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.

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The Venus Factor, Vic Ghidalia & Roger Elwood

venusfactorThe Venus Factor, Vic Ghidalia & Roger Elwood (1972)
Review by Ian Sales

Although the cover of this book may wrongly suggest to an unobservant browser that it’s a novel by Agatha Christie, it’s actually a somewhat odd anthology of “science fiction” by women authors. And I say “odd” for two reasons: the term is used on the cover, but not all of the stories in the book actually qualify as science fiction (and even more flexible definitions than most would have trouble incorporating them); and second, the anthology contains four stories from the 1930s (and late 1920s) and three from the late 1960s – plus one from the 1950s. It’s a peculiar spread, especially since three of the early stories didn’t originally appear in genre venues. In some respects, then, The Venus Factor is a curiosity, something of an historical document. What it is not, is a good representative selection of science fiction by women writers of the twentieth century.

‘The Last Séance’, Agatha Christie (1926), is, The Venus Factor insists, Christie’s only “science fiction” story, and there is, it has to be said, a definite attempt by Christie to add some sort of scientific gloss to her story of a Parisian medium who performs one séance too many. Sadly, that scientific basis, which treats ectoplasm as something real and produced by the human body, is nonsense, and Christie’s prose throughout is clunky and terrible.

‘God Grante That She Lye Stille’, Cynthia Asquith (1931), is another story that only qualifies as science fiction if the genre is defined so loosely it might as well include anything and everything. A young doctor in a small English village falls in love with the lady of the manor, who is young, beautiful and wan, and, she claims, frequently subjects to bouts of personality loss, where she feels as if she doesn’t exist. She even claims to have experienced occasions where her reflection does not appear in mirrors. Meanwhile, in the cemetery beside the manor house there lies the grave of an ancestor who lived fast and died young several centuries before – and according to family legend refused to “lye stille” on her deathbed. The story pans out pretty much as expected, and though Asquith displays the odd nice turn of phrase, there’s little in this to lift the story above others of its ilk of the time.

‘The Foghorn’, Gertrude Atherton (1933), is not even genre, no matter what definition you use. A young woman falls in love with a young man, they go out into Golden Gate in a rowing boat, but a thick fog suddenly descends. A large ship runs them down in the fog, and the young man dies. The woman wakes to find herself in a hospital. But all is not as it seems. The prose is somewhat excitable, and the twist ending comes as no real surprise.

‘Against Authority’, Miriam Allen deFord (1966). Although mostly forgotten these days, deFord was hugely prolific during the 1950s and 1960s. But then, she never published a novel, only some eighty stories between 1946 and 1978. While ‘Against Authority’ may be from her most successful decade, there’s little in it that stands out. After a war with the Pelagerians, who invaded Earth and then disappeared, the surviving nations banded together under the Authority, the ruler of Turkey. And, forty-eight years later, he still rules; although he promises to hand over power to a democracy eventually. A group of students are part of a plot to assassinate the Authority but, in a twist stolen directly from GK Chesterton, it turns out to have been entirely organised by police spies. But then it transpires the Authority is not what he seems – as one of the conspirators, a daughter of his by artificial insemination, manages to work out. There are a few interesting ideas in this story, but it reads like a substandard work by one of that decade’s more thoughtful writers (which is not to say that those writers did not themselves produce substandard work).

‘J-Line to Nowhere’, Zenna Henderson (1969). While Henderson may be best known for her stories of the People, she wrote plenty of other sf. In fact, she was one of the most successful female sf writers of the 1950s. This story is set in some future metropolis in which nature is absent – Malthusian stories were popular during the 1950s. The narrator stumbles across a forgotten station on the J-Line, which is in a park, and spends an idyllic afternoon there. But when she returns to her sick mother and the realities of life in the city, she knows she will never find the “Nowhere” station again. Although the story strikes an effectively elegiac note, it’s too thin for it to have much impact.

‘The Ship Who Disappeared’, Anne McCaffrey (1969), is one of McCaffrey’s brainship stories, which are based around a premise that today we find distasteful: disabled babies are built into spaceships to be their “brains”. Each brainship also has an able-bodied crewmember, a “brawn”. In McCaffrey’s series, one such brainship, Helva, sings to pass her time and has become quite accomplished. But that is more or less irrelevant in this story. Helva notices that four brainships have disappeared, but her brawn, Teron, refuses to investigate as he’s a stickler for rules and regulations and they have no orders to search for the missing ships. At their next stop, the Antiolathan Xixon, some sort of religious figure, though neither Helva nor Teron recognise his title, asks to come aboard. They let him, he subdues the crew and steals the ship. But because Helva had been arguing with Teron, she had left open the comms link to Central Worlds, and her bosses heard everything. So they rescue her. And the other four ships. It’s a remarkably thin plot, in which Helva proves less than active, padded out with lots of bickering between the two main characters.

‘The Lady Was a Tramp’, Judith Merril (1957). The lady of the title is, of course, a spaceship, a tramp freighter to which “IBMan” Carnahan, navy reserve lieutenant, has been assigned straight from naval academy. Although he is realistic enough to accept his posting as the bets he’s likely to get, he’s dismayed by the seeming laxity of the Lady Jane‘s crew – and he is also shocked by the free and easy sexual relations between the ship’s Medic, the only woman aboard, and the rest of the crew. In fact, his prudishness is little more than outright misogyny: “‘If I go to a whore, I don’t want her around me all day. And if I have a girl, I damn sure don’t want every guy she sees to get into… you know what I mean!'” Time has not been kind to ‘The Lady Was a Tramp’. While the “IBMan” and “analog computers” read as little more than quaint failures at world-building a future, the gender politics in the story are so old-fashioned it makes its entire premise feel unnecessary, if not offensive.

‘The Dark Land’, CL Moore (1936), is Moore’s fourth Jirel of Joiry story and originally appeared, unsurprisingly, in Weird Tales. Jirel is lying on her death-bed, but is abducted – and healed – by Pav of Romne, the titular dark land, a magical place where nothing is what it seems. Pav wants Jirel to become his wife, but she refuses. He accepts a bargain: he will let her find a way to destroy him, if she fails she will wed him. While searching for a weapon, she meets the white witch, who loves Pav and would have him for herself. She tells Jirel how to kill Pav. Jirel kills Pav. And discovers that Pav is Romne, and she was duped by the white witch. The prose is somewhat overwrought, with lines like: “Hell-dwelling madman!” she spluttered. “Black beast out of nightmares! Let me waken from this crazy dream!” And a lot of said-bookisms.

All things considered, The Venus Factor fails at what it purports to be, which is, according to the back-cover blurb: “an anthology of science fiction stories written about women by some of the top women SF writers”. Christie, obviously, was never classified as a science fiction writer – indeed the front cover of The Venus Factor brags that the book “includes the only science fiction story written by Agatha Christie”. And while Asquith’s story is about a woman, the narrator is male and it his attraction to the woman in question which drives the story forward. Likewise, Merril’s somewhat belaboured story of sex therapy may draw parallels between the spaceship (which is, of course, seen as female) and the ship’s doctor, but the protagonist is male and it is his emotional growth which is the focus of the story. There is no single story in The Venus Factor which is alone worth the price of admission, and Christie’s reputation is unlikely to be harmed if ‘The Last Séance’ vanished back into obscurity. A shame.

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.

More Women of Wonder, Pamela Sargent

morewomenofwonderMore Women of Wonder, edited by Pamela Sargent (1976)
Review by Ian Sales

Why do such a collection at all? Should it not be evident that women can and have written fine science fiction? (p xlvii)

As in the preceding volume, Sargent opens More Women of Wonder with a long and well-argued introduction. The purpose of this book, she tells us, is to showcase longer fiction – novelettes – written by women, as well as include works she couldn’t fit into Women of Wonder. She also gives a potted history of women in the genre, beginning with Francis Stevens and working her way forward through Brackett and Moore and Norton to the careers of “Vonda N. McIntyre, Suzy McKee Charnas, Joan D. Vinge, Marta Randall, Eleanor Arnason, Lisa Tuttle, Brenda Pierce, and Joan Bernott” (p xxiii), one of which appears in More Women of Wonder and only five of which are still writing in the twenty-first century (although Randall had two stories in F&SF in 2007, and McIntyre two in 2005 and a short-short in 2008). While Sargent claims that women were usually readily accepted as writers, the lives of women as a topic for genre stories was far less common, if not actively discouraged:

When one considers the impact that technology has had on human life throughout human history, it is surprising that more writers have not considered the effects such technical tools might have on women’s lives. (p xxxviii)

Sargent then goes on to consider four contemporary sf novels – Ursula K Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, Joanna Russ’s The Female Man and Thomas M Disch’s 334, before veering off to discuss childbirth, the lack of women characters in hard sf – or rather, the lack of women as characters with agency in hard sf – and then commenting on the infrequent mentions of homosexuality in science fictions. It’s not entirely clear what point Sargent is trying to make. That in its early days science fiction did not actively discourage contributions from women? But Norton admits to being told to use a non-gender-specific pseudonym, and both Brackett’s and Moore’s gender is not obvious from their names. That there is still a problem – in 1976, that is – with the role of women in science fiction stories? This is certainly true, and sadly remains true even today. Six of the stories in More Women of Wonder show that it is not wholly true across the genre – which does make you wonder why Sargent chose Brackett’s ‘The Lake of Gone Forever’ – which features two female characters, both of whom are defined by their relationships to male characters. Despite an argument which could have been tighter and more focused, Sargent’s introduction makes a number of valid points and is an interesting read. Indeed, given that so many anthologies’ introductions are just chaff and waffle, Sargent’s are excellent examples of how it should be done.

In the introduction, Sargent quotes CL Moore on the ease with which she sold her first story, ‘Shambleau’: “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” ( p xxviii), in part to counter claims that women writers in those days found it hard to get published. There is no mention of whether Moore’s covering letter mentioned her gender, or if the editor believed the writer to be male. However, Moore’s ‘Jirel Meets Magic’ (1935) is clearly the product of a woman writer – the title character is a warrior woman, and I know of no male genre writer using female protagonists writing at that time (all of Robert E Howard’s protagonists’, for example, were male). Despite Jirel’s gender, Moore’s first story featuring her was a success and readers demanded more. ‘Jirel Meets Magic’ is the third such, and it’s notable more for the roles men play in it than for its plot or writing. Jirel has sworn revenge on the wizard Guischard after he ambushed and killed some of her men. She storms his castle with some of her soldiers, but the wizard has vanished… through a magic window in a room in a high tower. Jirel follows him, and finds herself in a mysterious land. She immediately stumbles across a sorceress in the act of killing a dryad, and though she doesn’t prevent the murder, the sorceress flees before taking an important talisman – which the dryad gives to Jirel because. Jirel tracks down the sorceress to her lair, where she discovers that her name is Jarisme, and she is extremely powerful, very much more powerful than Guischard who, in a neat role reversal, fawns over her and wibbles fearfully at Jirel’s presence. There then follows a series of dreamlike episodes in which Joiry tracks down Jarisme in a variety of settings and tries to killer her. Because there is a prophecy that Jarisme will die at the hands of someone she let live three times (clue: the meeting over the dying dryad was the first). There’s a sort of fevered colourfulness to ‘Jirel Meets Magic’ – Jarisme, for example, is repeatedly associated with the colour purple – and the prose reads like the sort of cod-olde-time-speeche popular in fantasies of the time: “For a while there was tumult unspeakable there under the archway” (p 3). But there’s also a pulpish relentlessness to Moore’s vision and it’s easy to see why Jirel proved so popular a protagonist. The plot may be straightforward to the point of banality, and the prose style somewhat over-egged for modern tastes, but the story shines in its clever and natural-seeming reversal of gender roles. Jirel does not feel exceptional; nor indeed, does Jarisme.  And that, I think, is this novelette’s greatest strength.

‘The Lake of Gone Forever’ (1949) by Leigh Brackett is, conversely, a very masculine story – as indeed is much of Brackett’s genre output. Rand Conway has persuaded the wealthy Rohan to mount an expedition to the mysterious planet of Iskar. Conway has history with Iskar – his father journeyed to the world, the first and only human to do so, years before and his experiences there made him a broken man, especially something that happened at the eponymous lake. Rohan’s ship finds and lands on Iskar, and Conway leads the way to the nearby village described to him by his late father. But Conway is after the treasure hidden in the Lake of Gone Forever. The Iskarians are not happy to see Conway and his party and initially threaten them, but Conway persuades them to let them stay. Relations quickly sour, Conway sneaks away in the night – with the help of a rebellious young Iskarian woman – and discovers the secret of the Lake of Gone Forever, and a not-especially-hard-to-figure-out truth about himself. ‘The Lake of Gone Forever’ is typical Brackett from start to finish. While the Iskarians do not possess the sense of history with which Brackett managed to imbue her tales of old Mars, and the existence of an unknown – so much so that only one man ever found it – planet in the Asteroid Belt is wildly implausible… Conway is certainly a characteristically two-fisted Brackett hero.

There’s quite a leap in time from the Brackett to Joanna Russ’s ‘The Second Inquisition’ (1970), and much changed in the genre during those intervening twenty years – and not just the role of women in stories, or number of women writing science fiction. For one thing, the Moore stretches the definition of sf well past breaking point, and Brackett’s planetary romances cannot be mapped onto the real Solar System, and by 1970 most science fiction was expected to contain more rigour and more scientific verisimilitude… and certainly not show its pulp roots quite so plainly. So I suppose it must be perversity which led Sargent to choose a time-travel story by Russ which is set in 1925. The narrator is a teenage girl whose parents have taken in a strange lodger, a forthright woman who is allegedly from the circus. She’s not, of course; and it’s hardly a spoiler to reveal she’s from the future. It’s not clear whether she’s a criminal or a rebel, but she is eventually tracked down by a man from her time who tries, and fails, to take her into custody. All witnessed by the narrator. It’s a curiously laid-back story for Russ, and driven not so much by anger as it is by futility. The narrator has seen what the lodger – she is never actually named – can do, has witnessed her independence, her power and intelligence, and rues her own lack of the same. There is a nice conceit throughout the story in which the visitor reads a lurid romance, and encourages the narrator to read it (she, of course, falls in love with the heroine and her lifestyle in the book) – despite the book being banned by her parents, and her mother actually counting the book among her favourites. Whether that’s intended meta-fictionally is open to question, but given Russ’s meta-fictional games in other stories – such as those in The Adventures of Alyx – then it’s likely deliberate. ‘The Second Inquisition’ manages to feel very 1970s without actually containing any details which refer to that decade – in fact, the time-travellers and their equipment manage not to feel at all dated – and which rather than being a weakness only makes it more appealing.

‘The Power of Time’ (1971) by Josephine Saxton also has a very 1970s feel to it, though half of the story is set at its time of writing. The other half is set in the distant future, when some people on Earth possess great power – so much so, in fact, that one of them, the narrator, has decided to transplant Manhattan from the US to Nottinghamshire, just for shits and giggles. Meanwhile, an unnamed housewife in the present day (as was) has won a competition for an all-expenses trip to New York. A succession of male escorts show her about the city, wine and dine her, and engage in sparkling conversation with her. Meanwhile, in the future, Manhattan is shifted in its entirety – including inhabitants – across the Atlantic and placed in the middle of an artificial lake. There’s a lightheartedness to ‘The Power of Time’ which belies the seriousness of its point – the future narrative feels a little flippant, as indicated by the novelette’s opening sentence:

“It shouldn’t present much difficulty if you approach it in a positive way,” I said to the Chief of the Mohawks, Flying Spider. (p 149)

And while such lightness of tone works well for the sections set in the present day (of the story), the flippancy undermines the difficulty of the narrator’s “project” and the seriousness of its consequences. ‘The Power of Time’ reads as though it were written as a comedy rather than a commentary, but it succeeds better at the latter than the former.

It’s near impossible not to think of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale when reading Kate Wilhelm’s ‘The Funeral’, (1972), even though Wilhelm’s novelette predates Atwood’s novel by thirteen years. Carla is a pupil at an all-girls school in a US very different to the one we know. It’s not entirely clear what happened to create the US of the story – Wilhelm reveals some details in italicised flashbacks, but she leaves much unexplained. Men and women now appear to be separated into different categories by profession. These are “citizens”, who are enfranchised. One such category for women is “Lady”, which is little more than a courtesan. Carla has been made an apprentice Teacher, and the funeral of the title is for Madam Westfall, who invented the educational system which has led to the society depicted in the novelette. Madam Westfall will be buried in state, and Carla is in attendance on the body. But it seems Madam Westfall had a secret, and Carla’s Teacher, Madam Trudeau, who she hates and fears, thinks those girls who waited on Madam Westfall during her last few months – and Carla is one of those girls – know the dead woman’s secret. ‘The Funeral’ is one of those sf stories which impresses more through its world-building than its plot. It’s a stronger piece than others I’ve read by Wilhelm, though some of the vagueness about its setting does work against it.

The ‘Tin Soldier’ (1974) by Joan D Vinge is the first story in More Women of Wonder which might qualify as heartland sf – the Moore is fantasy, the Brackett pulp sf, the Russ is set in the past, part of the Saxton is set in the present day, and the Wilhelm is set in a post-apocalypse USA. ‘Tin Soldier’ has starships and alien worlds and an interstellar human civilisation. It’s also very much about people. Maris, the “tin soldier” of the title, is a retired soldier and a cyborg. He runs a bar also called the Tin Soldier. Because Maris does not age, his bar is popular with crews of visiting starships who travel between worlds AAFAL – Almost As Fast As Light. A trip to another world and back takes them three years, but twenty-five years passes on Oro. Oh, and all starship crew are female, as neither men nor cyborgs (of either gender) can handle AAFAL, as revealed in one of the most egregious examples of info-dumping I’ve come across in sf:

She frowned in concentration. “‘After it was determined that men were physically unsuited to spacing, and women came to a new position of dominance as they momopolized this critical area, the Terran cultural foundation underwent severe strain. As a result, many new and not always satisfactory cultural systems are evolving in the galaxy…'” (p 218)

Because of the time-lag, women cannot form relationships with men on worlds and have a rule of only having sex with a man once – they call them “Tails”. Because Maris is a cyborg, some starship crew occasionally think it is funny to set up new crew with him. As soon as they show interest, he admits to his cyborg nature. Cue laughter. When her shipmates do this to Brandy, she remains interested and Maris privately admits that he’s not wholly a cyborg. Afterwards, the two become friends, and manage to maintain their friendship for almost a century – Brandy visits Oro every twenty-five years, Maris barely ages… though everything else changes. Eventually, their relationship too changes. There is some very nice descriptive prose in ‘Tin Soldier’ and the central relationship is handled well. There’s also a slight Delany-esque atmosphere to the story, though less so in the language used.

‘The Day Before the Revolution’ (1974), Ursula K Le Guin, is actually a short story rather than a novelette, but since in the previous volume, Women of Wonder, Le Guin appeared with a novelette, one of only two in the anthology, that seems fair enough. Back in April of this year at the Eastercon, EightSquaredCon, in Bradford, I was on a panel about older women in science fiction and fantasy, with Rochita Roen-Luiz, Caroline Mullan, Fred Warrington and David Tallerman. I mentioned the story ‘Mab Gallen Recalled’ by Cherry Wilder, which appears in Millennial Women (see review here), but had I known of it I could also have mentioned Le Guin’s ‘The Day Before the Revolution’. Laia Asieo Odo is a famous revolutionary. In her younger years, she wrote a number of seminal revolutionary texts while in prison. Now, she is in her seventies; now, she remembers he husband, who died decades before; now, she remembers the heady days when she was a political agitator. Though there was no revolution, during the story one happens in another nation, and it’s implied that one is about to begin in the city in which Odo lives – and that this revolution eventually leads to the anarchist society on Anarres in Le Guin’s novel The Dispossessed. The story is a reflection by Odo on her life, and her thoughts on the position she now holds in the minds of her followers and the public in respect to what she achieved in the past. It paints her as occupying an elder stateswoman sort of role, one she doesn’t really feel she deserves – and she spends much of the story remembering her husband, and how she first met him. It’s a clever juxtaposition of beginnings and endings, but I suspect that putting it last in More Women of  Wonder has done it few favours. Very little actually happens in ‘The Day Before the Revolution’ and it makes for a slow end to the anthology.

In my review of Women of Wonder (see here), I suggested a similar project should be put together now. Of course, it already has been – Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century, edited by Justine Larbalestier, published in 2006 by Wesleyan University Press, and containing stories by Clare Winger Harris, Leslie F Stone, Alice Eleanor Jones, Kate Wilhelm, Pamela Zoline, James Tiptree Jr, Lisa Tuttle, Pat Murphy, Octavia E Butler, Gwyneth Jones and Karen Joy Fowler. But that is just one anthology, and published by a university press. Common perception has it that anthologies don’t sell, and yet more than ever seem to be published each year. Admittedly, of late many have used Kickstarter to finance themselves, but even the big publishers put out half a dozen or more themed anthologies each year. Happily, in late 2014 there will be The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women, edited by Alex Dally McFarlane. Until then, Pamela Sargent’s five Women of Wonder anthologies – three from the 1970s and two from the 1990s – are worth tracking down. They’re excellent anthologies in their own right, and Sargent’s introductions are worth reading.

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.