Leigh Brackett’s THE NEMESIS FROM TERRA reads like a mash-up of Brackett’s Martian adventures with her hardboiled movie scripts (she worked on both The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye). It’s set in an era when a powerful Earth corporation has taken over Mars, press ganging lower-class Martians and Earthers to work in the mines (reminding me of Diana Wynn Jones’ joke about how miners in fantasy novels are always slaves, never actual miners). Tough-as-nails protagonist Rick is on the run from the press gang when a Martian seer tells him he’s destined to rule. To succeed, though, he’s got to defeat the corporation, it’s ruthless leader and deal with their mutual interest in an attractive revolutionary (the Bacall to Rick’s Bogart). Plus, of course, a lost city.
This is a grimmer, tougher yarn than most of Brackett’s Mars stories (people smoke a lot more than they do in her other stories too), but it also fits what Edmond Hamilton (Brackett’s husband) saw as the theme of her work: a man who pursues a great dream only to find it hollow. A good story, in any case.
HAIR STORY: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America by Ayana D. Byrd and Lori L. Tharps does an excellent job tracing the history of African-American hair and hairstyles from Africa (where elaborate hairstyles were as much a status marker as a bespoke suit today) through slavery to post-Civil War segregation. In both freedom and slavery, straight “white” style hair became the marker of a superior person (and also more acceptable to the white world); later in the 20th century, the popularity of the Afro (and later dredlocks) led to debate whether this represented True Blackness, meaningless fashion or was just tacky. There’s a lot more stuff covered in the book; while I know some of these issues exist, the authors did a great job making me understand them.
TwoMorrows Publishing’s MONSTER MASH: The Creepy, Kooky Monster Craze in America, 1957-1972 by Mark Voger looks back to the late 1950s when Universal released its Shock Theater package to TV, containing its classic monster films (and a lot that weren’t so classic), introducing Frankenstein, Dracula and others to a generation of kids who’d never seen them (the last film in the cycle was 1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein). Kids were blown away (so was I when I encountered the films in syndication a dozen years later), leading to an explosion of marketing (sweat shirts, Aurora models, Count Chocula cereal, board games) and TV spinoffs such as The Munsters (surprisingly Voger never mentions the film version, Munsters Go Home), The Addams Family and Dark Shadows. Voger argues that while the classic horrors and their spinoffs are still around this era of film horror ended in 1972 as The Exorcist took the genre in another direction. A good job.
HOLLYWOOD’S COPYRIGHT WARS: From Edison to the Internet by Peter Decherney, shows how copyright struggles were part of the movie industry from the early days, when it wasn’t clear if copyright applied to photography (if you just photographed real life, what creativity was there to protect?), let alone to films, which were seen as collections of photographs. Following that debate would come battles over pirating other studios’ films (a common problem in the early years), adapting books and plays for the screen, whether TV editing movies violated creator rights (the Monty Python were one of the few who won that fight, when they sued ABC for butchering their skits for a late-night showing), then into the age of the VCR, DVD and Internet (while I’m more familiar with the issues of this period, Decherney still told me a lot I didn’t know). An excellent job.
#SFWApro. Brackett cover art is uncredited; all rights to images remain with current holders.