Leigh Brackett is one of the great pulp science fiction writers of the twentieth century. While definitely writing pulp, most of the time, her writing is several degrees better than most every one of her contemporaries. And if you’re a feminist, she was one of the few female sci fi writers of the period (Andre Norton is probably the one who comes closest in output and quality; LeGuin was something like a contemporary, though a little later than Brackett, but is one a whole other level – which is no dig on Brackett [nor Norton]; at least 99.9999% of all writers are not as good as LeGuin).
Like a lot of pulp, the strongest moments are in the beginning… or at least within the first half. It’s a hard boiled, noirish beginning, even though it takes place in a future with pleasure palaces on the moon. The hero, with the cool last name of Comyn and the not so cool first name of Arch (short for Archibald? I guess) is an efficiently violent stand-in for the noir detective, even though he is, in the end, just a very intelligent, space age merchant seaman. He’s searching for what happened to his friend. While he gives an explanation for why he’s so dedicated, this winds up feeling rather weak tea, considering all the efforts he goes to.
You see, there’s a returning, experimental space ship with only a single crewman left, who is sort of zombified, uttering the combination Rosebud coda/macguffin, ‘Transurana-”
You can look up what transuranic elements are, but somewhere down the line, there’s a corrupt and slightly inbred, family owned corporation; a hard partying heiress with a predilection for Comyn style bad boys; and a plot to murder Comyn for the information her gleamed from the earlier survivor. Oh, and there are also the Transuranae, who are being of… I don’t know, somehow transuranic elements or energy? It’s not clear. It’s really not clear. Things fall apart, is what I’m saying. And these Transuranae are… bad? Not so bad? Offering a poisoned chalice? Offering eternal peace? I’m still not sure. But I know that Comyn came back and the dame finds him in a space bar and end scene.
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