Leigh Brackett’s Future History – Connecting the Stories: An Examination
An essay by Blue Tyson
It is well known that Leigh Brackett has a group of stories that share a common setting, and that those are based on the planets of the Solar System, primarily on Venus and Mars. However, there is much other SF included in 50+ short stories and ten novels.
I thought it might be interesting to see what work might coherently fit in one Future History, even if it was never explicitly stated. I haven’t seen anything written talking about the interstellar and other stories in general, whereas there are good articles at Wikipedia about the planetary romance era.
Very few dates are given in Brackett stories, so this is an attempt at division into rough periods, in order. There is no mention of medical technology or lifespans given for humans, either, at least insofar as they may differ from the known range of readers of the times.
Elimination of Work
Firstly, there are definitely a small number of works that definitely do not. The novel The Long Tomorrow and its on-Earth postapocalyptic lost technology religious setting definitely does not.
Secondly, the short story ‘The Tweener’ has a soldier return from a Mars that is empty apart from some small rabbit-like native animals, that are actually discovered to be sentient. This is not relevant.
Thirdly, ‘The Citadel of Lost Ages’ is set on a future earth that astronomical calamity has caused to have a Darkside and a Lightside, like Mercury. There is no evidence of such directly in any work. It is in fact somewhat Planet of the Apes-like, Darkside notwithstanding, with hybrid beastmen running the planet, and humans as slaves. An outsider enters with forgotten knowledge, a trove of past human technology including atomic power. Nothing is mentioned of spacefaring or starship technology. Therefore it is extremely unlikely this story is relevant.
Fourthly, her last story, ‘Mommies and Daddies’ has a near future Earth dystopia ravaged by a drug destroyed populace and their abandoned children. Or at least the American part of this world is. This certainly does not fit with the rest of the Future History. Given these multiple bad times on Earth stories all do not seem to fit at all, it is presumably deliberate on her part.
Fifthly, ‘Runaway’ is obviously out thematically with its investigation of the psychological destabilisation of an accountant. Content makes this certain:
“He knew that Venus was important because it produced very large amounts of uranium, thorium, germanium, and a lot of other things that Earth was using up too fast. And that was all he knew, except that people had to live there under domes, and that it never rained.”
It appears that she did indeed intend them to share a common history and setting.
If you want to believe in this exercise, the greatest problem is the lack of explicit reference to the interstellar travel at the same time that there is intense focus on the local Solar System, so you have to get past that in a handwaving manner. Brackett of course was American, so you could perhaps assume that the Solar System chroniclers have the same intense inward looking focus that Americans do. The colonisation does have an American flavour. That is, making the happenings around other stars analogous to international affairs as far as interest goes for the average denizen of either at the time. There may also be author notes or mostly forgotten conversations that render this particular exercise moot, but these are unlikely to ever come to light to trouble us, given the passing of multiple decades already. Spaceports are mentioned often, without detailing the types of ships they serve. Certainly starships are given names like Stellar and Starflight.
One Million Years BC
Some background is given of Martian ancient history:
There is a reference to the Quiru living a million years ago or so, which sounds like an extremely rough ballpark figure. Rhiannon was a Quiru (see ‘The Sword of Rhiannon’).
“The Quiru, said the myths, had for that sin crushed Rhiannon and locked him into a hidden tomb. And for more than a million years men had hunted the Tomb of Rhiannon because they believed it held the secrets of Rhiannon’s power.”
Ancient Sea-Kings and Other Weird Tales
Much later, on a far wetter Mars the Dhuvians ruled an empire as seen in ‘Sea-Kings of Mars’. As told to Matt Carse:
“You know at least that since long ago there have been human peoples on our world and also the not-quite-human peoples, the Halflings. Of the humans the great Quiru, who are gone, were the greatest. They had so much science and wisdom that they’re still revered as superhuman.
“But there were also the Halflings-the races who are manlike but not descended of the same blood. The Swimmers, who sprang from the sea-creatures, and the Sky Folk, who came from the winged things-and the Dhuvians, who are from the serpent.”"
An alien race with advanced technology was also living in the City of Shandakor, as per ‘The Last Days of Shandakor’. While not a million years in the past, tens of thousands of years it would have taken Mars to dry out.
Also The Thinkers, as mentioned in ‘Shadow Over Mars’ also likely also were around tens of thousands of years in the past:
“But these Thinkers have done a lot of good from time to time.”
Mak nodded. “Sure. Theoretically at least they guide the viewpoint of Mars-when they feel like bothering. It has to be some big important split, like the inter-hemispheric war back in Sixty-two Thousand and Seven, when the Sea Kings had trouble.”
As did the Prira Cen: “Ancient things. Things deeply buried, nearly forgotten, clouded by superstition and legend. Forty thousand years—” from ‘The Sorceror of Rhiannon’.
The serially immortal Ramas had also existed since long in the past as talked about in ‘Queen of the Martian Catacombs’ / ‘The Secret of Sinharat’. The Rama Berild talks of just one relationship: “‘Delgaun has had me for a thousand years, and I am weary of him. So very weary!’” Given they are the last of their people, they must have existed a lot further back in the past.
Brackett appears to have liked Robert E. Howard and Abraham Merritt. As far as Howard goes, from ‘The Jewel Of Bas’:
“He gave them a lament, one of the wild dark things the Cimmerians sing at the bier of a chief and very appropriate to the occasion” and “The priests of Dagon, of all the temples of Atlantis, spoke against me. I had to run away. I roamed the whole earth before the Flood, carrying the Stone.”
Her husband, Edmond Hamilton, of course was a writer for Weird Tales, so these are likely a small nod towards a favored writer. A further nod to the Weird Tales boys: “Ciaran, because he was a gypsy and a thief and had music in him like a drunkard has wine, had heard it, deep in the black forests of Hyperborea where even gypsies seldom go.” ‘The Jewel Of Bas’ is itself set on a hidden world in the Solar System.
‘Lord of the Earthquake’ is an Abraham Merritt style adventure where two men enter a portal that takes them back twelve thousand years in the past to Ancient Mu. So a tribute by story type, with Brackett of course injecting one of her favored hardboiled misfit-types in the character of Coh Langham. There may even ben a Doyle influence : “I devoured Burroughs, Haggard, Balmer and Wylie, Doyle’s unforgettable “Maracot Deep,” with this exploration of the deep in a submarine. The same applying to ‘Out Of the Sea’, with its attack on the USA by human created sea monsters.
The horror story ‘The Tapestry Gate’ also has an otherworldly portal contained therein, but is utilised in an horrific vein, as opposed to fantasy adventure.
So Brackett has linked Mu, Atlantis, Cimmeria, Hyperborea and Lovecraftian Elder Gods in to the ancient background of her work.
There were no advanced technological or even literate cultures on Venus, so any history as yet known is limited to fragmented oral traditions, divulged grudgingly, if remembered at all, such as those of the Moon Cult.
A much harsher place than Venus, aliens such as Shannach, long-lived, may have been there in the past, but not literate natives, so nothing is known.