Thursday, February 20, 2014

"You've lost the truth--and you aren't even true to your lie."

Last time we visited Leigh Brackett's Solar System, we landed on the dark side of Mercury. But the talented author returned to Mercury a few more times and, in the story "A World is Born," (Comet magazine, July
1941) she takes us to the Twilight area sandwiched in between the sunlight half of the planet and the dark half.

It's not a pleasant place--the effects blistering heat on one side and absolute cold on the other disrupts the atmosphere, charging it with electricity and causing frequent violent lightning storms.

But all the same, men are on Mercury trying to carve out a colony--working radium mines and growing crops with huge copper cables mounted around them to act as lightning rods.

Most of the men are volunteers, but one of them--Mel Gray--doesn't want to be here. A cynical veteran of the Second Interplanetary War, he's now a prisoner assigned to work on Mercury whether he wants to or not.

Soon, he's planning an escape. But that turns out to be a set-up. Gray was actually sent to Mars by a prison official in hopes that he'd escape. The official will then use that as a scandal to close down the nascent colony and grab the mineral rights for himself.

Gray soon realizes this, but he doesn't care. He long ago realized that he had all he could handle in looking out for himself. He doesn't care for anyone else.

Or so he tells himself. He grabs the lovely Jill Moulton as a hostage during his escape, but then he discovers the official behind the plot has no intention of letting him live afterwards. He further discovers that he hasn't sunk low enough to risk a woman's life.

His combined effort to get Jill to safety AND still get away results in a great action sequence. He and Jill end up in a series of mine tunnels while a storm rages outside. They are pursued by a group of assassins on one side and some of the local workers on the other. And--though they don't know it yet--there are some non-human and
very bizarre life forms down in those tunnels with them...

This is a great story. Brackett had a talent for creating alien environments, then describing them to us succinctly yet vividly. This is combined with some solid characterizations; Mel Gray's discovery that he still has moral standards is part of a very common trope, but it's handled well and generates some honest emotion. Jill acts with intelligence and courage, making her more than just a standard damsel in distress.

This is the second of the four Mercury stories we'll be looking at. So far, our innermost planet sounds like a pretty unpleasant place, does it? Well, if you live in a Solar System full of Adventure Planets, then you need to accept the consequences.

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