Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

The Sword of Rhiannon Link Roundup

When I raved over this one, I thought maybe people would write it off as being just me doing my usual “gee-whiz” thing. And I confess, I even pulled my punches a little when I put Leigh Brackett merely on the same level as Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs– I didn’t think anyone would pay attention at all if I went overboard. Well one man had the courage to face down fandom and tell it like it is. Ryan Harvey’s piece over at Black Gate is awesome and I highly recommend it.

Here’s my contribution:

RETROSPECTIVE: The Sword of Rhiannon by Leigh Brackett

Yeah, I don’t think I’ve come right out and done an editorial like this with one of these retrospectives before. But it seemed to fit in with how the series was shaping up… and the topic is definitely something that comes up in when almost anyone picks up one of these old books. So there it is.

And for more on Leigh Brackett, don’t miss Cirsova’s post, also from this week:

All the European Vacations of Tracing One’s Ancestry in the Galaxy and She Had to Walk Into Mine

(The stars must be right. I mean seriously… doing Leigh Brackett the same week I did?! What’s up with that?)

Tor.com — “I know I have a tendency to describe things by way of anachronistic mash-up, but this time it really fits. Stark is Space Tarzan, and in The Black Amazon of Mars, he’s Space Tarzan on Robert E. Howard’s Barsoom. It really is quite the love letter to Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard, but it isn’t just a pastiche; Brackett brings her own worldbuilding to bear on it. In fact, I’d say her ‘Solar System’ is quite the campaign setting; stories might have different plots or histories or characters, but the planets and the key flora and fauna remain the same.”

Rogues & Reavers — Leigh Brackett’s THE SWORD OF RHIANNON is an epic of interplanetary adventure by a writer comparable only to Edgar Rice Burroughs.”

Black Gate — “I love Robert E. Howard’s work; it’s foundational for me. But, it’s ‘not that I love Howard less, but that I love Brackett more.’ To that extent, I want to promote the sheer awesomeness that is Leigh Brackett whenever I can. And in her 1949 novel The Sword of Rhiannon she reached what I believe is her apex: a planetary romance set across an ancient version of Mars, crammed with sword-swinging action, pirate-style swashbuckling, alien super-science, a hero as flinty as granite, an alluring and surprising femme fatale warrior, and an overarching theme of redemption, loss, and futility that ends up pushing what sounds like a standard adventure into a work of intricacy and overwhelming emotion.”

SF Mistressworks — “The Sword of Rhiannon is still mired in the pulp sensibilities of the magazines Leigh Brackett wrote for, where morality is black and white, where there is such a thing as racial character and a whole race can be irredeemably evil, where men are men, women are women and a proud woman like Ywain secretly yearns for a strong man like Carse to ‘master’ her. Leigh Brackett certainly isn’t a feminist writer here, though there isn’t the rapeyness of some of her male colleagues.”

Speculiction — “In the end, The Sword of Rhiannon is classic planetary romance. Ideologically empty, it earns its keep by telling a brisk, exciting adventure and presenting colorful and engaging imagery. Possessing the classic comedic side-kick, a mysterious female character, winged men, and technology from so far in the past none know how to operate it, all the ingredients are in place for fun. As minor as it may be in comparison to the focus on delivering an enjoyable story, Brackett steps on few toes politically as she spins her adventure. Women with agency, class equality, and other ideas are hidden away amongst sword fights, minds trapped within minds, and, of course, the fate of Mars.”

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4 responses to “The Sword of Rhiannon Link Roundup

  1. Cambias June 17, 2015 at 6:30 pm

    I read _Sword of Rhiannon_ at the perfect age: I was about thirteen and enjoyed the hell out of it. Since I actually found that before I read Burroughs, Brackett was my “gateway drug” for Planetary Romance in general.

    I have to say, I actually like the original “Sea-Kings of Mars” title better. “Sword of Rhiannon” could be any generic fantasy.

    I also have to say I can’t quite understand the mind of someone who thinks that a story being “ideologically empty” is a _bad_ thing.

    • jeffro June 17, 2015 at 7:52 pm

      Oh gosh yes, exactly!

    • Cirsova June 18, 2015 at 8:26 am

      Contrary to being ideologically empty, I see it as a celebration of ‘Virtu’. In the olden days when men were men and boys wanted to be men, stories about tough honorable men doing the right thing in extreme and dangerous circumstances existed to give lads something to aspire to. The ‘idealized’ female characters who are ridiculed today as shallow anti-woman stereotypes existed in those stories about idealized men because the purpose of such stories was to encourage boys to pursue Virtu; what better way to convince an pubescent male to aspire to masculine greatness than the lure of an ideal woman who would reward great virtu with her love? Brackett understood this in spades. Contrary to popular narrative, a lot of ladies really like tough, honorable men with a slight roguish charm, and women like Brackett write to because they want to see more of them. So anyone who thinks that this sort of story is ideologically empty doesn’t understand the importance of heroic myth. But they would probably read something like this and be all ‘hurf blurf patriarchy, internalized misogyny’. Women write books like this because men who would say something like that turn them off.

      • jeffro June 18, 2015 at 8:32 am

        The lesson I got from the book was this: if you want to seduce an evil space princess, then she has to think you are possessed by space Satan. That is not an ideology per se. More of a basic truth about human nature.

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