Vintage Treasures: The Book of Skaith: The Adventures of Eric John Stark by Leigh Brackett
I joined the Science Fiction Book Club in the fall of 1975, when I was in my last year at St. Francis Junior High School in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Before I joined, I agonized over my introductory selection — three books for a just a dollar! — for days, reading and re-reading the tiny paragraphs in the brochure, and then waiting impatiently for my selections to arrive in the mail. My friend John MacMaster enrolled me and I’m pretty sure I’ll remember the contents of my enrollment package until the day I die: The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov, The Hugo Winners, Volumes One and Two, edited by Isaac Asimov, and Before the Golden Age, edited by (can you guess?) Isaac Asimov.
John had introduced me to science fiction earlier that year, loaning me Clifford D. Simak’s Shakespeare’s Planet and Piers Anthony’s Ox when I was home sick from school. I devoured them both and wanted more. John explained how the club worked and it sounded terrific. “They sometimes have these big collections, a bunch of novels gathered into one book,” he said. “They’re the best.”
John was right. The year after I joined, in 1976, the featured selection for the month was The Book of Skaith: The Adventures of Eric John Stark, an omnibus of three novels by Leigh Brackett, under a new cover by Don Maitz. It was a marvelous introduction to one of SF’s great pulp writers, in an attractive and affordable package offered exclusively through the Science Fiction Book Club.
That’s one of the great things about the SFBC: its exclusive omnibus editions, highly collectible as they are, are generally still available at excellent prices. In February of this year, nearly 40 years after it was published, I bought a copy of The Book of Skaith in excellent condition on eBay for just $2.99.
The Book of Skaith collects three novels originally published between 1974 and 1976. The Ginger Star originally appeared in two parts in Worlds of If magazine in early 1974 and then in paperback in May of that year from Ballantine Books. The Hounds of Skaith followed in October 1974 and The Reavers of Skaith in August 1976.
All three had covers by comics great Jim Steranko.
[Click any of the pics for bigger images.]
The SFBC edition was the first hardcover edition.
Ballantine/Del Rey kept the books in print until the mid-80s; after that they were out of print for over two decades — until Erik Mona, editor of the Planet Stories line at Paizo Press, brought the entire series back in print in handsome trade paperback editions with covers by Andrew Hou and James Ryman.
Here’s the complete jacket copy for the 1976 SFBC omnibus edition:
“Skaith grasped his own ankle, found the odd hand that did not belong there, and shifted his grip to the alien wrist. And all the time he and the sea-thing were plunging deeper, the milk light from above growing dimmer.
The smooth descent finally stopped. The creature turned its head and Stark saw the blurred face, eyes filmed and staring, bubbles trickling from a vestigial nose. The free arm that had been oaring them downward now swung over, not toward his hands but toward the back of his neck. The game was over …. “
From the world beyond tomorrow comes one of the galaxy’s most intrepid adventurer — Eric John Stark. Brought forth out of the fertile imagination of Leigh Brackett, Stark again returns to face new dangers, his mighty sword ever ready to fight for a just cause. Lusty, hot-blooded, unafraid of things real or unreal, Stark dominates the exotic, frightening world of Skaith, a cold, dying planet outside the Galactic Union. It is here that Stark must locate his missing foster father… a man to whom the heroic mercenary owes his very live.
Stark’s quest begins in The Ginger Star, the first novel included in this star-flung trilogy. On Skaith for just a few days, Stark already finds himself a wanted man — hunted mercilessly by the Wandsmen, malevolent nobles who hold the population in a tight grip of fear and slavery. By joining the forces with a beautiful prophetess and a band of wandering freebooters, Stark is able to stay their evil plans long enough to discover where his friend is held prisoner. But will even Stark’s strength be enough to stand up to the great Lords Protector – whose impregnable castle is guarded by the hellish, telepathic North-hounds that conquer their victims with fear?
The action continues in The Hounds of Skaith as Stark finds himself embroiled in a massive, planet-wide rebellion. New sights and dangers wait around every bend: monstrous sand waves threaten Stark’s life in the barren northern deserts .. flesh-eating marauders want to make a meal of his companions along the way … and a band of winged mutants start a reign of terror.
Then in The Reavers of Skaith Stark faces his final challenge, as the downtrodden people turn to him as their leader. But will Stark be able to turn the tide of evil that threatens to engulf the planet in a shroud of freezing death?
The answer await in The Book of Skaith, one of the most exciting and adventuresome sagas of the year.
We last looked at Leigh Brackett in the final installment of our Advanced Readings in D&D recap, Leigh Brackett, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Appendix N, Ryan Harvey’s review of another Planet Stories volume, Masterpiece: The Sword of Rhiannon by Leigh Brackett, and Howard Andrew Jones’s retrospective Brackett: American Writer.
The Book of Skaith: The Adventures of Eric John Stark was published in August 1976 by the Science Fiction Book Club. It is 468 pages, originally priced at $3.50. The cover is by Don Maitz. I bought my copy on eBay for $2.99.
Those Jim Steranko covers show Eric John Stark exactly as I imagine him. The version of Stark in the uppermost cover looks strangely serene in the face of that giant…um…whatever the beast is. I haven’t read the Skaith books yet, but I’m guessing that Stark has something laconically badass to say about whatever menacing creatures he meets in them.
Hmmm. I didn’t recognize the cover for the Ballentine Ginger Star, though my Hounds and Reavers are the same, so I went to the shelf and pulled them off. Turns out I have a third edition copy of Ginger with cover by Vallejo. Have to admit I like mine a bit better.
Thanks for the post. It reminded me I need to reread these.
Amazing series. Looking back, it’s kind of Harold Lamb in space.
I hadn’t realized they were Steranko until I was writing this article. I think the Maitz is still my favorite though… It’s gorgeously colorful and, like you, I’m left wondering what the heck that giant puppy is up to, exactly.
Harold Lamb in space! Marvelous. I’ll have to see if Howard Andrew Jones concurs… He’s our resident Lamb expert. (And my go-to guy for Brackett scholarship, now that I think about it.)
I bought The Hugo Winners and The Foundation trilogy as part of my introductory package when I joined the SFBC, although it was a few years after you did. (I picked up Before the Golden Age second-hand the next year.)
One of the first regular purchases I made through the Club was The Best of Leigh Brackett. It wasn’t long before I bought The Book of Skaith. Great stuff.
I totally forgot about the Boris covers! That set deserves to be highlighted as well, he did a fine job (at least, I think he did a full set). I’ll have to try and track them all down. If I can find them, I’ll reprint them here.
I bought THE BEST OF BRACKETT through the club as well (with another gorgeous Boris cover, I believe). I was scarcely 12 years old when those books arrived. Every fan has tales of the books that first made them a fan…. For me it was that box of books that truly turned me into a life-long genre reader.
The Boris cover is on the paperback edition of The Best of Leigh Brackett, and a fine cover it is. The SFBC edition had a watercolor painting from what I recall. The interweb thingy tells me the artist on that edition was Jack Woolhiser.
Also, I’ve seen alternate covers for the Paizo editions of the Skaith books.
It’s all part of a massive conspiracy to get me to finally sit down and read a substantial amount of Leigh Brackett. Good job!
Joe, you’ve found us out.
Best. Conspiracy. Ever.
(And on top of everything else, the Sword & Sorcery group on GoodReads chose Sword & Planet for the next group read theme. Clearly it’s fate.)
Now I have to rush off to GoodReads to join Sword & Sorcery group.
First, While Leigh Brackett and Harold Lamb are two of my very favorite writers and while they both love telling a grand adventure, I find their style very different. Lamb is lean and spare, though not without an emotional subtext and some occasional moments of beautiful prose. Brackett is lean but laced with poetry, having been heavily influenced by the hard-boiled style.
Second, Stark IS A BLACK MAN. Every one of those covers got it wrong until PLanet Stories got ahold of him. Sure, some of them are way cool, but they’re still wrong. Brackett didn’t hide it, either. Go ahead. Crack open any one of the Skaith books or the three (well, four, if you count “Stark and the Star Kings”) short stories/novellas, and you’ll see that he’s NOT a white dude.
Third, I always thought the third Skaith book was a bit of a let down, and that the whole series is a little more “frying pan to fire,” plotting wise, than her best short stories. That’s not to say that I dislike them, just that I don’t think they’re Brackett at her VERY best. The third one, I think, reads like The Contractual Obligation of Skaith.