Eric John Stark

Eric John Stark is a character created by the science fiction author Leigh Brackett. Stark is the hero of a series of pulp adventures set in a time when the Solar System has been colonized. His origin-story shares some characteristics with feral characters such as Mowgli and Tarzan; his adventures take place in the shared space opera planets of 1940s and 1950s science fiction.

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Eric John Stark debuted in "Queen of the Martian Catacombs", the cover story for the Summer 1949 issue of Planet Stories
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Brackett's second Stark novella, "Enchantress of Venus", took the cover of the next issue of Planet Stories (Fall 1949)


Stark was born on Mercury. His parents were employees of the mineral extraction company Mercury Metals and Mining. After his parents died in a cave-in caused by a quake, Stark was adopted by a tribe of Mercurian aborigines who are described as hairy and possessing snouts.[1] They gave him the name N'Chaka, meaning "the man without a tribe". He believed himself to be one of them, rather than a human, and endured their rigorous way of life in the Mercurian Twilight Belt, surviving by hunting rock-lizards.

Before Stark was fully grown, another group of human miners exterminated his tribe, captured Stark and imprisoned him in a cage. They would ultimately have killed him if he had not been rescued by the police official Simon Ashton, who raised Stark to adulthood.

The stories of the adult Stark are fast-paced adventures, but Brackett manages to insert more pathos than most authors. Because of his background, Stark is keenly aware of the injustices visited on the planetary "primitives" by the colonialist Earth, and tends to side with them against official bodies. At the opening of the story in which he first appears, Stark is evading a twenty-year sentence placed on him for running guns to a Venusian native group that has been resisting Terran colonizers.


A point about Stark's physical appearance which has been studiously ignored by every one of his illustrators until the James Ryman's covers from the Paizo Publishing Planet Stories line [1]: years of exposure to heightened sunlight on the planet Mercury has permanently given Stark very dark, almost black skin. His skin is "almost as dark as his black hair" and an antagonist refers to him scornfully as a "great black ape". The darkness of Stark's skin is reiterated in Enchantress of Venus. Brackett's other Mercurian characters also have black skin (e.g. Jaffa Storm in The Nemesis from Terra).

Brackett's professional illustrators have universally drawn Stark as light-skinned, even sometimes blond [2]. Brackett's use of a strong, independent, and attractive black-skinned character as hero for several of her stories was very unusual for the 1940s and 1950s. The artists' choice to ignore Brackett's verbal description and substitute a generic light-skinned blond pulp hero, even as late as 1982, may reflect prejudice against dark-skinned people. The effect of these misleading illustrations has been such that Stark is never remembered or referred to by critics as a black-skinned character, though he is clearly described as such in the stories.

While Stark is described many times as having very dark skin, he appears to be of Caucasian rather than African descent; Brackett repeatedly tells her readers that Stark's unusual coloring is due to prolonged exposure to extreme sunlight while growing up on the planet Mercury. Brackett openly created Stark as a pastiche of Edgar Rice Burroughs' popular John Carter of Mars and Tarzan characters, and Stark's sun-blackened skin is the Mercurian version of Tarzan's sun-bronzed skin.


Solar System

Planet Stories March 1951 cover
Black Amazon of Mars in Planet Stories, March 1951

Stark first appeared in a group of novellas published in the pulp magazine Planet Stories. These were: "Queen of the Martian Catacombs" (Summer 1949); "Enchantress of Venus" (Fall 1949), once published as "City of the Lost Ones"; and "Black Amazon of Mars" (March 1951). The first and last stories were expanded into short novels: "Queen of the Martian Catacombs" as The Secret of Sinharat and "Black Amazon of Mars" as People of the Talisman. The expanded versions were first published in 1964 as an Ace Double paperback, and again in 1982 under the title Eric John Stark: Outlaw of Mars. The internal chronology of the stories is different from the publishing order; in "Queen of the Martian Catacombs" Stark is on Mars, having fled capture on Venus; "Black Amazon of Mars" takes place soon after, but in an unexplored and barbaric area close to the north pole of Mars; and in "Enchantress of Venus", Stark has returned from Mars to Venus to look for a missing friend.

The two expanded novels have inconsistencies with their novella originals. The Secret of Sinharat is almost identical with "Queen of the Martian Catacombs" up to the point at which Stark arrives at Sinharat, but a crucial plot point is revealed earlier in the novella, and further developments diverge from (while occasionally overlapping) the storyline of "Catacombs." "Black Amazon of Mars" is largely different from People of the Talisman, though founded on a similar premise.


Many years later, Brackett returned to the character in a trilogy of books titled The Ginger Star (1974), The Hounds of Skaith (1974) and The Reavers of Skaith (1976). These stories are science fantasies set on a distant but primitive extrasolar planet, since Stark's original Solar System venue had become unacceptable to publishers. As a result, although the character's personality and origins are retained, there are few other links between the Skaith novels and the earlier Stark novellas.


A final story Stark and the Star Kings (2005) places Stark into the world of her husband Edmond Hamilton's Star Kings series, making it a rare collaboration between the two.

See also

  • Scan of the Summer 1949 Planet Stories


  1. ^ The Reavers of Skaith chapter 3

External links

Dying Earth genre

Dying Earth is a subgenre of science fantasy or science fiction which takes place in the far future at either the end of life on Earth or the End of Time, when the laws of the universe themselves fail. Themes of world-weariness, innocence (wounded or otherwise), idealism, entropy, (permanent) exhaustion/depletion of many or all resources (such as soil nutrients), and the hope of renewal tend to dominate.

Edwin Charles Tubb

Edwin Charles Tubb (15 October 1919 – 10 September 2010) was a British writer of science fiction, fantasy and western novels. The author of over 140 novels and 230 short stories and novellas, Tubb is best known for The Dumarest Saga (US collective title: Dumarest of Terra), an epic science-fiction saga set in the far future. Michael Moorcock wrote, "His reputation for fast-moving and colourful SF writing is unmatched by anyone in Britain."Much of Tubb's work was written under pseudonyms including Gregory Kern, Carl Maddox, Alan Guthrie, Eric Storm and George Holt. He used 58 pen names over five decades of writing, although some of these were publishers' house names also used by other writers: Volsted Gridban (along with John Russell Fearn), Gill Hunt (with John Brunner and Dennis Hughes), King Lang (with George Hay and John W Jennison), Roy Sheldon (with H. J. Campbell) and Brian Shaw. Tubb's Charles Grey alias was solely his own and acquired a big following in the early 1950s.

History of US science fiction and fantasy magazines to 1950

Science fiction and fantasy magazines began to be published in the United States in the 1920s. Stories with science fiction themes had been appearing for decades in pulp magazines such as Argosy, but there were no magazines that specialized in a single genre until 1915, when Street & Smith, one of the major pulp publishers, brought out Detective Story Magazine. The first magazine to focus solely on fantasy and horror was Weird Tales, which was launched in 1923, and established itself as the leading weird fiction magazine over the next two decades; writers such as H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard became regular contributors. In 1926 Weird Tales was joined by Amazing Stories, published by Hugo Gernsback; Amazing printed only science fiction, and no fantasy. Gernsback included a letter column in Amazing Stories, and this led to the creation of organized science fiction fandom, as fans contacted each other using the addresses published with the letters. Gernsback wanted the fiction he printed to be scientifically accurate, and educational, as well as entertaining, but found it difficult to obtain stories that met his goals; he printed "The Moon Pool" by Abraham Merritt in 1927, despite it being completely unscientific. Gernsback lost control of Amazing Stories in 1929, but quickly started several new magazines. Wonder Stories, one of Gernsback's titles, was edited by David Lasser, who worked to improve the quality of the fiction he received. Another early competitor was Astounding Stories of Super-Science, which appeared in 1930, edited by Harry Bates, but Bates printed only the most basic adventure stories with minimal scientific content, and little of the material from his era is now remembered.

In 1933 Astounding was acquired by Street & Smith, and it soon became the leading magazine in the new genre, publishing early classics such as Murray Leinster's "Sidewise in Time" in 1934. A couple of competitors to Weird Tales for fantasy and weird fiction appeared, but none lasted, and the 1930s is regarded as Weird Tales' heyday. Between 1939 and 1941 there was a boom in science fiction and fantasy magazines: several publishers entered the field, including Standard Magazines, with Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories (a retitling of Wonder Stories); Popular Publications, with Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories; and Fiction House, with Planet Stories, which focused on melodramatic tales of interplanetary adventure. Ziff-Davis launched Fantastic Adventures, a fantasy companion to Amazing. Astounding extended its pre-eminence in the field during the boom: the editor, John W. Campbell, developed a stable of young writers that included Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and A.E. van Vogt. The period starting in 1938, when Campbell took control of Astounding, is often referred to as the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Well-known stories from this era include Slan, by van Vogt, and "Nightfall", by Asimov. Campbell also launched Unknown, a fantasy companion to Astounding, in 1939; this was the first serious competitor for Weird Tales. Although wartime paper shortages forced Unknown's cancellation in 1943, it is now regarded as one of the most influential pulp magazines.

Only eight science fiction and fantasy magazines survived World War II. All were still in pulp magazine format except for Astounding, which had switched to a digest format in 1943. Astounding continued to publish popular stories, including "Vintage Season" by C. L. Moore, and "With Folded Hands ..." by Jack Williamson. The quality of the fiction in the other magazines improved over the decade: Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder in particular published some excellent material and challenged Astounding for the leadership of the field. A few more pulps were launched in the late 1940s, but almost all were intended as vehicles to reprint old classics. One exception, Out of This World Adventures, was an experiment by Avon, combining fiction with some pages of comics. It was a failure and lasted only two issues. Magazines in digest format began to appear towards the end of the decade, including Other Worlds, edited by Raymond Palmer. In 1949, the first issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction appeared, followed in October 1950 by the first issue of Galaxy Science Fiction; both were digests, and between them soon dominated the field. Very few science fiction or fantasy pulps were launched after this date; the 1950s was the beginning of the era of digest magazines, though the leading pulps continued until the mid-1950s, and authors began selling to mainstream magazines and large book publishers.

John Stark (disambiguation)

John Stark (1728–1822) was an American major general during the American Revolution.

John Stark may also refer to:

John Stark (judge) (1798–?), Scottish lawyer and Queen's Advocate of Ceylon

John Stark (swimmer) (born 1948), Australian Olympic swimmer

John Stark (police officer) (c. 1865–1940), British police officer

John Stillwell Stark (1841–1927), American music publisher

John Stark (printer) (1779-1849), Scottish printer, author and naturalist

Leigh Brackett

Leigh Douglass Brackett (December 7, 1915 – March 18, 1978) was an American writer, particularly of science fiction, and has been referred to as the Queen of Space Opera. She was also a screenwriter, known for her work on such films as The Big Sleep (1946), Rio Bravo (1959), The Long Goodbye (1973) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980). She was the first woman shortlisted for the Hugo Award.

Mercury in fiction

The planet Mercury has often been used as a setting in science fiction. Recurring themes include the dangers of being exposed to solar radiation and the possibility of escaping excessive radiation by staying within the planet's slow-moving terminator (the boundary between day and night). Another recurring theme is autocratic governments, perhaps because of an association of Mercury with hot-temperedness.

People of the Talisman

People of the Talisman is a science fiction novel by Leigh Brackett set on the planet Mars, whose protagonist is Eric John Stark.

Planet Stories

Planet Stories was an American pulp science fiction magazine, published by Fiction House between 1939 and 1955. It featured interplanetary adventures, both in space and on some other planets, and was initially focused on a young readership. Malcolm Reiss was editor or editor-in-chief for all of its 71 issues. Planet Stories was launched at the same time as Planet Comics, the success of which probably helped to fund the early issues of Planet Stories. Planet Stories did not pay well enough to regularly attract the leading science fiction writers of the day, but occasionally obtained work from well-known authors, including Isaac Asimov and Clifford D. Simak. In 1952 Planet Stories published Philip K. Dick's first sale, and printed four more of his stories over the next three years.

The two writers most identified with Planet Stories are Leigh Brackett and Ray Bradbury, both of whom set many of their stories on a romanticized version of Mars that owed much to the depiction of Barsoom in the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Bradbury's work for Planet included an early story in his Martian Chronicles sequence. Brackett's best-known work for the magazine was a series of adventures featuring Eric John Stark, which began in the summer of 1949. Brackett and Bradbury collaborated on one story, "Lorelei of the Red Mist", which appeared in 1946; it was generally well-received, although one letter to the magazine complained that the story's treatment of sex, though mild by modern standards, was too explicit. The artwork also emphasized attractive women, with a scantily clad damsel in distress or alien princess on almost every cover.

Space opera

Space opera is a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes space warfare, melodramatic adventure, interplanetary battles, chivalric romance, and risk-taking. Set mainly or entirely in outer space, it usually involves conflict between opponents possessing advanced abilities, futuristic weapons, and other sophisticated technology. The term has no relation to music, but is instead a play on the terms "soap opera" and "horse opera", the latter of which was coined during the 1930s to indicate clichéd and formulaic Western movies. Space operas emerged in the 1930s and continue to be produced in literature, film, comics, television and video games.

An early film which was based on space opera comic strips was Flash Gordon (1936) created by Alex Raymond. In the late 1970s, the Star Wars franchise (1977–present) created by George Lucas brought a great deal of attention to the subgenre. After the convention-breaking "New Wave", followed by the enormous success of the Star Wars films, space opera became once again a critically acceptable subgenre. Throughout 1982–2002, the Hugo Award for best science fiction novel was often given to a space opera nominee.

Sword and planet

Sword and planet is a subgenre of science fantasy that features rousing adventure stories set on other planets, and usually featuring humans as protagonists. The name derives from the heroes of the genre engaging their adversaries in hand-to-hand combat primarily with simple melée weapons such as swords, even in a setting that often has advanced technology. Although there are works that herald the genre, such as Percy Greg's Across the Zodiac (1880) and Edwin Lester Arnold's Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation (1905; published in the US in 1964 as Gulliver of Mars), the prototype for the genre is A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs originally serialized by All-Story in 1912 as "Under the Moons of Mars".The genre predates the mainstream popularity of science fiction proper, and does not necessarily feature any scientific rigor, being instead romantic tales of high adventure. For example, little thought is given to explaining why the environment of the alien planet is compatible with life from Earth, just that it does in order to allow the hero to move about and interact with the natives. Native technology will often break the known laws of physics.

The genre tag "sword and planet" is constructed to mimic the terms sword and sorcery and sword and sandal. The phrase appears to have first been coined in the 1960s by Donald A. Wollheim, editor of Ace Books, and later of DAW Books at a time when the genre was undergoing a revival. Both Ace Books and DAW Books were instrumental in bringing much of the earlier pulp sword and planet stories back into print, as well as publishing a great deal of new, imitative work by a new generation of authors.

There is a fair amount of overlap between sword and planet and planetary romance although some works are considered to belong to one and not the other. Influenced by the likes of A Princess of Mars yet more modern and technologically savvy, sword and planet more directly imitates the conventions established by Burroughs in the Mars series. That is to say that the hero is alone as the only human being from Earth, swords are the weapon of choice, and while the alien planet has some advanced technology, it is used only in limited applications to advance the plot or increase the grandeur of the setting. In general the alien planet will seem to be more medieval and primitive than Earth. This leads to anachronistic situations such as flying ships held aloft by anti-gravity technology, while ground travel is done by riding domesticated native animals.

Tales of the Shadowmen

Tales of the Shadowmen is an American annual anthology of short stories edited by Jean-Marc Lofficier and Randy Lofficier, published by Black Coat Press. The stories take place in a fictional world where all of the characters and events from adventure literature, and in particular French adventure literature, actually exist in the same universe.

The Enchantress of Venus

"The Enchantress of Venus" is a short story written by Leigh Brackett. It was originally published in Planet Stories in 1949 . It is one of the first stories in the genre of space opera, and is part of the Eric John Stark series of books and stories. The story has been reprinted numerous times since its first publication, and has been the subject of critical commentary in the Science Fiction community.

The Secret of Sinharat

The Secret of Sinharat is a science fantasy novel by American writer Leigh Brackett, set on the planet Mars, whose protagonist is Eric John Stark.

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