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Black Gods and Scarlet Dreams by C. L. Moore

Black Gods and Scarlet Dreams

by C. L. Moore

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185495,818 (3.75)11
  1. 00
    The sword woman by Robert E. Howard (kroseman)
    kroseman: Dark Agnes de Chastillon draws inspiration from Jirel of Joiry. Howard corresponded with C.L. Moore, who responded enthusiastically about the Dark Agnes character.

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I know more about Moore than I know of her fiction, which has to date meant only a couple of short stories and her novel Judgment Night. Now, I rate Judgment Night highly, it is a superior space opera, especially for its time. This Fantasy Masterwork, however, gathers together all the Jirel of Joiry stories and all the Northwest Smith stories… and they do not present well in such close proximity. The first Jirel story, ‘Jirel of Joiry’, and also Moore’s first professional sale, is a great piece of work, but her follow-ups are somewhat formulaic and not to Jirel’s benefit. The same is true of Northwest Smith – ‘Shambleau’ has real mythic overtones, but the other NWS stories are just the same thing over and over again. And the thing that stands out the most is that the heroes have little or no agency: they get themselves into scrapes and they have to be rescued, sometimes by men, sometimes by women, but they never win through because of their own actions. Or, at least, not entirely. There are a couple of NWS stories where his ineluctable masculine cussedness sees him overcome the evil god of the week, but there’s usually a henchman (or woman) or ally who is instrumental in his escape. Jirel needs help often as not, which is not true in the story in which she first appears. Partly this is because both characters’ antagonists are super-powerful gods from other dimensions, and there’s no way either could plausibly defeat them without some help. But when hero/heroine finds themselves in Yet Another Evil Dimension and they are Powerless, then having someone give them a close, or appear at the last minute with a flame-pistol, does tarnish their appeal. It’s not like they’re intended to be straight-up heroes. Northwest Smith is after all a villain – although he’s never presented as such, it’s told to the reader. Moore clearly found a formula that worked, and stuck to it. It’s not like there’s a huge amount of invention in the world-building either – this is the Solar System as imagined by way of Leigh Brackett and Robert Howard. It feels like a common playground. Moore was an important writer in the early days of genre, and she wrote some important historical works, but I have to wonder if she’s being remembered for the wrong things because the stories in this volume position as no better than an average pulp writer, and I know she was better that that from Judgment Night. ( )
  iansales | Jul 21, 2018 |
This is a collection of Moore's standalone pieces from Weird Tales, more or less evenly split between her two most famous creations: Jirel of Joiry and Northwest Smith. The first half is Medieval S&S/dark fantasy. The second half I suppose could be termed early science fiction, though there's still a strong flavor of the fantastic.

Many of these stories are a little deceptive because they seem to offer, at first glance, the type of blood and guts thrills of a ConanJohn Carter tale, but inevitable descend into a nightmarish acid trip in which strength of mind, not strength of body, carries the hero through to the end. Indeed, despite their imaginative verve, the plots follow such a similar pattern that reading them through in one or two sittings can be quite repetitive. Much like her fellow contemporary, Clark Ashton Smith, Moore is a writer who's best read in small doses.

Stylistically, Moore isn't immune to the excesses of the day (verbosity, melodramatic dialogue etc) though there's a dark and feverish intensity to her writing that lends the best of her work a genuine nightmarishness. In particular, her descriptions of varying states of psychic turmoil carry an authentic weight, an authenticity that I assume is at least partly drawn from her long battles with childhood illness. It's these passages, coupled with Moore's ferocious imagination, that make these pieces worth reading.

Quite a unique writer, and probably not one who'd be published today, but well worth checking out if your tastes in pulp fantasy tend toward the darker and more surreal side. ( )
1 vote StuartNorth | Nov 19, 2016 |
The two parts of this fun book are each a suite of short stories centered on one of Moore's characters in a different fictional world: the swords and sorcery of Jirel of Joiry (Black Gods) and the space opera of Northwest Smith (Scarlet Dreams). The entire book is full of evocatively hallucinatory fantasy and outre eroticism.

Jirel of Joiry is interesting as being a scarlet-haired "woman girt with a sword," formulated independently from Howard's Red Sonya (let alone the Red Sonja later created by Roy Thomas). It is almost as if the fictioneers of the pulp era were tuning in to some Platonic Idea of the Scarlet Woman. In this connection, see also the April Bell of Williamson's Darker Than You Think.

The book is an attractive but cheaply-bound trade paperback issued in 2002 by Gollancz under their "Fantasy Masterworks" imprint. The cover shows a detail of the head of Medusa from a painting by Caravaggio, which is in allusion to the seminal Northwest Smith story (and Moore's first-ever-published--and much re-published--fiction) "Shambleau." Although "Shambleau" is indeed the story of encountering on Mars the creature which is the basis of the Medusa legend, Moore doesn't describe her as looking like Caravaggio's portrait at all.
3 vote paradoxosalpha | Apr 14, 2007 |
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