The Sword of Rhiannon is important as an example both of the kind of story that made Leigh Brackett a leading writer of adventure fiction and of the “planetary romance,” one type of science fiction that has been referred to as “space opera” for the swashbuckling adventures of its protagonists. Brackett was a leading writer of space opera, and the respect for her action-adventure storytelling is illustrated by the fact that her last writing project was the first draft of the screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back (1980), the second film of the first Star Wars trilogy.
The Sword of Rhiannon is one of the best of Brackett’s science-fiction novels, a fast-moving, colorful tale of passion and menace. It also is a very deft piece of writing. The novel begins in mid-action, the hero being followed by someone down a dark street, while introducing non-Terran terms and ending the first paragraph by revealing that this is happening during a “chill Martian night.” The eeriness of pursuit through the shadows of an ancient town that “time means nothing to” helps unsettle the reader in another way, as does a passage shortly later, when Carse walks along the dead sea coast and has “as always the feeling that he was climbing a sort of ladder into the past.” He sees the great docks still standing, marked with the mooring of ships, and imagines what might have been in the past.
This experience is typical of the...
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