1974’s The Ginger Star is the first volume in Leigh Brackett’s extra-solar planetary adventure series set on the planet Skaith.
Eric John Stark was raised by savages on Mercury. Unforgiving Mars honed him into a man of action. A grim loner by nature and circumstance, he is fiercely loyal to a select few. Among those chosen few is Stark’s human foster father, Simon Ashton.
When Ashton is reported to have been kidnapped on the dying world Skaith, Stark does not hesitate to race to Ashton’s rescue.
Orbiting an ancient, dying star, Skaith has been home to a long succession of civilizations, each as doomed as the one before. Now reduced to barbarity, only isolated relics hint at its crumbling past. The knowledge that the world will soon join its star in destruction is known to all who remain. Remain they must. The Lords Protector, Skaith’s secretive rulers, forbid flight.
The Galactic Union dominates half the galaxy. It is stretched thin; it has few resources on any given world and none to speak of on isolationist, xenophobic Skaith. No off-world police will help Stark find his foster father. Having no local allies at first, Stark turns to the time-tested method pioneered by detectives like Philip Marlowe and Spenser: ask unwelcome questions until someone tries to silence him.
Stark survives the first of what will be many attempts on his life and squeezes enough information out of the surviving thug to point Stark in the right direction. Ashton fell afoul of the Lords Protector, who objected to Ashton’s desire to help the people of Irnan flee Skaith. Not only does Stark have a far better idea who his enemies are, he now knows that he might find allies in Irnan.
Victory is surely at hand. All Stark need do now is cross a savagely hostile world dominated by cruel rulers; evade bandits, cannibals, sorcerers and high priestesses; survive betrayal and the myriad dangers of a world that was old when stone axes were the latest in human tech.
I don’t know why, but I invariably get the order of Eric John Stark’s given names wrong. Editor, do your thing!
The earlier Stark stories were planetary adventures set in the Solar System. Between 1964’s The Secret of Sinharat and People of the Talisman, and 1974’s The Ginger Star, space probes made the author’s original setting both unbelievable and commercially unviable. When Brackett returned to Stark, she shifted the setting from the ancient and colourful worlds of the Solar System to equally ancient, colourful extra-solar worlds beyond the ability of astronomers to ruin. (Then. We know more about extra-solar planets now.) Skaith is another version of Old Mars.
Brackett’s Mars was surely inspired by ERB’s Barsoom. The world of The Ginger Star seems like a gloomier version of Barsoom. It may be dying, but hazards still abound. One cannot travel any distance without stumbling over an evil cult, cannibals, hostile natives, etc. Skaithians appear to be monomaniacally devoted to misleading, ambushing, and murdering each other. I don’t know what a random encounter table for Skaith would look like, but no encounter on that table would be good.
The Ginger Stark, like The Gods of Mars, ends on a monumental cliffhanger. Readers desperate to know how it all worked out would have to buy The Hounds of Skaith (1974) and The Reavers of Skaith (1976). You are warned.
Although published in the 1970s, the Skaith books read like products of an earlier era. Readers nostalgic for the planetary adventures of old no doubt fell on the Skaith books with little bleats of glee.
The Ginger Star is available here (Amazon). This edition does not appear to be available from Chapters-Indigo.