This is kind of this week’s piece of weird fiction – several months ago. But I finally located the relevant volume in the numerous boxes of books from my “recent” move.
Review: “Lorelei of the Red Mist”, Ray Bradbury and Leigh Brackett, 1946, 1958.
The Science Fiction Encyclopedia says this story was first published in 1946 in Planet Stories and revised in 1953 and that seems the version I read. Supposedly, Bradbury finished this short novel for Brackett, and it dates from their first decade as published writers.
I suspect Brackett is the one, given her history of writing in multiple genres, for making this a mix of crime story, western, and historical tale. Given their later stories (in Brackett’s case I’m mostly basing this on the Science Fiction Encyclopedia entry for her) on a romantic Mars, it’s hard to say where all the startling, romantic (and, at times, erotic) decadent details of this version of Venus come from.
The story starts out as a combination of crime story and western as hero Hugh Starke, a robber, is fleeing the agents of the Terra-Venus Mines, Incorporated after a heist. The western element comes as he draws near to the mysterious Mountains of White Cloud on Venus. His ship crashes there with a million credits of gold.
He wakes up and knows he is dying. He sees a woman on a fur covered chair watching him. Her skin is very white, her dusted nipples are “pale-green”, and her hair and eyes are “sea-green”. She tells him he is dying, but that he won’t die. He will reawaken in a new body and to not be afraid and let her mind guide him.
He falls unconscious and then, when awakening, sees an image of the woman in his mind. Again, she tells him he will not die but will awaken in a strange body and not to be afraid. He is laying on a bed of dirty straw. And he does have a new body, tall, muscular one quite unlike his original one which was stunted by malnutrition when young. He is glad to see it is at least a human body. Thus Bradbury and Brackett begin an interesting treatment of the bodyswitching theme. Though he curses the woman he saw, he has to admit he got the best of the trade.
The room has lots of weapons on the wall and a fire in a fireplace. There are two men in the room with him. This is a disorienting scene for the reader as well as Starke as we learn more about them. One is a giant of a man, a superb physical specimen, very tall, and wearing only a leather kilt. He is scarred across the eyes and obviously blind. Starke knows that he was once a man who enjoyed life, women, and song and now feels the cruelty of pain and uselessness. The other is a “swamp-edger”, an albino with a harp.
Outside the room are the sounds of battle. Then Starke realizes that he has a collar around his neck (he’s been chained before and served time in prison) and is chained to the floor. He has worn the collar long enough for it to gall his skin. A messenger from someone named Beudag says that they are still holding the Gate though the enemy has driven them back.Continue reading