People of the Talisman

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People of the Talisman
People of the talisman.jpg
Cover of first edition.
Author Leigh Brackett
Country United States
Language English
Genre Science fiction Fantasy novel
Publisher Ace Books
Publication date
1964
Media type Print (Paperback)
Pages 128 pp
ISBN NA
Preceded by The Secret of Sinharat

People of the Talisman is a science fiction novel by Leigh Brackett set on the planet Mars, whose protagonist is Eric John Stark.

Plot introduction[edit]

Despite beginning in the same place and with the same situation, Black Amazon of Mars and People of the Talisman are two different stories on a similar premise, with occasionally overlapping text. The differences between the two can be seen in the following synopses.

Plot summary[edit]

Black Amazon of Mars[edit]

  • Chapter 1 - Eric John Stark, outland mercenary, and his companion Camar the thief, are travelling in the wilderness that surrounds the northern polar cap of Mars, trying to get to Camar's home city of Kushat. Camar has been mortally wounded in a guerrilla campaign and wants to return home before he dies. Unable to make it, he confesses that he has stolen the holy talisman of Ban Cruach from Kushat, which keeps the city safe. It is hidden inside a boss on his belt. Stark promises to take the talisman back to Kushat for Camar. Examining the talisman, he presses it to his forehead and receives visions of a tower, a city in the ice, and a pass - the memories of Ban Cruach. Soon after he puts the talisman back in the belt, he is approached by the riders of Mekh, a barbarian tribe that lives in the hills between him and Kushat.
  • Chapter 2 - The riders of Mekh arrest and plunder Stark, except for his clothes and Camar's belt. They lead him to their camp in a valley several days northward. There they bring him before the masked and fully armored lord Ciaran. Ciaran interrogates Stark and announces his plan to besiege Kushat. Stark is uncooperative and demands to see Ciaran's face. Ciaran turns him over to Thord, his previous capturer.
  • Chapter 3 - Stark is tied to a scaffold and scourged by Thord. When Thord comes near him, Stark bits his hand hard enough to break his thumb. When Thord tries to kill Stark for this, Ciaran kills Thord for disobedience. Stark feigns unconsciousness, despite being prodded by spears. When he is cut down, Stark gets a spear, kills several riders, and escapes on a mount. After riding for three days through a snowy wasteland marked by a series of towers, he reaches Kushat, a city standing in front of a pass through a scarp.
  • Chapter 4 - Stark enters Kushat and meets Thanis. He his challenged by Lugh, whom he warns about the imminent attack by Mekh. Lugh leads Stark to the guard captain, who dismisses Stark's claims, but is persuaded to pass the warning on to the nobility. He gives Stark into the custody of Thanis, who takes him to her home. Stark sleeps, only to be wakened by Thanis' brother Balin, who tells him that soldiers have come, and warns him not to speak of the talisman. A nobleman, Rogain, enters with a group of soldiers and questions Stark about the invasion. Rogain at last agrees to put Kushat in arms. After Rogain and his men leave, Balin and Thanis explain that they found the talisman in Camar's belt, and they agree not to return it to the men of Kushat. Stark goes to sleep again. Just before dawn he wakes and goes up on Kushat's wall.
  • Chapter 5 - In the morning, the clans of Mekh, led by Ciaran, attack Kushat. Despite resistance, Mekh takes the Wall and breaches its gate. Stark, who had been fighting on the wall, goes down to face Ciaran in single combat. As they fight, Stark tears Ciaran's mask off, revealing her to be a red-haired woman.
  • Chapter 6 - Despite this revelation, in the moment of victory, Ciaran is able to retain the loyalty of her followers. As the soldiers of Kushat charge and are beaten back, Stark manages to escape the mêlée. Stark hides in Kushat until the looting commences.
  • Chapter 7 -
  • Chapter 8 -
  • Chapter 9 -

People of the Talisman[edit]

  • Chapter 1 - Eric John Stark, outland mercenary, and his companion Camar the thief, are travelling in the wilderness that surrounds the northern polar cap of Mars, trying to get to Camar's home city of Kushat. Camar has been mortally wounded in a guerrilla campaign and wants to return home before he dies. Unable to make it, he confesses that he has stolen the holy talisman of Ban Cruach from Kushat, which keeps the city safe. It is hidden inside a boss on his belt. Stark promises to take the talisman back to Kushat for Camar. Examining the talisman, he hears tiny, unintelligible voices that alarm him. Soon after he puts the talisman back in the belt, he is approached by the riders of Mekh, a barbarian tribe that lives in the hills between him and Kushat.
  • Chapter 2 - The riders of Mekh arrest and plunder Stark, except for his clothes and Camar's belt. They lead him to their camp in a valley several days northward. There they bring him before the masked and fully armored lord Ciaran. Ciaran interrogates Stark and announces his plan to besiege Kushat. Stark is uncooperative and demands to see Ciaran's face. Ciaran turns him over to Thord, his previous capturer.
  • Chapter 3 -
  • Chapter 4 -
  • Chapter 5 -
  • Chapter 6 -
  • Chapter 7 -
  • Chapter 8 -
  • Chapter 9 -
  • Chapter 10 -
  • Chapter 11 -
  • Chapter 12 -
  • Chapter 13 -
  • Chapter 14 -
  • Chapter 15 -

Expansion Commentary[edit]

The Talisman expansion is far more ambitious than the one of The Secret of Sinharat; for one thing, the resulting story is about a third longer than Sinharat. Despite the comprehensiveness of the revision, the treatment of the earlier chapters, where more of the original text is retained, is sometimes clumsy and the motivation of the changes is sometimes unclear. In at least one place there is a significant editorial faux pas—a passage in which an important character is introduced is omitted, and the character is later referred to by name without the connection between name and person having ever been made explicit. The murderously insane aliens of Talisman are a very unusual invention for Brackett, and it may be that the hand of Hamilton is seen at work here. Ban Cruach also loses much of his mythical glamor in Talisman, which is something of a let-down, though it does work as a "twist" conclusion.

Characters[edit]

  • Eric John Stark, a mercenary fighter, born on Mercury, looking for trouble in northern Mars.
  • Camar, a Martian thief of the northern city of Kushat.
  • Ciaran, lord of the barbarian tribe of Mekh, who keeps some secret forever hidden behind his mask.
  • Thord, captain of Mekh, servant of Ciaran.
  • Otar, of Kushat, counselor and servant of Ciaran.
  • Lugh, officer of the guard of Kushat.
  • Rogain, nobleman of Kushat and Commander of the City.
  • Balin, a thief of Kushat.
  • Thanis, Balin's sister.
  • Ban Cruach, a hero of ancient Mars, standing forever at the Gates of Death in the Norland wilderness.

Publication history[edit]

This story was first published under the title Black Amazon of Mars in the pulp magazine Planet Stories, March 1951.

In 1964, after a total revision and expansion, it was republished as People of the Talisman, as one part of an Ace Double novel; its companion was another expanded Eric John Stark story, The Secret of Sinharat. The expansion has sometimes been attributed to Brackett's husband, Edmond Hamilton[1]. For People of the Talisman, there may be some internal evidence to support this suggestion.

In 1982, it appeared, again together with The Secret of Sinharat, under the title Eric John Stark, Outlaw of Mars.

In 2005 the original Planet Stories version was republished in Sea-Kings of Mars and Otherworldly Stories, Volume 46 in the Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks series. It appeared the same year in the collection Stark and the Star Kings (Haffner Press).

Titles[edit]

Black Amazon of Mars is typical of the rather wordy and sometimes misleading titles assigned to stories in Planet Stories, to go along with their colorful, action-packed, but equally misleading cover art. The cover of the March 1951 issue of Planet Stories gives the title as Black Amazon of Mars: A Novel of Warrior Worlds by Leigh Brackett, with the explanatory blurb A hooded warlord leads the hordes of Mekh against the Ancient Doom. Although not very revealing of anything about the plot, it is slightly more accurate than some of Planet Stories' other blurbs.

The "Black Amazon" in question is of course Ciaran/Ciara, whose role in the story is for once central enough to justify Planet's title, and its choice of her as the center of its cover. The Allen Anderson cover of the March 1951 issue shows a dramatically tilted red-haired woman in black mail swinging a double-bitted battle-axe at a mass of waving black tentacles emerging from the ground. The tentacles are apparently a wild stab by the artist at giving some form to the almost undepictable aliens of the story. An inappropriately pale-skinned Stark, looking rather like Mickey Mouse in red shorts and suspenders, is shown in the background futilely waving a sword about. The further background somewhat more convincingly depicts Ban Cruach at the Gates of Death.

The later title, People of the Talisman at least has the merit of not giving away an important plot point prematurely. Otherwise, it is rather vague; it might refer either to the people of Kushat, or the aliens beyond the Gates of Death, in either case excluding the two main characters!

Footnotes[edit]

References[edit]