Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

They Really Are Incapable of Getting Leigh Brackett Right

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.)

Whoops!

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.

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11 responses to “They Really Are Incapable of Getting Leigh Brackett Right

  1. morrisonmp December 11, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    So, I actively dislike getting involved in conversations about “The Narrative” or some big agenda in our little corner of geekdom… but it is infuriating to see constantly shifting stories which alternately deride and exalt a writer just for the sake of making the point of the day. I appreciate your citation of the original interview. Adds perspective.

    • jeffro December 11, 2015 at 4:52 pm

      I wouldn’t normally go there, but in the past week I’ve read pretty well everything on the internet about this author. It’s pretty well all wrong. When I go back and look at this stuff again more closely, I find more wrong things.

      The obscurity of A. Merritt and the defamation of H. P. Lovecraft look pretty good compared to this, though.

    • Warren Abox December 11, 2015 at 6:22 pm

      Jeffro has been ferocious in dissecting, exposing, and demolishing these incessant assaults on truth in favor of the narrative, but the rot is hardly limited to our little corner of geekdom. Lest anyone think that what Jeffro is doing is trivial, remember that the exact same process is being played out in every single facet of our culture. When you read reports on everything from crime statistics to music to cooking to religion to sports (oh dear lord, what they do in sports journalism these days) to…well, you name it…the exact same cultural devastation is being wreaked by the same sorts of people.

      Which is why Jeffro’s work is under such assault. For our little corner of geekdom, he is Patient Zero. The ideas he spreads (“doubt stories that adhere to the narrative a little too well” and “if evidence of the lastest example of persecution is contradictory then there is no persecution”) are like germs that start to infect more and more people. He spreads them by showing people the rot in a field with which they are intimately familiar, in our case geekdom, and then those ideas take root in people’s minds and they start asking questions in other areas like movies or sports (oh god what they’ve done to sports reporting). It’s just plain dangerous to let people see these facts and think for themselves. I mean, what do we even have a memory hole *for* anyway!

  2. David Johnson December 12, 2015 at 9:34 am

    Jeffro: I’ve just recently discovered your blog and find so much I enjoy here that I am a bit sad I hadn’t stumbled across it a long time ago. I’m also with you 100% on the foolish misrepresentation of Brackett’s ~Empire~ role and her SF writing career generally (and the terrible timing of all of this) but, dude, it’s time you gave this a bit of rest. It’s becoming clear your main beef here isn’t so much about any disrespectin’ of Brackett as it is about your distaste for what you’ve labelled “The Narrative.” You’re certainly welcome to rant about that but you’re not doing Brackett any honour by using her career and experience as your weapon of choice, again, particularly not at this particular point in time. As you’ve made clear this isn’t the first time she’s been subjected to this sort of thing and I want to ask you here, seriously, “What would Leigh do?”

    • jeffro December 12, 2015 at 9:42 am

      You’ve got a lot of nerve to come here and tell me that I’m “using” Leigh Brackett’s career. Go talk to Jeet Heer about that. (He even acts like C. L. Moore adopted a male point of view when her most famous short stories luxuriate in the feminine. What a punk!) I tried to honor Brackett’s career when I wrote a centennial piece about her contributions to role-playing games. Here I am exposing people that misrepresent her and that misrepresent her work. You want me to stop because you are on their side.

      • David Johnson December 12, 2015 at 9:50 am

        Dude: Wow. Well, no, that’s not why I want you to stop but, thank goodness, at least for myself, you’ve given me a handy little tool to make you stop, at least as far as I am concerned. I’m a bit sad about that too but, as you’re aware I’m sure, actions have consequences (though not always the ones we intend). Goodbye and enjoy your echo chamber.

    • jeffro December 12, 2015 at 9:54 am

      SJW’s always project. You’re the one with the echo chamber.

  3. Pingback: Short Reviews – Lorelei of the Red Mist, Leigh Brackett and Ray Bradbury | Cirsova

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