Black Amazon of Mars
By Leigh Brackett
Published by Libravox
Three editions read by Gregg Margarite, Phil Chenovert and Thomas A. Copeland
One might wonder why I chose this book. Seriously, how could I resist the title? And why three times? Well it is a short book – only about two and a half hours long and two of the three readers are ones I have enjoyed listening to in the past, so, why not?
I suppose I should have read some of Brackett’s earlier stories involving John Eric Stark (this is actually the third) but it seems to stand on its own well enough. By the way, this title, first published in 1951, was later expanded into a full novel-length book entitled People of the Talisman. Perhaps I shall look that on up in time as well. Actually, I think I probably should have read some more of her stories before now in any case although I have, unknowingly, seen some of the screenplays she worked on such as Rio Bravo, The Long Goodbye and The Big Sleep. She also wrote a version of The Empire Strikes Back shortly before her death. That script was rejected, but it is of note that while her contribution was mostly rejected, the same basic story beats from her version remain in the finished project. And also in her version Darth Vader is not Luke’s father. Instead Anakin shows up as a Force Ghost. I have to admit that when that movie first came out, I was convinced Vader was lying and held that view until “Return of the Jedi” came out. I think I might have liked her version better.
Anyway, without giving anything away, the title of the work implies this is a nod to Edgar Rice Burroughs and his stories about John Carter and Barsoom. Indeed, story-wise, at least, John Carter and Tars Tarkas would have fit right in here even though this Mars is definitely not Barsoom. John Eric Stark is cut from the same cloth as Carter; an epic hero on a world filled with warring factions. Or it seemed that way; this is a relatively short story so only a small windows into Brackett’s Mars, but somehow I doubt the first two stories were about John Eric Stark’s days in high school and college set in a something much closer to a paradise.
There’s a bit of the deus ex machina going on here in that he finds a talisman near the start of the story that is just what it turns out he needs at the end, but all in all, it’s not a bad story and maybe I’ll get around to reading the novelization one of these days. This one ended very abruptly but I think we expect that from a short story or novelette.
It was interesting to hear three different takes on the same story. Each author has his own style and each read it well. Gregg Margarite read it in a deep-toned voice that sort of edged on a whisper. I generally enjoy listening to him, but this was not his best recording. I would not have had this problem listening at home, but in my car, his voice was frequently lost in the road noise unless I turned the volume way too far up.
Phil Cheonvert’s style is very Cajun which might sound odd at first, but his was my favorite recording of the trio. He kept my attention throughout which is good because I kept losing track of what was happening when listening to Gregg Margarite’s recording (the road noise thing. In quiet moments, he held me as well as any of the readers.
Thomas A. Copeland used some modest special effects, like turning on the reverb for some voices and situations. It worked well and he voices the characters with more variety than the other two.
I think my favorite was Phil Chenovert, but I seriously recommend listening to all three. It makes for a very good combination.
So, I think it was a fairly tight story so far as it went and it was a lot of fun listening to it all three times.