"Across the gulfs between the worlds, from end to end of a Solar System poised taut and trembling on the verge of history, the rumors flew. Somebody’s made it, the Big Jump. Somebody came back." -The Big Jump (Page 1, Kindle Locations 82-86).Leigh Brackett is best known for her screenplays, notably including The Empire Strikes Back, but she actually had a long history of SF writing behind her at that point. A few years ago, I read Brackett's The Sword of Rhiannon, a Mars-based adventure featuring an Indy Jones-like protagonist, and greatly enjoyed it. So I figured it was time for another, this time opting for The Big Jump.
The novel opens with the return of the first interstellar expedition (a mission dubbed "The Big Jump"), but the authorities are vague and noncommittal about what was learned. Arch Comyn takes it upon himself to solve the mystery, sneaking into secret facilities to discover that only one crew member made the return trip, half-dead and near insane. Hearing the man's dying words, Comyn bluffs his way into the follow-up mission. But is he ready to discover what awaits us beyond the Big Jump?
The first half of the novel reads kinda like a Noir and SF mashup, and Brackett pulls it off in style.
"[...he] wished he knew two things: who had paid the boy with the bad teeth to kill him, and whether this ace in the hole he was going to bluff the Cochranes with might not turn out to be just a low spade after all—a spade suitable for grave digging." -The Big Jump (Page 36, Kindle Locations 973-975).Yes, this was the woman who wrote the screenplays for The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye, and it shows. Indeed, while the story and characters are somewhat standard, it is Brackett's prose which elevates this into something worth reading.
"This was not the going between worlds that men had grown used to. This was an adventure into madness." -The Big Jump (Page 70, Kindle Locations 1888)The story is a bit dated (originally published in 1955) and its short length (bordering on novella) means you can't really delve too deeply into characterization, but Brackett's prose turns the page and her plotting has enough twists and turns to be interesting without seeming convoluted. I can see how the finale, which features a fair amount of existential ambiguity, might turn some folks off, but I found an unexpected depth in it that worked well for me. It's perhaps at odds with the pulpy beginnings, but it does set up some interesting questions (which have to go unanswered).
"They had not conquered any stars. A star had conquered them." -The Big Jump (Page 132, Kindle Locations 3408-3409).While not Brackett's best, fans of old, pulpy SF would enjoy this, and it works well on that level. The general story is probably something like you've read before, but Brackett's style and verve carry the novel favorably.