The Best of CL Moore, CL Moore

bestmooreThe Best of CL Moore, CL Moore (1975)
Review by Martin Wisse

In the mid seventies Ballantine Books, just before it renamed itself into Del Rey, launched a “Best of” series of short story collections by classic science fiction and fantasy authors which I personally think is perhaps the best such series ever produced. Just at a time when science fiction was switching from being a short story, magazine orientated genre to one in which the novel is supreme, here were collections by all the old masters who had made their name in the pulp magazines of the thirties, forties and fifties. The series offered a sense of history to the genre just when science fiction was in danger of losing touch with its roots. It offered both a reminder to old fans of what had attracted them to the genre in the first place and to new fans a sampling of authors they may have thought old-fashioned or perhaps never had the chance to read in the first place.

One of such authors must have been CL Moore, who had made her reputation writing science fantasy stories for Weird Tales in the 1930s. In the 1940s, after she met and married Henry Kuttner she almost completely stopped writing on her own, instead collaborating with him (often under the Lewis Padgett pseudonym) on a series of classic sf stories, then moving on to writing crime stories and for television, both of which unfortunately paid better, in the late 1950s. By the time The Best of CL Moore was published it had been the better part of two decades that she had written much new science fiction. Now that more than twice as much time has passed, this collection is still a great introduction to what CL Moore had to offer when not collaborating with her husband.

The story that first introduced me to CL Moore, ‘Vintage Season’, was however originally published under both her and Kuttner’s names. I first read it in a Dutch anthology of crime and detective stories written by women, which sort of made sense as it can be read as a detective puzzle story. For years that was the extent of my CL Moore reading, until I read this collection. It was enough to realise how great a writer she was.

The Best of CL Moore is a well balanced collection, with most of the stories from before she met and married Henry Kuttner. Both of her best known heroes, Northwest Smith and Jirel of Joiry are represented but do not dominate. In general the stories here vary from outright fantasy to pure science fiction, but what they have all in common is the human touch. Her characters are fully human, three dimensional in a way that was rare for pulp science fiction. She builds her stories around the characters of her protagonists, even in the science fantasy of her Northwest Smith and Jirel stories. There are no clunkers whatsoever in here, as we’ll see.

‘Shambleau’ (1933). This is the story that introduced both Northwest Smith and Moore herself to Weird Tales, her first published story. It’s space fantasy of the kind Leigh Brackett also wrote, with some of the clichés of that genre, but already with the same craft and power brought to all the stories here. It starts with a mixed race mob – Martians, Venusians, Earthmen – chasing a slim nutberry brown beauty in a radiant scarlet cloak down the streets of a Martian town and Northwest Smith rescuing her. But she’s shambleau and Smith does not know what this is and only finds out — almost too late.

‘Black Thirst’ (1934). Another Northwest Smith story, about a Venusian castle where they breed beauty and its master who feast on it. Almost as good as the first story.

‘The Bright Illusion’ (1934). A man dying of thirst in the great Saharan desert is set on a quest on a strange world by an intelligence so powerful it can only be described as a god, to meet this god’s priestess and fall in love with her, no matter her innate alienness. This should be schmaltzy as hell, but Moore’s skill as a writer makes this work.

‘Black God’s Kiss’ (1934). The first Jirel of Joiry story, a Medieval French swordswoman whose kingdom is taken over through sorcery, who manages to escape her captor, then has to travel much farther than she could’ve ever imagined for her vengeance. As with the first Northwest Smith story this has an immediate impact: everything Jirel is, is here fully formed.

‘Tryst in Time’ (1936). Another love story, where a man who has grown bored with everything the modern world has to offer, who has tasted all adventure and sensation that’s in it, volunteers to be the guinea pig for his genius friend’s time machine. He gradually realises that in all the historic scenes he witnesses one girl remains constant and falls in love with her – but does she know him and could they ever be together?

‘Greater Than Gods’ (1939). On one man’s decision which of the two women he loved he wanted to marry rested the faith of the future. Hinging on this decision, Earth would become either a slowly dying, rural idyllic paradise, or it would rule the universe but at the cost of human happiness. Which alternative is better and is there truly no other option? As a story it does depend on a certain gender essentialism we’ve largely grown out of, but if you can swallow this, this is a clever, sentimental story.

‘Fruit of Knowledge’ (1940). According to Jewish legend, before Eve Adam had another wife, Lilith, who refused to be dominated by him and therefore was cast aside. Normally I don’t like this kind of Biblical fantasy, but Moore manages to make this story interesting by making Lilith a sympathetic character without quite making either Adam or Eve into the villains of the piece.

‘No Woman Born’ (1944). A woman, the greatest dancer of her generation, is caught in a horrible accident and given an experimental cyborg body, her brain in a metal shell. The male scientists and psychologists responsible for her transformation worry about her and whether or not she can remain human living like this. An interesting psychological story.

‘Daemon’ (1946). A simple-minded Brazilian boy is shanghaied on a Yankee clipper as a cabin boy, but he has a secret: he can see the soul or daemon every person but he himself carries with him. It keeps him alone in a world full of people, until on a small remote island he discovers others like him…

‘Vintage Season’ (1946). The best story in the collection, this bittersweet tale of how a group of strange foreigners hiring a house at the edge of an unnamed American city slowly are revealed to be time-travelling tourists with a penchant for the horrible and tragic. In this way Moore shows us the mirror image of how we ourselves treat historical horrors as entertainment, where whatever tragedy we’re witnessing can be dismissed as destiny, just as these tourist from the future dismiss what happens to the narrator and his city and world as something that happened long ago in their past…

This review originally appeared on Martin’s Booklog.

Judgment Night, CL Moore

judgmentJudgment Night, CL Moore (1952)
Review by Ian Sales

Catherine Lucille Moore is no longer as well known as she once was – a collection of her short fiction in the Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks series notwithstanding – and at the height of her popularity in the 1930s and 1940s she displayed equal facility in both fantasy and science fiction, as is evident in her Jirel of Joiry fantasies and her Northwest Smith sf series. She was a frequent contributor to Weird Tales – in fact, her best-known story, ‘Shambleau’, appeared in that magazine, was her first sale, and was accepted the moment she submitted it: “My own perfectly clear memory tells me that I sent it first to WT because that was the only magazine of the type I knew well, and that an answering acceptance and check… arrived almost by return mail.” Judgment Night was her first novel-length science fiction, originally appearing serialised in Astounding Science Fiction in 1943 but not appearing in book form until 1952. (Previous sf novels had been co-written with husband Henry Kuttner, and appeared under the name Lewis Padgett.)

Princess Juille is the daughter of the Emperor of the Galaxy Lyonese. She is an amazon, a warrior-princess, war-like and hot-headed. But now the savage H’vani are threatening the empire and their horde will soon be at Ericon, the imperial capital world. Juille wants to attack them, but her father would sooner negotiate a peace – a war between the imperial forces and the H’vani would destroy the galaxy. However, before attending an important council of war, Juille decides to visit Cyrille, an artificial moon of Ericon known for its pleasure facilities. She will go incognito, and “see what it it’s like to be an ordinary woman meeting ordinary people” (p 15). And so she does, although not without cost to her identity:

She was no longer the sexless princeling of Lyonese … It was humiliating to admit by that very step that the despised femininity she had repudiated all her life should be important enough to capture now. (p 18)

Also present on Cyrille is Egide, a handsome prince who has a secret. He knows who Juille is, and he’s there to kill her. He believes his people – the H’vani, of course – will defeat the empire if Juille is dead. But he falls in love with her, and she with him. Much to the disgust of Egide’s companion, the warrior Jair.

The emperor, meanwhile, has been offered a weapon which will ensure victory, although its workings and effects are unknown. The alien who designed the weapon offers another to Juille, but this one he explains how to use: if she directs it at a person, it will remain locked on that person no matter where they are, but they will not die until she presses a second button. Juille, who has learnt that Egide is leader of the H’vani, of course uses it on him – even though the two are lovers. But when Egide withdraws from leadership of the H’vani, Jair takes over and the invasion of Ericon goes ahead as planned.

Judgment Night is pure space opera of the sort that doesn’t allow scientific rigour or plausibility to stand in its way. In that respect, it might as well be fantasy – indeed, the weapon given to Juille by the alien designer is to all intents and purposes magical. What technology is mentioned is explicitly identified as technology, and there’s no mention of whatever scientific principles or theories might underpin it. We are told Juille’s father rules a galaxy, but it is only a word – it might as well be a kingdom. And the H’vani, although repeatedly described throughout the novel as a separate race, are as human as the inhabitants of Ericon (yet, there are aliens in the story). It lends the novel a different affect to that of, say, Moore’s Jirel of Joiry stories, even though each is as fantastical as the other.

Moore’s prose does not have the muscularity of contemporary woman sf writer Leigh Brackett’s, though like Brackett’s science fictions Moore’s rely on settings boasting deep time and semi-mythical histories. And also like Brackett, Moore’s plots, when you strip away all the sf trappings, are pretty basic. Neither of these factors are necessarily weaknesses. Indeed, both Moore’s and Brackett’s science fiction often work because of the trappings. And some of science-fictional elements are very interesting – in Judgment Night, for example, Ericon is home to a race of enigmatic Ancients who are pretty much living gods. They dwell in a forest over which no aircraft or spacecraft can fly (any that do are destroyed by the Ancients, thus demonstrating that they are quite categorically real). People can visit the Ancients, and some of them receive gnomic advice in return – both Egide and Juille consult them and, of course, the mystic oracles they receive are proven true by the end of the novel.

Moore’s Jirel of Joiry was a popular character and, like Juille, she was female, so plainly readers of the pulp sf magazines were not totally averse to reading stories with female protagonists. Admittedly, Juille is very much tomboyish during the opening chapter of Judgment Night, but then she swings to the complete opposite during her stay on Cyrille. Initially, this felt like cliché, or an inability to maintain a female protagonist without having to fall back on traditional gender roles; but on reflection, I think Juille shows the breadth of characterisations available to women in science fictions. In her introduction to The New Women of Wonder (1978), editor Pamela Sargent asks “why the overwhelming majority of science fiction books limit female characters to traditional roles”, but while Juille revels briefly in her new-found femininity, and falls in love with the antagonist, Egide, she never loses her agency. Moore is not only having her cake and eating it, she is getting away with it too. And that, to me, makes Juille a far more interesting character than she originally appeared to be.

Juille’s development as the story progresses only strengthens this aspect of her character. She starts the novel as a petulant hawk, but despite her relationship with Egide, she never abrogates her responsibilities or ideals. She loves him, but remains committed to destroying the H’vani. Moore manages this clever balancing act throughout Judgment Night and it works well. It’s perhaps the novel’s chief saving grace – the setting may be a somewhat identi-kit space opera, and the plot hardly original, but Juille as a protagonist lifts Judgment Night above what it all too easily might have been.

Doomsday Morning, CL Moore

powers_doomsday-morningDoomsday Morning, CL Moore (1957)
Review by Joachim Boaz

CL Moore’s Doomsday Morning – she’s best known for her revolutionary 1930s works including ‘Shambleau’ (1934) and the Jirel of Joiry sequence – is perhaps her most ruminative and traditional SF novel (she tended to write more fantastical SF and fantasy). Unfortunately, she quit writing around the time of the death of her husband and frequent collaborator Henry Kuttner (they often published under the pseudonym Lewis Padgett). And her second husband forbid her to write altogether…

Moore creates a finely wrought dystopic vision where an oppressive future government utilizes communication networks to spread its tentacles across the United States. Against this backdrop intriguing characters come to life. Her descriptions of the political backdrop remain minimalistic which is surprising for SF of the 1950s which often resorts to lengthy descriptive lectures. Instead, the true extent of the government’s influence on everyone’s lives is only slowly uncovered via our main character’s experiences. The first person narrative is perfectly deployed to slowly immerse us in the world. Doomsday Morning is not populated by your normal heroes, and Moore is careful to point out that not all rebels are heroic.

Comus (derived from COMmunications US) rules America but details about how exactly it functions and how it was created are kept at a minimum. Clearly a reference to Communism (Moore is writing in the post-Mccarthyism era), Comus is controlled by the dictator Raleigh who is slowly dying. Vague references are interspersed throughout that allude to a devastating Five Days’ War that resulted in Raleigh creating Comus. Comus maintains power by an adept use of the media – propagandistic plays, movies transformed into plays, control of the actual communication networks. Also, the use of “pyscho-polling” and automated police Prowlers keep the state aware of the moods and seditious inclinations of their populace. A large percentage of the workforce that keeps everyone fed and happy are indentured Croppers. They sign lengthy contracts and receive food, alcohol, housing, and transportation between worksites all of which is deducted from their pay. However, by the time their contracts are up they are deeply in debt and have to sign new contracts.

Howard Rohan, the main character, is a onetime actor and theater director who led a successful theater troop. However after the death of his wife Miranda, who acted his plays and movie adaptations of his plays, Rohan fell on hard times and joined the Croppers. A wonderful sequence opens the novel – a drunk and depressed Rohan gazing across the plane where he sees a movie screen with a scene of his wife and himself:

“I watched the young Rohan of four years ago come up behind his wife and rest his hands on her waist, one on each side, like a belt. She laid her head back on his shoulder. It was like watching two gods make love, beautiful, gigantic, more vivid than life, and a long way off in space and time.” (p 8)

Soon Rohan is summoned by Ted Nye, who rules Comus from behind the scenes, with a proposition. Rohan is to restart his career and head to California which has separated from Comus and perform a play. The play itself seems innocent and even non-propagandistic. The troop he selects, The Swann Players are second rate and there’s a Comus spy in in the mix. As Rohan slowly emerges from his self-induced haze of despair and alcoholism he seems to be guided by a series of cryptic messages (how exactly he received them is one of the main mysteries) about what is actually happening in California. Rohan’s self-transformation is generally believable. Also, Rohan’s egotism matches the type of character he is meant to represent. Initially he is solely motivated for selfish reasons, but soon, he is forced to pick a side when Comus’ reason for funding the play is revealed.

What is remarkable about the work is the thematic core that explores the intersection of performance, the powers of media, and state control. The most transfixing portions of the novel describe the play that is almost a character within the narrative. The novel revolves the forces that ordered the play to be performed, the story the play itself relates, the characters within the play, and the actors performing the play’s characters. Beautiful touches abound. For example Comus, the “benevolent” dictatorship that rules America, translates existing plays into movies to control the masses. Also, our hero often cannot distinguish between the reality of Miranda whom Rohan once loved and the ideal constructed via her screen presence – even her name, Miranda, ie, “the one who ought to be gazed at” reflects Rohan’s struggle.

CL Moore’s Doomsday Morning is one of the more intriguing dystopic visions from the 1950s. Highly recommended all fans of classic SF. However, the slow pace and lack of immersive action (until the end) might not satisfy all readers.

This review originally appeared on Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations.

Northwest of Earth: The Complete Northwest Smith, CL Moore

nwelgNorthwest of Earth: The Complete Northwest Smith, CL Moore (1933-1940)
Review by Paul Kincaid

When we first meet Northwest Smith, he is leaning in a doorway in a dusty frontier town. He is tall and lean and sunburned and dressed in old leather. A pistol is strapped low on his hip. He is, in other words, a cowboy. The fact that the brawling frontier town is on Mars and the pistol in his holster fires a heat ray does not alter the fact that he is a classic drifter, a man without ties who will ride into any lawless town looking for adventure and ride out again afterwards without a backward glance. We are told repeatedly that he is an Earthman, though it is only in the later stories that we actually see him on Earth; for all his sentimental attachment, Earth is a place to come from, not a place to be. He is subtly marked as an alien by his eyes, which are colourless. It is only a small step to see the colourless eyes of Northwest Smith turning into the albinoism of another wanderer from exotic adventure to exotic adventure, Michael Moorcock’s Elric.

In this, our very first glimpse of Northwest Smith on the very first page of CL Moore’s first published story, ‘Shambleau’ (1933), it is worth noting that he is in a doorway. Doors and doorways feature heavily in the 13 Northwest Smith stories that Moore wrote. Smith is forever passing through doorways into other planes and strange realms, or stepping through a door to meet an elder god or a vampiric woman.

Smith is an outlaw of the spaceways who breaks the law only in extremis (his association with the slavers in ‘Yvala’ (1936)), and is seen in a spaceship only once (again in ‘Yvala’). His natural habitat is the cheap bars, grungy hotels and dangerous alleyways of port towns on Mars and Venus. But this futuristic backwoods is only the stepping-off point for wild journeys of the imagination into exotic and erotic realms that always somehow open out from our base reality. From such dark and dusty starting points, the stories explode into colour; everything in these other realms is in scarlet or blue, purple or gold. Always bold primary colours, there are no tints, shades or pastels to be seen, for these are bold primary adventures.

Mars, as we encounter it here, is the planet as it was once imagined to be, a place of canals and deserts, while Venus is a world of seas and dense cloud cover. Earth, when we do briefly glimpse it, is that favourite future of crowded cities, soaring towers and high-level walkways, though it is more often presented as a sentimental memory of green hills. But we barely explore any of these primitive science-fictional settings, for the stories that begin here are certainly not science fiction. All but three of the stories gathered in this collection, subtitled The Complete Northwest Smith, first saw the light of day in Weird Tales (of the others, ‘Nymph of Darkness’ (1935), a collaboration with Forrest J Ackerman, was in Fantasy Magazine, while the brief and belated ‘Song in a Minor Key’ (1957) came from Fantastic Universe), and they conform to the creeping supernatural horror most closely associated with that magazine. Thus ‘Shambleau’ recounts a meeting with the medusa, ‘Black Thirst’ (1934) along with several others involves a form of vampirism, ‘Scarlet Dream’ (1934) takes Smith into a nightmarish land of dream, ‘Yvala’ brings him up against Circe, and so forth. The most commonly used adjective, cropping up a half dozen times or more in some of the stories, is “nameless”.

Sometimes, these confrontations with nameless horror are presented in a very straightforward way. ‘Dust of Gods’ (1934) is perhaps the most science-fictional tale in the collection. Smith and his occasional companion, Yarol the Venusian, are hired to undertake an expedition to the polar mountains of Mars. There they meet what seems to be a ghost and discover a lost city, beneath which they open up a vast chamber that is really a hollowed-out asteroid containing the dust of a god who once ruled the planet that used to orbit between Mars and Jupiter. Within this chamber they find light that ebbs and flows like water, one of the most breathtakingly science-fictional moments in this entire collection. In this case the elder god is dead and so hardly a supernatural player in the drama, which means that other than the ghostly guardian of the lost city there is little weird to be found in this tale.

More often, however, the story is not so straightforward in either structure or content, and the supernatural is the be-all and end-all of the tale, although a shot from the ray gun is often all it takes to bring about a satisfactory conclusion.

The stories, in the main, follow variations on a pattern. At the beginning (or close to the beginning in the case of ‘Scarlet Dream’ and ‘The Tree of Life’ (1936)), Northwest Smith rescues a beautiful girl who then acts as the agent through whom he encounters the nameless. Sometimes the girl herself is (or houses) the horror with whom he must contend (‘Shambleau’, ‘The Cold Grey God’ (1935), ‘Yvala’), though more usually she leads him to this horror, which may well take the form of an even more beautiful woman (‘Julhi’ (1935), ‘The Tree of Life’). The beauty of women is emphasised throughout these stories, which lay great stress on the sensuality of long hair and clinging skirts slit to the thigh; twice, in ‘Yvala’ and ‘The Tree of Life’, the woman is naked except for her incredibly long hair which is wrapped around her like a cloak. In all the stories beautiful women are manipulative, using their beauty as a form of power; though there is also an uneasy linking of beauty with slavery in both ‘Black Thirst’ and ‘Yvala’. Sex, never explicit, is often an implied part of these encounters (‘Shambleau’, ‘Scarlet Dream’), but be that as it may the visions, the sensory overload, the separation from self that Smith will invariably experience as he enters or is entered by the nameless being, has a distinctly orgasmic quality (‘Julhi’). Typical is the late story ‘Werewoman’ (1938), for instance, where “something quivered in answer within him, agonizingly… and then he leaped within himself in a sudden, ecstatic rush” (p 356) until “each time he reached the point… a shudder went over him and blankness clouded his mind” (p 366). The old identification of sexual climax with the “little death” is here expanded into the image underpinning the whole sequence. And at the end, the girl must die; either slaughtered by Smith or his male allies (‘Shambleau’, ‘Julhi’, ‘Werewoman’) or by sacrificing herself (‘Black Thirst’, ‘Scarlet Dream’) so that Smith might escape the entrapment of sexuality and move on to the next adventure released from the possibility of any emotional ties.

Sex, itself a “nameless” subject in the popular literature of the relatively straitlaced 1930s, was a fairly common subtext of those encounters with the mysterious that were related in the typical weird tale, and a suggestion of the erotic must have been a selling point in colourful popular magazines. But the sexual aspect of Moore’s Northwest Smith stories is hardly a subtext, the imagery is too potent, too central, too omnipresent for that. These are stories in which sex is death, beauty is a commodity independent of the person, and women are a danger and must be killed. Exceptionally, the Circe-figure remains alive at the end of ‘Yvala’, but that is because she is too powerful for Smith to defeat and he must be satisfied only with escaping. The unnamed girl in ‘Scarlet Dream’ is Smith’s guide and guardian in the world of dream, providing companionship, sex, food and trying to make him happy; yet in the end she must die, terribly and of her own volition, in order to allow Smith’s escape.

The sexual stories we are being told here are strange and disturbing, especially as they come from the most important female genre writer in the first half of the twentieth century. Catherine Moore stormed the all-male bastion of the pulp magazines; went on, alone and in collaboration with her husband Henry Kuttner, to write some of the finest examples of mid-century fantasy and science fiction; and created the great feminist heroine, Jirel of Joiry (who re-appears here in ‘Quest of the Starstone’ (1937), co-written with Kuttner, which carries far less sexual innuendo than any other story in the book). Yet here, repeatedly, she writes of women as sexualised beings whose very sexuality makes them the embodiment of evil or its agent, and as such deserving of and indeed desirous of death. Was she trying to outdo in machismo her male confreres (significantly, when Kuttner first wrote a fan letter to the new writer CL Moore he thought he was writing to a man)? Or was this how she imagined the male mindset of a character like Northwest Smith, to be offset by the strength and independence of Jirel, whose stock in trade was that she could outfight any man? Whatever the truth of the matter, and regardless of the relative subtlety of their telling (Moore was one of the more accomplished writers to emerge from the pulp magazines of the 1930s), sex as a death struggle that can only lead to the rightful destruction of the woman is the abiding image left by these stories.

For all that, the Northwest Smith stories have a raw power that makes them enduringly readable. They represent the peak of 1930s pulp fiction, and if their plot lines and two-fisted hero seem out of place compared to today’s fiction, that also makes them fascinatingly different.

This review originally appeared on SF Site.

Judgment Night, CL Moore

judgmentnightJudgment Night, CL Moore (1952)
Review by admiral ironbombs

This was what the loss of civilization really meant. For the first time the full impact of the Galaxy’s great loss overwhelmed her. So long as she could see those lost worlds she might hope to win them back, but to be struck blind like this was to lose them forever. She knew a sudden agony of homesickness for all the planets she might never see again, a sudden terrible nostalgia for the lost, familiar worlds, for the fathomless seas of space between them. Ericon’s eternal greenness was hateful, strangling in its tiny limitations.

‘Judgment Night’ (1943)
The ancient Lyonese empire is looming towards disaster; the barbarian hordes of the H’vani have been razing planet after planet as they head towards the heart of the empire, Ericon. The aging emperor is preparing for peace talks to stave off the carnage, but his daughter Juille disagrees with him, urging no quarter against the barbarian hordes. After a spat, she storms off to the artificial pleasure planet Cyrille to interact with “normal people” under a disguise, where she meets the mysterious Egide; the two have a whirlwind romance, but something about Egide puts Juille on edge. Returning home, she finds her plot to kill the H’vani ambassadors has failed – and Egide himself is the nominal leader of the H’vani. Infuriated, she attempts to shoot him, only to find herself a H’vani hostage. And unknowingly, she may have set in motion unstoppable events that could doom humanity.

‘Judgment Night’ isn’t quite a full novel, in reality a serialized novella, but it’s got a lot packed into it as you can see – and that’s leaving out quite a lot of details, such as the godlike Ancients who put forth wisdom and lies to their supplicants, or the envoy from the now-conquered planet Dunnar who offers a mighty weapon to fend off the H’vani. Moore’s typical prose, lush and poetic and brimming with imagery, is at its full-blown glory. There’s quite a lot of moody ambiance and quiet introspection, just as there’s some brilliant action pieces – Juille blasting apart a planet with a lightning-gun was priceless. The story has a good balance and great flow, though it could drag at times when the focus became more internalized.

Also, it’s a real downer, a poetic examination of what could be humanity’s downfall – if you haven’t noticed, the story’s got a strong “barbarians against Rome” feel taken to the extreme, because this war could be the apocalyptic doom of all humanity. (Granted, the ending is a dose of cautious optimism, at least for our two main characters who reach tranquility as the world around them burns. But the atmosphere and general message are tense and pessimistic.) I’m curious how it slipped under the radar to get published in Astounding, since it runs counter to editor John Campbell’s belief of homo sapiens superior. As I see it, ‘Judgment Night’ is a brutal indictment of war… and by proxy, human nature, which inevitably leads humanity to the conflicts which doom itself.

I’d like to say that Juille is a strong, independent female protagonist, but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate; she is independent, but also headstrong, stubborn, more the spoiled brat of an interstellar empire then a sympathetic character. She acts out of her own selfish motives which causes no end of trouble for her, and taking matters into her own hands sets up the story’s despondent climax. And, by the end, her love/hate relationship with Egide has eroded down to just love. Still, she’s an active protagonist and the driving force behind the story; a lot of Moore’s fiction – especially the Northwest Smith and Jirel tales—have the protagonist just standing around while things happen to them. Not so much with Juille, who knows what she wants and goes after it with strict tenacity. She reminds me a lot of Moore’s earlier Jirel of Joiry, only more fiercely passionate.

‘Judgment Night’ is a perfect display for Moore’s biggest stylistic themes, as evident in her Northwest Smith and Jirel of Joiry stories as they are here:

  • A barely-contained sensual element lurking just beneath the surface. In this case it’s the duplicitous seduction between Juille and Egide on the pleasure-planet Cyrille, which sets off a love/hate relationship that builds steam throughout the novel. Love and death go hand in hand in Judgment Night as well, an interesting allegorical pairing… very Romeo and Juliet.
  • Paranoia and duplicity. None of the characters’ motives are obvious, and twists and double-crosses are frequent. At one point, Juille’s mind runs wild as the betrayed girl imagines adversaries around every corner; at another, she’s physically put in a paranoid, tense situation, during a game of cat and mouse as the she’s hunted by the well-armed Jair, who himself is not what he seems.
  • A miasma of grim unease which oozes forth from the story. The tone and atmosphere of Judgment Night forecasts a future disaster, a feeling that something is going to happen, and that that something will be terrible. A distinct melancholia where, despite the positive, hopeful elements within the story, the atmosphere is pervaded by a pessimistic mood.

‘Judgment Night’ is the epic space opera to end all space operas. Highly entertaining, if a bit slow at times, rich in imagery and backed by a brilliant premise. One of those requirements for the reader interested in Golden Age SF, it really ought not to be missed. I was surprised to find the story wasn’t really a full novel, falling closer to short novel/novella territory. As an added bonus, the original Gnome Press version – as well as the shiny new Singularity & Co. ebook – feature four additional stories, so there’s plenty more material to read.

‘Paradise Street’ (1950)

The explorers and the drifters and the spacehands are misfits mostly, and, therefore, men of imagination. The contrast between the rigid functionalism inside a spaceship and the immeasurable glories outside is too great not to have a name. So whenever you stand in a ship’s control room and look out into the bottomless dark where the blinding planets turn and the stars swim motionless in space, you are taking a walk down Paradise Street.

Jamie Morgan blasts onto the planet Loki with a cargo full of Sehft valued at 50,000 credits, only to find the market has bottomed out thanks to new ability to synthesize the substance. Morgan, a caustic loner, is already angered; his intense hatred of the settlers that come in his wake and inhabit the planets he opens up was set off as soon as he saw the humble Ancibel Station here on Loki. Now that his valuable cargo is worthless, and desperate for the credits, he turns to the criminal underworld to unload his goods. Bad choice; Morgan is too used to dealing with isolated, open worlds and not conniving career criminals.

‘Paradise Street’ reads more like a frontier western with its parallels of pioneers against settlers. There’s a country sheriff, a ton of Western jargon, and the climax includes the stampede of local alien cattle. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the author had cranked out an unsellable western – or maybe just re-used one of their old ones – and, after bolting on some futuristic gadgetry, submitted it to Astounding on a whim.

But this is Catherine Moore, and you can tell the allusion is intentional; her lyrical prose is more down-key but her writing is still exemplary, and it rises above to subvert the “western as sci-fi” cliche. The story’s focus is on civilization versus the rugged frontier, and it’s pretty engaging; I can see why it was picked up by Astounding. A solid tale, considering. It’s one of the longer entries in the collection, and a sharp contrast to ‘Judgment Night.’

‘Promised Land’ (1950)
Mankind’s attempts to colonize the planets have become based on decades of genetic manipulation and selective breeding, with the idea to use those created to adapt as first-line colonizers. After some centuries of terraforming the planet, they will have evolved their way back to become baseline humans, while developing their planets’ ecosystems along to allow unaltered humans to live there, paving the path for human space colonization.

Some of the attempts fail miserably, like Torren, product of generations forced to live in a centrifuge to gain the musculature needed to survive on Jupiter (what, it’s written in 1950): Torren himself cannot lift his great mass at all, forced to live in a water tank suited to his gigantic bulk. Others are wild successes, like the colonizers of Ganymede who can survive to its harsh, frozen climate and oxygen-less atmosphere thanks to their functioning genetic modification.

Torren is now the ruler of Ganymede, “the only child of the centrifuge to get out and stay out;” now the bitter old man wants to move forward ahead of schedule and terraform Ganymede early, making it hospitable for baseline humans while killing off all the Ganymedans in one fell swoop. His adopted foster-son, Ben Fenton, is the only thing standing in his way: tired of his foster-father’s brutal tendencies and in love with a Ganymedan woman, Ben refuses to let the entire Ganymedan race be slaughtered.

Brilliant idea behind the story, though it is itself very straightforward space opera. Also, somewhat short. There’s an epic showdown between Torren and Ben, and a variety of intrigue working in the background, but it’s free from major action set-pieces; mature and thoughtful for standard space opera fare, with a great surprise ending. I enjoyed it quite a bit, though its brevity gives it some jerkiness, unevenness, and its ending’s lack of finality makes me wish it had been a novella or serial. Alas, it’s not; I’ll make due.

‘The Code’ (1945)
A pair of scientists muse over their recent development – a special formula, in part deciphered from the works of ancient alchemists, which can rejuvenate its imbiber, returning their youth. Their subject is the one scientist’s aging father, brought back from the brink of terminal illness. As he grows younger, they realize how he’s changing, body and mind, and watch in abject horror as the situation develops. An exceedingly slow burn, very much a thinker, that revisits the old legend of the changeling babe, with a lot of thought put into the alchemists and their philosophy.

Kind of a modernization of Faust with overtones of Lovecraftian dread, I thought the story more fitting of a 1930s issue of Weird Tales than an issue of Astounding in its heyday; interesting overall, but far too passive. Not much happens on a physical level, and it mostly consists of the two protagonists sitting around at various times, discussing the changes wrought in their subject. Still, while it’s my least favorite in the collection so far, its wealth of ideas outshines its motionless pacing.

‘Heir Apparent’ (1950)

He shook his head at the bright world in the sky. He would have to get over the habit of regarding the heavens as a chart with a glittering pinhead for each planet, and so many thousand Thresholders, ex-Earth-born, bred for the ecology of alien worlds, pinned up there upon the black velvet backdrop for study and control. It wasn’t his problem any more.

We return to the future of ‘Promised Land’ with its modified humans exploring the galaxy, but are now dealing with Edward Harding. Ed used to be a member of an Integrator Team, a band of seven special-forces-esque humans who are “integrated” via a machine to perform terraforming duties. (They also gain latent superhuman abilities due to the mutations inherent in the process.) Ed, recently booted off the force, is tracking down one of his old adversaries – Mayall, another ex-Integrator who was booted off the team by Ed. Rumor has it that Mayall’s forming his own Integrator team, on the payroll of Venusian or Ganymedan seccessionists. Ed will join, kill Mayall, or die trying.

A twisty-turny tale with plenty of suspense and intrigue, this is one of those tales where you’re never sure who is on who’s side. It’s one of the longer stories in the collection, as well as one (arguably) the most fast-paced—”Heir Apparent” leaps forward in its tangle of betrayal and subterfuge, reaching twist after twist without any sign of slowdown. And as the capstone of the collection, it’s good that the tale is so strong: in my opinion it’s one of the strongest of the shorter works on display, and a perfect way to end the collection. Be ready for numerous surprises and a complex future, which can make things enjoyably confusing.

When these works were first collected for their 1952 Gnome Press edition, they were meant as a definitive collection of CL Moore’s modern science fiction stories, working as a solo author without any of the collaborations she wrote with her husband, Henry Kuttner. I would argue that the definitive collection of Moore’s work would have to include some of those collaborations, as well as some of her earlier Weird Tales fare like ‘Shambleau’ or ‘Black God’s Kiss’.

But what this collection sets out to do, it does well: a selection of her better works from ’40s-’50s issues of Astounding. ‘Judgment Night’ is the obvious best here: it’s longer, thematically deeper, beautifully written, and is so far the best display of Moore’s writing I’ve read. The other stories are interesting, but not required; I preferred ‘Promised Land’ and ‘Heir Apparent’ though all were readable.

This review originally appeared on Battered, Tattered, Yellowed & Creased.

Doomsday Morning, CL Moore

Doomsday Morning, CL Moore (1957)
Review by Admiral Ironbombs

“Something’s eating you,” I said. “Anybody can see that. Maybe I should have started off with, ‘Tell me, good Brutus, can you see your face?’ It’s obvious.”

He rubbed a hand over his face and looked at it vacantly, as if he hoped the expression would have come off so he could inspect it on his palm, like dirt.

Catherine Lucille Moore was the first major female author writing speculative fiction in the 1930s; her career blossomed through the 1940s and 1950s, until she stopped writing in 1957, the year before her husband (and fellow SF writer) Henry Kuttner passed away. While they each wrote on their own, collaborations became the norm after their marriage; together, wrote a huge body of stories for Astounding Science Fiction during the war years, carrying the magazine while other authors were doing government work. Her second husband forbade her from writing genre fiction; a damn shame; a crime even. It makes me wonder just how many great novels Kuttner and Moore never got to write.

This book, Doomsday Morning, was her last solo outing, back in 1957. It’s unique, standing out in her bibliography one of the few true science fiction works she wrote, and not a Burroughs-style science fantasy or a Lovecraft-inspired weird tale. And it’s a dystopian novel with themes revolving around theater and state control. Not your ordinary science fiction novel.

Following the Five-Day-War near the end of the 20th Century, the United States finds itself under the watchful eyes of Comus (short for COMmunications US) and its benevolent dictator, President Raleigh. Not only does Comus control the communications network, it’s also the Orwellian authoritarian state which makes the trains run on time and ensures each laborer is provided with daily food and provisions… at the cost of those various personal freedoms. After several decades, memory of life without Comus’ eternal oversight is nonexistent, though President Raleigh is growing quite old – and people fear the succeeding dictator won’t be as benevolent.

Howard Rohan (no relation) used to work for Comus (no relation), as a brilliant actor, director, and screenwriter. Co-starring with his wife Miranda, their films became quite popular, and the couple gained wealth and prestige. Miranda’s death haunted Rohan, who (like most male protagonists in this situation) blamed himself for her death, assuming his inattentiveness was the reason for her demise. As Doomsday Morning begins, Rohan’s a Cropper, a futuristic version of Steinbeck’s migrant worker Oakies from The Grapes of Wrath, an angry, depressive drunk hiding from his past at the bottom of a barrel.

Then, Rohan’s life undergoes irrevocable changes. Comus wants his theatrical expertise to help them out of a bind. Something’s stirring in California, where Comus has receded for some reason, and Rohan’s old acquaintances want him to bring Comus back into this barren land as part of a roving theater troupe. Things aren’t adding up to Rohan; why him, why now? How bad are things in California? And more pressing, why are references and predictions from one foggy dream coming true? – probably, Mr Rohan, because that was no dream. Thrust between Comus and open rebellion, Rohan is put in the role of leading man in a new Comus-authored play, and that of a wary spy in the real world.

I’m always interested to see how things like governance, freedoms, and social control operates within dystopic/utopic fiction, and Doomsday Morning is a gold mine. Given its place in time – post-McCarthyism, and just before the launch of Sputnik – the novel has clear allusions to Soviet Communism and the Axis dictatorships. It’s also worth noting World War II was the last gasp of one-man rule in Europe; monarchies were on the way out, and fascism had lost any of the charm it might have had in the 1930s. Meanwhile, the West was working overtime to prop up dictators such as Batista, Trujillo, and the Shah of Iran to fend off Communism, so not all dictators were portrayed as Bad Men. Thus the novel is a lot more complex than a simple allegory for Stalinism; at one point, someone notes that President Raleigh doesn’t want to die knowing he was the man who’d turned America into a dictatorship.

And we never get a clear picture of this new America, of day-to-day life under the dictatorship. We see a bus taking impoverished Croppers into Indiana – sounds like more of a critique of robber-baron capitalism to me, with laborers trapped into the life of servitude to large corporations – and a burnt-out, shattered California, mangled not by rebels but by looters – former Comus men, disillusioned rebels, and escaped prisoners. I would have liked a larger picture of this world, and to have known more about the Five Days’ War and the birth of an American dictatorship, but I’m also glad Moore kept this information secret. That’s not the point of the story; Rohan and his decisions are, since he ends up with the potential to alter the world.

One of the general complaints about CL Moore’s writing is that more often then not, things happen to her protagonists, instead of the protagonists moving things forward. That’s been true for what I’ve read, the Northwest John Smith and Jirel of Joiry stories. And while there’s a bit of that in Doomsday Morning, Rohan is more assertive, driving the action forward and interacting with the setting. Although, much of the novel takes place in Rohan’s head. It’s introspective and psychological, with Rohan pondering everything, always drawn back to the memory of his lost wife. Rohan’s personal complexities enhance this heavily internalized first-person PoV, though some of his choices felt unnatural – the third act starts with Rohan coming to grips with his wife’s death, and this becomes incentive to choose a side in the conflict, which didn’t feel like a logical choice.

Between that slow introspection and a more science fiction-y focus than Moore’s standard fare, Doomsday Morning is different from her earlier works. There are some intense action sequences that manage to intrude upon a novel about governance and theater, without feeling unnatural or rushed, and they’re damn good action sequences to read. The prose in, say, her Northwest Smith stories was lush and lurid, dripping with exotic scenery and visceral imagery. Doomsday Morning has beautiful prose, though it’s comparatively subdued, depicting the great Redwood forests of California instead of a Mars that never was. It has more of a pastoral Americana feel – similar to Simak’s City, or Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow – while retaining her beautiful imagery and smooth, compelling prose. If you’re not put off by heavy introspection – I wasn’t – the book makes for smooth and pleasant reading.

I ended up liking Doomsday Morning despite its eccentricities: the pacing is subdued, introspective, and sluggish; the setting isn’t as well defined as it could be; many of the protagonist’s decisions didn’t make sense – some parts of the plot just happen. But you know what? It was a good book and a great read. Rohan’s a complex protagonist in the process of developing, three-dimensional and sympathetic, which makes his musings enjoyable. What we see of the setting is amazing, a glimpse into an alien America. The action scenes are tense and well-depicted; the introspection fluid and fascinating when it’s most relevant. The plot meanders across the tranquility of pastoral Americana before heading into an unexpected finale bristling with excitement. And Moore’s smooth and compelling prose made up for the sluggishness. Not a perfect book, but I’ll still recommend it to any science fiction fan.

This review originally appeared on Battered, Tattered, Yellowed, & Creased.

Northwest of Earth, CL Moore

Northwest of Earth, CL Moore (1954)
Review by Admiral Ironbombs

She was unbinding her turban…

He watched, not breathing, a presentiment of something horrible stirring in his brain, inexplicably… The red folds loosened and–he knew then that he had not dreamed–again a scarlet lock swung down against her cheek… a hair, was it? A lock of hair?… thick as a thick worm it fell, plumply, against that smooth cheek… more scarlet than blood and thick as a crawling worm… and like a worm it crawled.

Catherine L Moore is one of the greatest forgotten pulp legends. She sold her first story, ‘Shambleau’, to Weird Tales when she was twenty-two, and established herself as a leading author in the weird tale short-story field. She was written a fan letter in 1936 by fellow forgotten SF legend and Lovecraft Circle writer Henry Kuttner, and the story goes he mistakenly thought “CL Moore” was a man; that awkward segue lead somewhere, because they married four years later. Moore and Kuttner would collaborate on numerous stories and four novels, the most famous being ‘Mimsy Were The Borogroves’. After Kuttner’s untimely death in 1958, Moore stopped writing altogether. She left behind a swath of short stories, but only two novels without Kuttner’s collaboration: Doomsday Morning and Judgment Night.

Pick up any best/greatest science-fiction anthology from the 1950s or 1960s, and there’s a strong chance there will be a mention of Moore and Kuttner, if it doesn’t include one of their stories. (Most often ‘Mims…y or the similar ‘When The Bough Breaks’ will show up.) They received praise from the likes of Asimov, Silverberg, Lovecraft, Moorcock, Greg Bear, and CJ Cherryh.

Today, Moore and Kuttner are nowhere to be seen on such lists. As the authors of the pulp age die off, there are fewer voices to put Moore and Kuttner on best-of lists, fewer people who remember their impact on the field. Paizo’s trying to bring them back with their Planet Stories line; two of Moore’s longer series characters, Jirel of Joiry and Northwest Smith, and Kuttner’s Elak of Atlantis had their tales collected for early Planet Stories books. (Kuttner’s The Dark World and his Gallegher stories have since been reprinted.) Meanwhile, Haffner Press has been reprinting numerous pulp legends, including a recent collection of Moore/Kuttner stories and Henry Kuttner’s weird tales output.

‘Shambleau’, the opener for this collection, is one of the best non-Lovecraft weird tales I’ve ever read, a fantastic little thriller retelling the Medusa legend. Smith helps out a girl, more than meets the eye, and things take a dark twist pretty quick. It has imagery and description that caught Lovecraft’s attention; the descriptions are beautiful and vibrant. And they’re lurid descriptions, as you’d expect from pulp; ‘Shambleau’ has an overt sensuality pulsating just beneath the surface, oozing sexuality from Moore’s tone and word-choice. It’s a unique experience, and stands as one of the best 1930s-era Lovecraftian-style eldritch horror stories of the pulp era; give it a read and prove me otherwise. (That version cuts the amazing pseudo-intro history, alas.) And it’s the first thing Moore wrote.

Alas, Moore figured what worked once would work again, and so all the other stories attempt to replicate ‘Shambleau’ as close as possible, with only the specific details changed around. They all break down into one simple formula:

  1. Northwest Smith is lounging around some seedy port-city, looking for a job/something to do/a source of booze, when he runs into
  2. a beautiful woman, in reality a femme fatale who is mentally dominated by, enslaved by, or is herself the
  3. strange, nightmarish entity/nameless horror from beyond space and time/a dark and long-forgotten being of deific power that
  4. somehow catches Smith unawares, making him freeze in terror/madness/a dream fugue-state/abject misery, whereupon it begins to do something horrific to Smith/the femme fatale/his pal Yarol the Venusian, until
  5. Smith forces himself out of this mental paralysis/his pal Yarol the Venusian arrives in the nick of time to save Smith, whereupon
  6. the dark entity is shot to death with heat-guns, and the femme fatale slips into the tranquil peace of being dead/fades off into the mists of obscurity/was the eldritch nightmare what just got melted, at which point
  7. Smith and Yarol flee into the night/wander off, shaken, to get drunk/the story ends.

Congratulations, those are the elements of every single Northwest story Moore wrote. You can now write your own, following that brief outline. Each story is different, but it’s like playing mad libs with the specifics of the psychological madness, descriptions of the unspeakable horror, and the horrible trance/dream-world the horror puts Smith in. (Also, why it needed to stun Smith in the first place; in order to devour emotions or eat his past or drink blood or whatever.) Smith spends most tales not doing anything, and relies more on the girl and Yarol to pull his ass out of the fire; when he takes action, it’s to kill the monster to finish off the story, or pull Yarol out so they can kill it together. His main accomplishments in each story boil down to 1) meeting a femme fatale, 2) getting into some serious shit, and 3) not dying.

Needless to say, they wear thin quicker than you’d think. While this wouldn’t have been as noticeable back in the 1930s, when there were several months between stories, the modern edition makes their similarity quite clear by placing them end-upon-end. (Not that there’s any other way to go about reprinting them, unless you’re up for a dozen or so weird tale anthologies needed to spread them out.) Having the stories all together like this is more of a hindrance than an asset, considering they’re mostly identical, novella-length, and there’s around a dozen of them.

On the bright side, they all have beautiful writing dripping with lush description, lurid imagery, and a throbbing sensuality just beneath the surface. (Note that they can be pretty lurid and sensual, but sex is never explicit, in case you lean towards the prudish.) Moore is quite capable of painting the setting and characters, whether they be dreamy or nightmarish. When I chide other authors because their description was lacking, this is what I’m thinking of: Moore wins a gold star in every story on description alone. Her hand at writing was amazing, even if her pacing and sense of action needed work. They are works of art, some of the best writing of the pulp era, and if you don’t go overboard when reading them they will be damn enjoyable.

The setting is the standard Venus/Mars of the pulps, but there’s a limit to the “science fiction” in each story. With talk of gods and ancient star-monsters, these lean closest to science fantasy in the truest sense of that tag. (I read the gods as Lovecraft-style entities, powerful extraterrestrial beings rather than the deities in traditional fantasy fiction.) ‘Yvala’ is the only story in which our brave heroes even enter a starship; the rest may involve Martians, Venusians, segir-whiskey and heat-guns, but they’re science-light and pure action-adventure yarns.

For strong stories… ‘Shambleau’ is an obvious choice, being the first and best of the bunch; I’m a huge fan of that one. ‘Dust of Gods’ is one of the more science-fictional in the collection, reading like a game of Dungeons & Dragons in space: Smith and Yarol enter lost alien ruins to steal what’s said to be the dust of a lost god from an asteroid chunk. I love it for its strangeness and scale, and also that it involves Smith doing things instead of sitting around petrified. Most of the other ‘Shambleau’-clones were strong, if similar; ‘Black Thirst’ and ‘Scarlet Dream’ in particular, but also ‘The Cold Grey God’. ‘Lost Paradise’ reminds me of the great Lovecraft short ‘Polaris’, with the theme of stellar time-travel causing the downfall of an earlier civilization.

Bad ones? It took me until ‘Yvala’ to start getting bored with them. It might be the inundation with their repetition, even though I read about a half-dozen other books while I was reading Northwest of Earth (and had taken two weeks off between ‘Yvala’ and the previous one to boot), but ‘Yvala’ felt too long, dry, and dull. Dull in that I knew Smith wasn’t going to do anything; indeed he didn’t, and the story was another technicolour dream-fugue while Smith struggles to fight off the alien menace’s mental powers in order to stand up and shoot it. Was it bad? No. Was it better than the half-dozen previous stories in the same vein? Your mileage may vary.

It’s also worth mentioning ‘Quest of the Starstone’, the Jirel/Smith crossover Moore wrote with her husband. It’s a lot more action-packed than the others, and is a taut little tale of sorcery; for a crossover, it’s pretty damn good. The downside is that Moore’s vibrant prose isn’t on display here, instead reflecting Kuttner’s more workmanlike prose. My biggest problem with it is that Paizo also reprinted it in the Jirel of Joiry collection; I understand the desire to present each character series as a whole, but it’s not like this compilation needed any more length.

This was one I thought I’d be reading for my Halloween Horror Roundup; yeah, look at the size of this 400-page tome. I must have been buying the wrong Planet Stories, since this one’s twice as long as any of the Bracketts or Moorcocks or Gygaxes. Instead, I ended up reading it over the period of two months (plus change), one story a night for a few nights every week, while reading and finishing other novels at the same time, and I think I still managed to overdose on Northwest Smith. Amazing as they are, I’m not kidding when I say they’re identical: spread these out and pace yourself, otherwise you won’t make it through this book alive.

I really enjoyed most of these, even though many – ‘Juhli’, ‘The Cold Grey God’, ‘Black Thirst’, ‘Scarlet Dream’ – lean on the basics introduced in ‘Shambleau’. Northwest Smith is an underwhelming protagonist; I can see how he’s built up as a badass space outlaw with his background and character, but from these stories I can’t really see “the inspiration for Han Solo” / “the original space outlaw” other than the aesthetics. So they’re beautiful, with poetic prose, but somewhat identical and repetitive, with an inactive protagonist and little action, but have wonderful Lovecraftian horrors.

In the end I liked it enough to give it a hesitant recommendation… if you like Lovecraft’s style of eldritch nightmares and evil deific extraterrestrials, written with vibrant imagery, this is your book. If you’re expecting something else, you’re not going to get it. On an individual basis the stories are excellent; together, they wear thin from repetition. But they’re still so damn good as to put many modern writers to shame.

This review originally appeared on Battered, Tattered, Yellowed, & Creased.