Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Women In Science Fiction and Fantasy - Robin Anne Reid

Brackett, Leigh (1915-1978)

Leigh Brackett was a popular presence in mid-twentieth-century American science fiction. She is best known for her skill in writing space opera —she was labeled the "Queen of Space Opera"—as well as for her screenplay for the second Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Brackett's writing is characterized by vivid imagery and realistic dialogue. She worked across a range of media and influenced numerous other writers.

Brackett's early works, short stories such as "Martian Quest" and "Enchantress of Venus," were published in the pulp science fiction magazines: her first stories appeared in Astounding Stories in 1940. Despite the reputation of the pulps as a male-dominated field of production, women writers such as Brackett did play a role in the shaping and development of the genre. In a period where space opera was popular, Brackett's work showed the influence of key writers in this field— particularly, Edgar Rice Burroughs—while still constructing an original voice. Her knowing, even playful, reworkings of common ideas in the subgenre led her to construct intricately imagined societies, rounded characters, and memorably vivid landscapes. Despite using male protagonists, she portrayed female characters as active, capable, and complex. Brackett's longer fiction, including The Sword of Rhiannon (1953), The Ginger Star (1974), and The Hounds of Skaith (1976), depicted worlds and societies undergoing social change, embedded within their environment and with their own histories. She also explored the consequences of a nuclear apocalypse and the construction of a rural religious community in The Long Tomorrow (1955).

Brackett's adaptability was shown in her ability to cross media, demonstrated by the plays and television and film screenplays she wrote. She also crossed genres, writing westerns (Rio Brauo, 1959) and film noir {The Big Sleep, 1946). She wrote the first draft of the screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back shortly before her death. Brackett was an active part of the science fiction writing community: she collaborated with Ray Bradbury and with her husband, Edmond Hamilton. Other science fiction writers, notably Marion Zimmer Bradley and Michael Moorcroft, have acknowledged Brackett's influence.

Brackett has occupied an uneasy place in the feminist science fiction canon, caught between the desire to reclaim a "herstory" of science fiction and a critical preference for explicitly feminist texts. Brackett is a key example of women that published science fiction before Second Wave feminism. However, a number of factors have resulted in the lack of critical attention to her work. She is cited as an exemplar in response to feminist critiques but worked mainly in the subgenre of space opera—not known as an especially fertile area for feminist writers. She was not engaged with feminism either in her life or in her texts. Nonetheless, Brackett's work exemplifies the negotiation of generic tropes undertaken by women writers of science fiction.

3.5 out of 5

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