Leigh Brackett "amazing" on the strength of half of one novel, The Ginger Star. I cannot put it down. Knowing my fondness for the "sword and planet" and "dying earth" sub-genres, Andrew at Pulp Fiction recommended Brackett's novels about Eric John Stark. I picked up The Ginger Star, The Hounds of Skaith and The Reavers of Skaith from Paizo's Planet Stories Library, and I have, overnight, become a huge Leigh Brackett fan.
As for The Ginger Star, it has been a wild ride. Yesterday was one of those lazy Sundays where you wake up, start to read, and then realize it's time for bed. All day, I was enthralled with the fast-paced yet subtly philosophical adventures of Stark, who, despite being raised (Tarzan-like) by primitive aliens, is one of the more human heroes of swords & sorcery. I've always enjoyed the blending of sci-fi and fantasy, and this is a great example of it (Stark arrives on the planet Skaith via spaceship; it has a spaceport; outside of the main city, though, it's essentially a medieval fantasy world). A junta that controls the world won't let anyone emigrate off of it; Stark becomes embroiled in a revolution on Skaith, as the subject of a prophecy of a "dark man" who will "open the star-roads." Interestingly, the hero, Stark, has brown skin, which illustrators mostly ignored back in the old days when his adventures were first published. He originally adventured in our own solar system; in the 1970s, Brackett transported him to Skaith, returning to speculative fiction after a long time punching up noteworthy screenplays.
The more I learn about Brackett, the more I like her. If anyone wants to have flat-out fun while reading, I don't think it gets much better. I guess I'll withhold final judgment until I read more of her books, but right now I have a pretty strong literary crush going.
C.L. Moore, who I'll write about later). Leigh Brackett just happened to have a unisex name, and most readers thought she was a man. She was equally well known for writing hard-boiled mysteries and detective fiction. Her writing is what I call "rat-a-tat-tat;" it speeds along and doesn't waste words but has an aggressive poetic rhythm to it that begs to be read aloud. I've read that Brackett was known for bringing a more action-packed, breezy style derived from pulp crime stories into the sci-fi/fantasy genre.
Paizo proudly bills these novels on the covers as "by the author of The Empire Strikes Back," but if you read the wikipedia article I linked to above, you'll see that's not exactly true. However, reading her novels, her influence on George Lucas - an avowed fan, who writes the intro to one of the Skaith novels - is clearly evident.
All in all, Brackett (so far) gives me a nice feeling of familiarity while I'm reading: I feel like I've been gaming these stories - or ones a lot like them, in similar settings - for 25 years. I read her with a sense of admiration and validation. In other words, it has a "yeah, that!" quality.