Monday, March 27, 2017

Appendix N Madness Day 27: Anderson vs Brackett

Robert E. Howard has tread the jeweled thrones of Middle-Earth beneath his sandaled feet and goes on to face H.P. Lovecraft in the semifinal round.

Sci-Fi Region Final: Poul Anderson vs. Leigh Brackett

Our previous region finals were contests between authors whose ideas and philosophies were stark contrasts. This one is between two solid classic sci-fi authors who also did other interesting writing.

According to the story, Leigh Brackett was called up by Howard Hawks to help contribute to the screenplay for The Big Sleep, being called "This Brackett guy." For the English majors in the audience, one of her cowriters was William Faulkner. The other was Jules Furthman; Hawks would call upon Brackett and Furthman again for the John Wayne vehicle Rio Bravo. Robert Altman had her write the screenplay for The Long Goodbye and her final screen work was an early draft of The Empire Strikes Back.

Poul Anderson doesn't have anything so popular or dramatic to his name, but he did take breaks from his sci-fi work to write several classic fantasy novels. He also wrote an essay I've found tantalizing called "Uncleftish Beholding" that describes atomic theory from a hypothetical English purged of French and Latin loanwords. It defines out many words in etymological forms and uses the German-derived terms for them.

I persist in feeling that it's Eric John Stark who gets Leigh Brackett's work in Appendix N. Her work combines post-Amazing Stories type science fiction with the high-adventure planetary fantasy that typified Mars before the 1950s and "little green men." Stark was in a way the opposite of the hyper-rational sci-fi protagonist, a mix of Mowgli and Tarzan in the John Carter role. She earned the title "The Queen of Space Opera" for her work.

Anderson, of course, had his works listed: Three Hearts and Three Lions, The Broken Sword, and The High Crusade. Reading all three is a series of incredible tonal shifts; Three Hearts and Three Lions is a solid adventure but with its nose in the science; The Broken Sword is a thundering Germanic tragedy; and The High Crusade is something of a farce. Anderson's science fiction also does an admirable job of switching tones and registers, even in the space of a single story.

This is a choice between a Grand Master and a Queen; a decision of whether the rationalistic characters of Anderson's stories and his starfaring work compares with the primal hero of Brackett's planetary romance and her incomparable screenwriting work.

You can vote in the poll here.

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