Leigh Brackett was an extremely influential American author who wrote and won major awards in a number of genres, including western and noir. She is best remembered, however, for her TOWERING contribution to fantastic fiction (a term I prefer to use because it's often very difficult to draw a hard line between sci-fi and fantasy), particularly during the 1940s and '50s. Most of her fan-fi can be classified as planetary romance: a sub-genre pioneered in the early 20th century by Edgar Rice Burroughs and which characteristically involves travel to, and adventure on, fanciful planets where savagery and sword-play carry the day rather than radium and ray guns. Though countless planetary romances ranging from dreckish to dazzling have fluttered off the printing presses since Burroughs' classic Barsoom series, Brackett's are some of the absolute TOPS, and the milieu in which they take place is unforgettable: Earthlings have long possessed the secret of interplanetary space travel and have been very, very busy lording it over the rest of the solar system, almost every planet of which is home to its own human race(s) (generally the dominant inhabitants prior to the advent of spacefaring Earth) and most planets of which have one or more unique "halfling" races: half-animal or half-insect-seeming humanoids who are typically equal to homo sapiens in intelligence. Whether directly concerned or looming in the background, colonial Earth's rocky (and often exploitive) relationship with its extra-terrestrial subjects almost always plays some part in these stories, which are typically fast, wild and tinged with a tingly touch of shady-alley noir.
This slick and affordable edition, courtesy of Paizo Publishing's "Planet Stories" line, contains two wonderful Brackettales: THE SECRET OF SINHARAT and THE PEOPLE OF THE TALISMAN. They both take place on Mars: a dying world where savage tribes vie with sword and axe for what few resources remain, and in which a few relatively civilized settlements, fearful of the wild hordes, huddle behind either the colonial government or the chance protections of geography. They both also star Eric John Stark the mercenary, Brackett's most famous hero. Stark, raised by Mercurian halflings and colored black by the sun and atmosphere of that world, is sort of an amalgam of James Bond (the itchy, watchful, but occasionally careless Bond of the original Fleming novels, not the unflappably icy fellow in the boring movies) and Conan the Barbarian. Though Stark's services are often purchased by the indigenous tribes of Mars (he would never fight for the colonial government), he often undertakes deadly missions simply to honor those to whom he is bound by friendship, and that is how both of these terrific stories -- one taking place on the floor of an aeons-dead sea and the other on Mars' snow and ice-choked northern cap -- begin. Oh, but don't be expecting any Martian halflings; they're all dead by this time! To see what Brackett's red planet was like in its hey-day, halflings and oceans and green fields and all, you'll have to read THE SWORD OF RHIANNON, another short novel that may be reprinted by Paizo in the future.
Before I go, let me say that I really like these Paizo volumes; the covers are really nice and thick and are pre-creased next to the spine to prevent curling. If this attractive little edition gets you hungry for more Brackett, you will be happy to hear that Paizo plans to print a lot more of her stuff in the future and also that Haffner Press already has two BIG and BEAUTIFUL hardcover collections of her short stories for sale: Martian Quest: The Early Brackett and Lorelei of the Red Mist: Planetary Romances. They are fiiiiine, baby, real fiiiiine!