Nostalgia for an age yet to come

Been pondering what to write about today, as it’s been a pretty distracted day, and for some reason I feel the call of Leigh Brackett and Ray Bradbury… in fact, of Planetary Romances.

There’s a wonderful point of connection between the two writers. In one of ‘The Martian Chronicles’ stories, ‘Night Meeting’, the Human protagonist is travelling in the Martian wastes, amidst the ruins of Martian civilisation.

He encounters a ghostly, glamorous Martian, riding an equally ghostly machine. The Human sees ruins; the Martian sees a beautiful city. Each considers the other to be some sort of ghost; if I remember correctly (and I am very hungover) the story ends when the Martian vanishes.

This can be read as a comment on the fleeting nature of civilisation – we too shall pass – but I like to see in it Bradbury nodding to his Martian predecessors, and in particular the wonderful LB.

The ghostly Martian combines mystery and a kind of wistful obsolescence, emotions that suffuse Brackett’s tales of a senile Mars. In terms of plot, Brackett’s corrupted swords and techno-sorcery is far from Bradbury’s careful consideration of the inhumanity of man – but tonally, they match perfectly.

And that elegiac tone is a profoundly attractive one, literalising as it does the nostalgia that fuels so much of the pulpier parts of genre writing; nostalgia for a lost, entirely imagined golden age of moral simplicity and inevitable achievement.

Critiques of that kind of nostalgia inform much of the more interesting modern genre work, from M. John Harrison’s absolutely essential Viriconium sequence to Liz Williams’ blazingly original updatings of the planetary romance.

And now, having rambled for a bit, I’m off to enjoy my own bit of nostalgia – for a time of no hangover. Coffee and peace…

Oh, and if you haven’t read any Leigh Brackett, go here and pick this up (while also pausing to enjoy the Mike Moorcock plug) – one of the single funkiest collection names ever, and truly – the stories rock!

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