Review: “Edmond Hamilton and Leigh Brackett: An Appreciation”, Brian Stableford, 1978, 1995.
Hamilton died in 1977 and Brackett died in 1978, and the occasion of this appreciation was the publication, by Del Rey, of best-of collections for both.
Stableford notes they were the last of the writers who got their start in pulp science fiction, a tradition distinct from the one fostered by John W. Campbell.
Stableford addresses the central problem that sf has in its fantasies.
On the one hand, it pretends to believe the worlds it depicts could or might happen in a natural world. But the most exciting possibilities and imaginative concepts undercut the masquerade of plausibility an author has to create.
A writer has two ways around this: stay with core ideas that can be most effectively disguised or “exchange subtlety for deliberate and flamboyant overstatement” – adopt a moody, token disguise that serves the purpose of the moment.
Hamilton adopted the later strategy hence his emphasis on mood. He presented his ideas starkly without “pause or apology”. For Stableford, the persistent theme in Hamilton’s work is a “concern with morality and the vanity of human wishes”. His romantic themes and ideas hide a disappointment and distaste “for the immediate and ordinary”.
Brackett, along with Ray Bradbury, made the elements of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars even more extreme. Brackett made Martians older and more decadent. Stableford sees Brackett’s sf work as often being about the pursuit of romantic dreams and the ultimate pointless of that pursuit. Even when the beautiful dream is grasped, it is an illusion. Brackett may have looked back to the pulp works of the past and the need for escapism they represented.
Stableford seems to think less of pulp sf here than he does in Scientific Romance in Britain 1890 – 1950, and he also seems to sort of put Hamilton and Brackett as outside that tradition, writers marked by skill and themes not found in other pulp writers.
He ends the piece by generally recommending the two anthologies and not just as period pieces but on their own merits.