Lorelei of the Red Mist – Brackett & Bradbury

November 3rd, 2009

3xinfinity lorelei Leigh Brackett, know as the Queen of Outer Space, was writing space opera stories for lurid pulps like Planet Stories in the 1940s. She wrote a hard boiled detective novel in 1944 and when William Faulkner was having trouble with the screen adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, Howard Hawks told his secretary to call "this Brackett Guy" to help out.

Bracket was married to SF writer Edmond Hamilton and they lived near Ray Bradbury. They were friends and drinking buddies of Ray. When Brackett had to stop writing SF to work on The Big Sleep, one of the best detective movies ever made, Bradbury must have talked her into letting him finish Lorelei of the Red Mist.

The first time that I read this, I wondered how much of the novella was written by Leigh Bracket and how much was written by Bradbury. On the bus this morning I read the story after a gap of at least 30 years. It was very obvious how much was Bradbury’s and how much was Brackett’s.

Brackett at this time was still writing in a very over-the-top pulp style. The rugged athletic men were mostly naked and the beautiful women did not wear anything above their waists and had "flat hips". There is a race of sea people who can be distinguished because their women have green nipples. The story is absurd and concerns an earth man who’s mind is placed in a Venusian warrior’s body who is in the middle of a war being lead by a beautiful (but never fully clothed) sorceress against noble human types.

About 10,000 words through the story, Bradbury picks up with smoother language, longer sentences and some actual description of scenery, people and feelings (in addition to lust). Brackett was supposedly unhappy with Bradbury’s treatment of the female characters and wrote another version of the novella.

Although the story is great fun and at about 25,000 words, a good quick read, it is hardly anything other than a tossed away story which would have been long forgotten if Brackett and Bradbury had not gone on to do better things. Brackett would prove that a woman can write better SF than most men and Bradbury would recreate SF and the weird tale as literature.

I read Lorelei of the Red Mist in a collection called Three Times Infinity, which also includes novellas by Theodore Sturgeon and Robert A. Heinlein. The Sturgeon story The Golden Helix is one of his best and has been anthologized extensively. The Heinlein novella Destination Moon, is not Heinlein’s best, but is notable because it was written from Heinlein’s screenplay of the movie Destination Moon. Destination Moon is not in any of the early Heinlein anthologies and Three Times Infinity was the only place where you could read it for a long time. Lorelei is, by far, the weakest of the three.

I have been trying to buy old Planet story issues from the 1940s where Bradbury cut his teeth on SF, but they always go for $40 or $50 each and this is too much to spend on an old magazine, not matter how many half naked women are on the cover.

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