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Lush and Exotic Horror-Fantasy,
This review is from: Black Gods and Scarlet Dreams (Fantasy Masterworks) (Paperback)
Catherine Lucille Moore was working as a secretary when she typed up and sent in to WEIRD TALES her first and ultimately most famous short story, "Shambleau," which introduced the hardbitten space adventurer Northwest Smith and recounted his terrifying experiences with an outer-space version of the monster Medusa. Nine further Smith adventures followed, as well as five adventures of an early-medieval warrior-maid, Jirel of Joiry in a somewhat similar vein. All these tales are collected here, as originally published between 1933 and 1939 (with one exception).
I must say that reading the stories one after the other, as one does in such a collection, tends to spoil them... because they are all essentially the same story. Smith or Jirel invariably encounter an extraterrestrial or extra-dimensional being, almost always of godlike power, which creates its own exotic and terrifying world around itself. Smith or Jirel escape the influence and malign purposes of the being, mainly by sheer force of will, and so on to the next adventure. Also Moore has a favorite phrase, along the lines of "how long or how far [s]he walked, [s]he never knew," which occurs about once per page in every story, a maddening repetition if one is reading several stories per sitting.
However, what captivated WEIRD TALES readers still captivates... a dense barrage of evocations of completely other-worldly scenes and experiences, told in straightforward and rather immature but still compelling prose. The Smith adventures also contain an element which for obvious reasons doesn't appear in the Jirel tales... lavish descriptions of the physical charms of a long succession of stupifyingly beautiful and sexy women. And Smith has a semi-comical sidekick, Yarol the Venusian, whereas Jirel generally sets out completely alone.
If you come upon this collection, you'll savor these tales, but my advice is to read them one at a time, with other, unrelated readings in between. While Moore is not quite up there with the three titans of WEIRD TALES, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith, she is certainly not far behind.
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