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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Barsoom gone bad -or- Mars from the Gutter up!, 20 Jan. 2008
This review is from: The Secret Of Sinharat (Planet Stories Library) (Paperback)
Let me start off by saying that this is the first book review that i have ever written.. so cut me some slack! :-)

Paizo has taken a big chance here by attempting to introduce classic works of Adventure SF and Fantasy to a new/younger audience. And so far it seems to be paying off if the activity on the message boards is any indication.
I have a new subscription to the series and my first volume arrived today.
"The Secret of Sinharrat ( with "The People of the Talisman") is probably Leigh Brackett's most famous work or at least it features her most famous character "Eric John Stark".
This is the 3rd edition I own of the book. I first discovered LB waaaaay back in the early 70's when an older cousin of mine gave me a pile of the old "Ace Double" paperbacks. For those of you who don't remember them these were a very long running series of 241 Science Fiction/Fantasy paperback series from Ace Books from the 1950's up to the early 1970's.
The contents were usually one short novel from a famous writer and one short novel from a newer writer. The novelty was that the 2 novels were not printed one after the other. You would read one novel and then flip the book over (which made the back cover the front cover) and read the next novel. So these were paperbacks that 2 different "Front covers".
Anyways one of these caught my eye right off. On one side it showed a man dressed somewhat in barbarian fashion riding some sort of large reptile beast across a night time desert landscape while being pursued by other figures who were similarly mounted .
My 11 year old brain thought "Cool!".
As I started to read it I became very excited when I realized that this was two novels set on a Mars that was very similar to the Mars/Barsoom of Edgar Rice Burroughs.
But after reading a few pages of the first novel I became kind of confused. The good guy was actually sort of a bad guy who is forced / black mailed into helping the law stop a planned uprising of the locals.
Eric John Stark was the first Anti-hero I ever came into contact with. He lives in a universe where it seems that at least all of the inner planets of the Solar System are habitable.
You have to understand that even into the 1950's no one was 100% sure of the conditions that existed on the other planets. So the popular conceptions in the minds of many folks were

Mars is a dying desert world that is much older than ours.
Venus is a young dynamic tropical hothouse of a world that is younger than ours.
Mercury is hot as hell, doesn't rotate on its axis and is probably only liveable at the terminator existing between the day and night sides.
This is the universe that Eric John Stark was born into. He is a mixture between Tarzan and Clint Eastwood's "Man with no name".
Stark was born on mercury in a mining colony where his parents worked as geologists. They were killed in a landslide and he was adopted as a baby and raised by the mercurian aborigines who are/were more or less an art of Neanderthal and given the name "N'Chaka" which means "He with no Tribe"
When he was 12 years old his tribe gets wiped by Terran miners and he is caged and tormented by the men who murdered his people. He gets raised and civilized by an agent of this universes UN interplanetary police.
We have some serious Tarzan parallels going on here! :-)
He spends the large part of his adult life as a mercenary helping the natives of Mars and Venus in their attempts to throw off the yoke of Earth.
This is some serious stuff here! This is not Burroughs romanticized Mars with its noble warlike inhabitants who are taken as they are and seen from the perspective of their own cultures.
This is Mars from the gutter up that has been exploited and "colonialized" by the Earth (white folks that is.). Imagine Barsoom going straight to hell after the big earth corporations show up and exploit the hell out of the place, keeping down the natives and basically treating them as 3rd class nuisances! We don't see Mars from the eyes of its Ruling Class. We get a Mars from the perspective of its lower classes. These are people who are being screwed over by not just their own rulers but also the colonial powers from earth. LB's Martians are cut throats, thieves and whores who we see from the context of our culture and not theirs. This is a sad, worn out, angry, brutal and cynical Mars. It's not really a place you'd care to visit. And if you did bother to visit, the locals would cut your throat the first chance they got.

What is so great with Leigh Brackett is that her women are as tough as the men and maybe tougher.
If you have ever seen the old westerns by Howard Hawks; Rio Lobo, Rio Bravo and El Dorado starring John Wayne, you might have notice how tough and strong the female characters are. That's not just because Hawks loved tough "dames". Leigh Brackett was his favourite Screenwriter. She wrote the scripts to at least 4 Howard Hawks's films starring John Wayne.
So what we have here is "Film noir" Science Fiction. The good guys aren't really all that good. They are just good in comparison to the true villains.
Both novels included in this volume are 2 stark adventures the LB expanded to novel size. Both deal with Stark being forced into helping people against his own interests and better judgement. I won't give too much away aside from saying that these are very adult stories. When I say "adult" I mean "adult" in an emotional sense. These are stories full of wonder that are set a SF universe that is not wonderful. The "ERBzine" website has a great article on this subject. Check it out. It is called "Colonial Barsoom".
And did I mention that Eric John Stark is to my knowledge the first BLACK hero?
That's right, he black! He was burned black by the searing rays of the sun over Mercury.
In the "Secret of Sinharat" one of the villains even refers to him as a"black ape"!
And big Hats off to Paizo for having the first cover art ever that doesn't portray him as a white man.
I would also like to mention that the Paizo edition is a very nice book. Well bound, large format and with very thick covers. This will look great in my collection!

"The Secret of Sinharat" is the book for you if you love SF adventure where the wonder and adventure are matched with brilliant writing, great dialog and people who behave like real people.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Eric John Stark of Mercury, 14 Aug. 2009
Manly Reading (Brisbane, QLD, AUST) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Secret Of Sinharat (Planet Stories Library) (Paperback)
This book contains a brace of novellas, The Secret of Sinharat and People of the Talisman, each running just over 100 pages. Both are of Eric John Stark, Earthman by way of Mercury, in the barren deserts and wildlands of Mars. Brackett's stories are "old fashioned" tales of Mars as it was envisaged years ago, although in today's world its not hard to imagine unsaid terraforming having occurred.

This is primarily an adventure tale, not bounded by categories of "science fiction" on one hand and "fantasy" on the other. There are ray guns and swords, aliens and axes, and it is never clear whether some things are based in technology or magic (or even if there is any difference between the two).

The Secret of Sinharat

Stark is an outlaw and mercenary, forced to work for the authorities by infiltrating a violent warlord's plans of conquest. In doing so he runs across old enemies and makes new ones, which he must deal with carefully due to the demands of his mission. Throw in some deadly storms, a narcotic radiation that causes regression to beasthood, and finally a showdown with immortal soul-vampires, and there is plenty to entertain. Oh, and there are pretty girls. Of sorts. Two of them.

People of the Talisman

This is a direct sequel to Sinharat - but that's not really important, and only told in a throwaway line - where Stark is journeying to a forsaken city to fulfil a promise made to a friend. Along the way he is captured by a warband of savages lead by a masked leader (whose helmet reminded of Darth Vader's in description, although Talisman was written in the mid-60's, well before Brackett was involved with George Lucas).

Stark escapes, in a scene reminiscent of Conan, and travels on to help defend the city against the marauders. Shockingly, the city falls and the defenders must rely on the Talisman of the title, an ancient artifact believed to always protect the city. And that is when the fun really starts, and the plot twists like a whirlpool. Once again there are two pretty girls, and once again they are a lot more than pretty girls.

This book is a great read.
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The Secret Of Sinharat (Planet Stories Library)
The Secret Of Sinharat (Planet Stories Library) by Leigh Brackett (Paperback - 5 Feb. 2008)
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