringing. With his dual natures, he outwits and outfights all opponents, civilized and barbarian alike.
Welcome to The Planetary Adventures of Eric John Stark.
Planetary Adventures is not a true novel; rather, it is a compilation of four stories by Leigh Brackett. The stories are summarized as follows, without spoilers:
Queen of the Martian Catacombs has Stark sent to Mars to prevent the barbarian leader Kynon from ravaging Mars’ prosperous city states and plunging the planet into war. But over there, he meets a mysterious red-haired woman named Berild, who hides a secret thought lost to the universe.
Enchantress of Venus has Stark ride a pirate ship to the seedy town of Shuruun, where he learns of a fearsome tribe known as the Lhari. In their castle, he meets the beauty Varra, who is menaced by two men after her love.
Black Amazon of Mars has Eric take his dying friend back to his home city of Kushat, but along the way, he finds that barbarians threaten that place. Balin, one of the high-ranking residents of that city, seeks an ancient and evil power to repel the barbarians, and both Eric and the barbarian leader chase him, for Balin does not know why no man had went after it for so long.
The Road to Sinharat does not feature Eric at all. Instead, it tells of the struggle of Derech and his companion Carey to ward off the attentions of the United Worlds, who seek to develop Mars to a level similar to Earth. However, Derech and Carey want nothing to do with this, for such development would displace the Martians far and wide and bring an end to their way of life.
Brackett’s style is beautifully uncluttered, with just enough description to set the scene. Exposition is kept to a minimum; even the down-time keeps the plot moving forward. The characters are simple but distinct, with their roles plain and clear. Lastly, she always keeps a sense of foreboding and danger hovering over all of the characters. It also addresses pedants worried about how Mars and Venus are uninhabitable husks…by ignoring them. Brackett did not care about the scientific validity of living on Mars; she only cared about writing adventures on far-off worlds. Perhaps this was a function of her time, when knowledge of the Solar System was less advanced than today, but what is clear is that such tales cannot be written today, since everyone knows the Moon, Mars, Venus, and Mercury cannot support life. Science marches on, and beloved tropes are trampled underfoot — but they don’t have to be.
If the stories have a weakness, it is that they drag in the middle somewhat. However, these are not full-sized novels, so the drag often ends quickly and the reader is back into the action. All of the stories end with highly satisfying climaxes as well, making any “dull” parts worth slogging through.
If you like rollicking space adventures in exotic locales with more action than angst, this book is for you; it will not disappoint. I recommend this book, which can be purchased on Amazon.