The Best of C. L. Moore

Monday, August 23, 2010



The Best of C. L. Moore
Compilation and introduction 1975, stories originally published 1933-1946

I grabbed this volume from the library when I was researching early fantasy a few months back, and have to return it soon, so I had to read it now.  I guess what I'm trying to say is that I may not have come to this book with a wholly charitable attitude.

Catherine Lucille Moore was one of the leading lights of early sci-fi and fantasy, and her prose is lovely.  However, I was never quite blown away by the stories.  I think I was expecting too much.

According to the introduction, Moore was one of the first (or the first) to write sci-fi from a more emotional perspective. "Her early stories were notable for their emphasis on the senses and emotions, which was highly unusual at the time."  -Wikipedia  Also she is lauded for her very alien aliens and her use of romance.

While I appreciate the stories for how groundbreaking they were, I must admit I was not that impressed by what they are.  I've read too much that took her work as inspiration and spun off into further realms.  I find these stories good, even very good, just not amazing.  And I was really hoping for amazing.

The first two stories star her space outlaw, Northwest Smith.  Each story is solid, creepy, well plotted, but the themes are so similar that I think they suffer by juxtaposition.

There are a selection of other sci-fi stories on various subjects: potential futures, time travelers of multiple stripes, cyborgs, alien worlds, and more.  There's an odd spin on the Lillith story, and my favorite story is "Daemon", a unconventional fantasy piece about the nature of souls.

The main problem I kept running into while reading isn't Moore's fault at all.  Sci-fi just doesn't always age quite as well as fantasy/historical fiction.  So each story has strong points, bits of amazing description:
This bewilderingly beloved face that had darkened with mystical brooding, flashed suddenly alight again with swift laughter, and hearing it, catching a lift of the brows that was his and a quirk of the soft lips that was Sallie's own, Bill made no effort to stem the tide of warm affection rising higher and higher in him.  It was himself looking out of the cube through Sallie's brown eyes - himself exultant in achievement for the simple sake of achieving.  She had called him father.  Was this a father's love, selfless, unfathomable, for a lovely and beloved daughter? - "Greater Than Gods"
and then moments that fling me right out, purely because they are so dated:
The two crystal cubes on the desk were three dimensional photographs of a sort undreamed of before the Twenty-third century dawned.
.....
The first woman president won her office on a platform that promised no war as long as a woman dwelt in the White House...Women as a sex are not scientists, not inventors...
- "Greater Than Gods" 
The story I am the most conflicted about is "Black God's Kiss", which is the first story starring Jirel of Joiry.  She is the first published female lead character in sword and sorcery. Jirel's introduction is fantastic, her story dark and surreal and intriguing.  But I could have done without the explanatory narrative asides (pseudoscience notes about the supernatural setting she voyages through) and I personally could have done without the ending.  Again, great, just not amazing.

I don't fault Moore that I am born too late to fully appreciate much of this volume.  I am thankful that I have read so many great books inspired by her work.  Nowadays almost all work integrates the emotional into the SF, but I suppose it didn't have to be that way.  Someone had to be the first.

4 Stars - A Really Good Book

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