The Thumbnail Book Reviews
The Best of C. L. Moore
edited by Lester Del Rey
C. L. Moore was one of the pioneers of women's science fiction writing.
In these ten stories published from 1933 to 1946 in such magazines as
Famous Fantastic Mysteries,and
Astounding Science Fiction,
Moore displays her broad interest and particular style. She wrote simple
stories around potentially profound ideas. Her characters in these stories
(collected in this 1975 edition) are often very much the cinematic ideals:
stunning soft women, tall blonde studly men, and one wouldn't want to use
any of these for sexual role models. Even so, Moore is credited with creating
strong willed female characters, for a genre (dare we say pulp?) that until
then was dominated by men. Still, her women often fawn over the male
characters, or they are agents of men's downfall. Her imagery is full of
superlatives stumbling upon piles of superlatives. It is mythical, and
sometimes overtly Freudian. These stories might not be much more than
historical curiosities. A couple, though, particularly the last, are
Shambleau is a dark and vaguely erotic horror tale of Northwest
Smith, a swashbuckling (early version of Han Solo?) character on Mars meeting
up with a haunting and deadly vision from interplanetary mythology.
Black Thirst takes Smith into the dark underworld of the planet
on a mystical journey into beauty and evil. This story doesn't work
as well as the earlier adventure, as Moore seems to be stumbling over herself
to find words for greater and greater beauty and evil. The language of the
story suffers from this eflorescence of adjectives.
The Bright Illusion is Moore taking on the aphorism "beauty is
only skin deep" by sending a man to a distant planet with bizarre residents,
and having him face his illusions of beauty. The story's brevity, though,
brings to mind another myth: "love at first sight". Too short for her to
have really made her point.
In Black God's Kiss, Moore descends again into a vivid and quite
Freudian subterrenean hell. Her heroine is in search for a weapon of great
strength and evil, but finds a revealing aspect of herself in the end. A
queasy, somewhat numbing, tale.
Tryst in Time is a pretty entertaining but basically absurd tale
of a young perfect male specimen who, after living a full life of adventure,
sets out to travel through time. Along the way, he meets a mysterious
perfect female specimen. They enchant each other, and a strange and
unexplained connection is made. It doesn't make much sense, but the story
is amusingly told.
In Greater than Gods, a genetic scientist in the 23rd century,
about to make a breakthrough in gender selection, gets the frightening
opportunity of seeing the various outcomes of a decision many generations
into the future. The choice before him becomes far more weighty. His
solution, though, is a bit of a cop-out, and the original decision is
contrived. There is an old-fashioned (or sexist) tone to the tale as
well, but with some hope for a balanced resolution.
Fruit of Knowledge revives the mythology of
perhaps the first bride of Adam in Eden. It is more or less a straight
retelling, in detail, of a myth suggesting that Adam went out of Eden
still longing for his first flawed bride.
No Woman Born is a longer story that takes the form of a
long debate about the wavering humanity of a brain encased in metal.
A beautiful stage performer is brought back to the limelight by a
latter-day Frankenstein. The story is weighted down by all the talk,
Daemon, again, is mythical, as a mentally challenged young
man relates his abandonment on an Atlantic island, where he encounters
the forest sprites exiled since the advent of Christianity. The tale is
interesting, but its mythology somewhat simplistic.
Vintage Season, the best and last in this collection, is a
tale whose tone would be familiar, years later, to fans of The Twilight
Zone, (for which Moore did write one episode) as it has that same
ironic moral logic. Mysterious tourists from a far-off place visit an
English city to experience an historic event. Do the locals know what
they're in for? This story was adapted into a television movie in 1992.
At the end of this collection, in an afterword titled
"Footnote to Shambleau... and Others", Moore tells a little bit about
her writing process. It ends up being much more random than one might
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