If you thought I was exaggerating yesterday when I said that everything anyone’s said about Leigh Brackett’s work on the internet is just plain wrong, check this out:
In the Wired feature, it is revealed that writer Lawrence Kasdan was not actually supposed to write ‘The Empire Strikes Back.’ In 1978, Kasdan was handing in the first draft of the ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ script when George Lucas asked him to write the ‘Star Wars’ sequel. Sadly, Leigh Brackett, who wrote the first ‘Star Wars’ movie, has passed away of cancer and has left the sequel without a script.
After a dozen news stories pushing an obviously coordinated narrative that insisted that Leigh Brackett’s Empire script was discarded, now she’s suddenly the writer behind the first film of the franchise…!
This is usually the point where some conciliatory soul suggests that we should never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence. But yes, this case is a combination of ignorance, an inability to Google, a complete lack of fact checking, and… an honest mistake where someone read too much into a tidbit from somebody else’s piece and then got something completely wrong. Under normal circumstances, this would be worth a chuckle. But really, this is the wrong danged week to be screwing this up if you ask me.
My question is, is there any case at all where I can treat mistakes like this as actual malice? Take this example from IO9, for instance:
This 1976 interview with Brackett (and Edmond Hamilton) is a must-read, including the parts where she talks about the early hostility she received from some readers as a woman writing SF.
I’ve already pointed out that this article has a misleading headline that exaggerates Leigh Brackett’s role in the development of The Empire Strikes Back. But here IO9 is attempting to get you to think that Leigh Brackett faced some sort of uphill battle in her career simply because she was a woman. IO9 wants you to assume that dorky sexist meany pants men very nearly kept Brackett out of the field of science fiction altogether. They are citing an interview to back up these insinuations, but what does it actually say…?
TANGENT: Leigh, there were very few women writing science fiction during the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. Were there any special problems you had to face being a woman?
BRACKETT: There certainly wasn’t with me. They all welcomed me with open arms. There were so few of us nuts that they were just happy to receive another lamb into the fold. It was simply that there wasn’t many women reading science fiction, not many were interested. Francis Stevens sold very fine science fiction stories toArgosy back in 1917, back around that period.
HAMILTON: Her name, you see, could have been a man’s name and Leigh’s name could have been a man’s name. Catherine Moore, who wrote SF long before you did, and a dear friend of ours, wrote under the name of C. L. Moore. Now, I don’t think there was much real bias on the part of women’s libbers–
BRACKETT: I never ran into any. On some of the first few stories I sold people would write into the letter columns and say Brackett’s story was terrible, women can’t write science fiction. That was ridiculous, there were women scientists you know, there’s no problem there. What they were complaining about was that I didn’t know how to write a story (chuckling). When I learned a little better I stopped hearing this. What they were complaining about was the quality really, not…you know. The editors certainly, there was never any problem with them.
(Emphasis mine, there.)
The question here is not whether or not IO9 operates from either ignorance or malice. The question is how stupid can they rely on their readership to be in practice. Given that they can cite interviews that contradict the narrative they are concocting out of whole cloth, I’d say pretty stupid.
The fact is, if you see anything that seems like it fits The Narrative™ a little too well, then you can pretty well assume not only that you’re being lied to, but also they you’re being deceived by someone that knows exactly what they’re doing.
Consider this passage from an article from earlier this year from New Republic:
Ever since science fiction coalesced as a distinctive fan community in the late 1920s (as a result of the efforts of editor Hugo Gernsback), it has been a white boys’ club. The virtual absence of non-white writing in the field was paralleled by the near invisibility of women writers. For many decades, the most successful female writers had to cloak their identity with initials, ambiguous names, or pseudonyms (C.L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, James Tiptree, Jr.). Even the women writers who didn’t disguise themselves as men adopted a male point of view in order to get their fiction published.
Gosh, it sounds horrible doesn’t it…?
And I know, Leigh Brackett was just explaining in that interview IO9 referenced that guys in magazine columns would say her stories were bad because women can’t write science fiction. Awful! Just so awful! Except… wait a second. If Leigh Brackett had to cloak her identity to break into the field, then how did these dudes even know to claim that Leigh’s first few stories were lousy because they were written by a woman…?
Oops, they did it again….
This sort of thing is inevitable, really. The Narrative™ does not correspond to reality and Leigh Brackett’s combination of stature and obscurity is a perfect fit for people that want to push it. But whether the “boy’s club” these people are attempting to break up is in the distant past or in today’s Star Wars franchise, these people will downplay her accomplishments, exaggerate them, or make up whatever facts just plain sound good in order to accomplish their ends.
Regardless of the angle they’re running, they really are incapable of getting Leigh Brackett right.