The Ginger Star
Paizo Publishing, 2008 (orig. 1974)
The Ginger Star is my first exposure to Eric John Stark, Brackett’s hero from Mercury (where he was raised by a primitive race after his parents were killed) and apparently takes place after the earlier adventures The Secret of Sinharat and Talisman of the People (I believe both are in this volume). The Ginger Star begins an arc of stories taking placing on the world Skaith, a distant planet orbiting a dying sun and ruled by a cruel cabal of wizards known as Wandsmen. The Ginger Star opens with Stark arriving on Skaith looking for Simon Ashton the man who essentially taught him to be human. Along the way he gets wrapped up in the planet’s internal struggles and is caught between a faction that wants to leave the planet and the Wandsmen who wish to maintain their iron control over the populace.
Written in 1974 The Ginger Star is textbook example of a science fantasy. Sure the story opens with Stark’s arrival to Skaith via spaceship and his recollection of his reconnaissance on a city planet but from there on out The Ginger Star is fantasy adventure. There is no heady technological wonders or lengthy exposition regarding the use of technology or science here. Instead, the future of The Ginger Star is as messy as humanity’s past. Rather than speculating on what might come to pass in the future Brackett instead transposes the types of indigenous encounters one might have seen during Earth’s Age of Discovery to distant stars and strange planets. Stark is a character in the vein of Mowgli and Tarzan; operating more by instinct and cunning than anything else.
The Ginger Star is a fast novel that focuses more on pushing the plot and action forward rather than lingering for explanation. In fact one might that the focus on character and action over world-building is one of the things that sets swords and sorcery (or in this book’s case swords and planets) apart from other fantasy genres. Furthermore, perhaps more than epic fantasy, the landscape of the novel is an important role. The Ginger Star is constructed more as a series of interconnected set pieces rather than an intricately woven tapestry and I found it to be a refreshing change of pace. That isn’t so say that Brackett doesn’t spend some time world-building. By and large the action of the novel is driven by the underlying aspects of Skaith’s ruling system. Brackett doesn’t spend time delving into the nitty gritty of the world rather focusing on the larger picture painting in broad strokes to create a background picture just clear enough to frame Stark and Skaith; to place them in context.
I wasn’t completely impressed with The Ginger Star. There was something absent I just could not put my finger on and I kept waiting for something to truly impress itself on me. That isn’t to say there aren’t moments I enjoyed or that stick in my mind. Stark’s aquatic fight with a vicious sharkman and his encounter with the Children of Skaith or Mother were in particular quite awesome. Partly I think I was bothered with how the other characters in the story seemed ill-defined next to Stark; quite frankly they all seemed rather disposable. I’m curious to see where the rest of the story goes and will probably pick up the remaining volumes of the Skaith trilogy but truth is I’m not really in a hurry to do so.