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Northwest of Earth: The Complete Northwest Smith (Planet Stories Library) Paperback – March 25, 2008

3.9 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Series: Planet Stories Library
  • Paperback: 220 pages
  • Publisher: Paizo Publishng Inc. (March 25, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1601250819
  • ISBN-13: 978-1601250810
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,135,731 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Paizo's Planet Stories line gives us another classic from the "queen of the pulps" C.L. Moore. This volume focuses on Northwest Smith, hardbitten, yet strangely vulnerable, outlaw of the spaceways. Smith faces weird, and sometimes horrific, alien menances in a solar system owing inspiration to Edgar Rice Burroughs--Venus is swampy and cloud-enshrouded; Mars is an ancient desert. Moore has all the adventure of her pulp forebears, but adds to it a gift for weird imagery, an undercurrent of sensuality, and superior characterization. Moore's science fiction isn't shiny rockets, but dark and moody encounters with ancient horrors.

The volume opens with the first Northwest Smith story--the darkly sensual "Shambleau" which made her a star when it was published in 1933, just eleven months after Howard's Conan. It ends with the poignant vignette "Song in a Minor Key" which, in the words of writer/editor Karl Edward Wagner, packs a punch "Bruce Lee would have envied."

In between are tales full of adventure and strangeness waiting to bring CL Moore to a much deserved new audience.
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About 75% finished with this one. I really like it but let's just say it's not what I expected.

The way I've heard it described, with Northwest Smith being a Han Solo prototype, I was expecting good pulpy action with rayguns and gross monsters. It's more like Han Solo nearly getting seduced/killed by Lovecraftian beasties (often disguised as women) and just barely surviving. The writing is much better than I expected, like Michael Moorcock at his pulpy best. The stories are fairly creepy and held my interest. The one gripe I had was that many of them are fairly similar in plot and structure.

In conclusion, creepy: yes, action-packed: no.
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Format: Paperback
Northwest Smith is described on the back cover as a "quick-drawing outlaw of the spaceways", and in her Introduction, C.J. Cherryh describes him as the archetype of Indiana Jones. So you might be expecting planet-hopping tales of action and derring-do.

Think again.

The NW Smith stories consist mostly of description. Not much happens, but the inaction is luxuriously described. Here's a taste. "...it was truly dreadful. Dimly he knew it, even as his body answered to the root-deep ecstasy, a foul and dreadful wooing from which his very soul shuddered away--and yet in the innermost depths of that soul some grinning traitor shivered with delight. But deeply, behind all this, he knew horror and revulsion and despair beyond telling, while the intimate caresses crawled obscenely in the secret places of his soul--knew that the soul should not be handled--and shook with the perilous pleasure through it all."

It's like that for pages and pages and pages, all nameless horror and soul-shuddering revulsion and despair, until about five pages from the end NW finally pulls his ray-gun and blasts the obscene perilous crawling ancient evil into smithereens.

Most stories have just four characters:
(1) NW himself;
(2) a female story hook, always aluring and exotic, usually alien, always a slave to, or herself the
(3) indescribable and yet comprehensively described nameless ancient horror;
and (4) NW's best friend and partner in crime, who sometimes shows up at the end to help rouse him from the thrall/sleep of the dreadful eons-old soul-sucking obscenity.
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The name of this collection is a little confusing: this has the same title and the same main character as the anthology published by Gnome Press in the 1950s, but it is not the same book. The Gnome Press collection featured the space smuggler Northwest Smith, but also included stories about C.L.Moore's other recurrent character, the fantasy-genre warrior woman Jirel of Joiry. This Planet Stories reprint includes stories from Gnome's Shambleau and Other Stories, Gnome's Northwest of Earth, as well as various other Northwest Smith stories. (Planet Stories also publishes the Jirel tales in a reprint collection titled The Black God's Kiss). Is Northwest Smith an earlier, more remote, less exuberant version of Han Solo? Northwest is a smuggler, has an alien side kick, and a ship too fast for the trudging space patrol; definitely there are some similarities. On the other hand, Northwest's Venusian partner, Yarol, is a far quieter, more thoughtful type than Chewbacca (who seemed to be designed as sort of a humanoid golden retriever) and, more significantly, Northwest Smith does not have the kind of over-the-top action adventures we associate with Star Wars. Like Jirel, Smith's conflicts are ultimately more psychological than physical; what appear to be physical challenges usually resolve through changes in mental state. Beyond that, Northwest's universe has the trappings of science fiction, but the ambience is far more like fantasy. Blaster guns and space ships are referred to, but have a generic feel; the story is more about the sense of strangeness, the weird and exotic, often beautiful, landscapes, and the pervasive sense of dread. The villains are reminiscent of horror fantasy characters, slightly evolved into science fiction form. Sometimes this "playing against type" works well, an author writing science fiction from a fantasy mindset can produce very interesting stories. It works in this case. I recommend this book even more than the Jirel of Joiry collection.
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