Monthly Archives: January 2013

Blogging Northwest Smith: Black Thirst

“Black Thirst”
C. L. Moore

SPOILER ALERT – You’ve been warned.

“Black Thirst” is the second Northwest Smith story, published  in the April 1934 issue of Weird Tales shortly after “Shambleau”.  Upon rereading, I found this story lacked the power of its predecessor.  It may have been that I wasn’t able to get to the story until late at night, and therefore was fighting fatigue.

The story begins with Smith casing a warehouse along the waterfront of the Venusian city of Ednes one night when a woman walks by and asks him if he’d like to make a gold coin.  This isn’t any ordinary woman, but a Minga woman.

When the first settlers landed on the shore, they found a giant castle ruled by a being, apparently a man, called the Alendar.  He had a small entourage of the most beautiful women, which he began selling to the traders and settlers.

Over time, the Minga women, renowned for their exquisite beauty and chaste bodies, have been the prizes of kings, sultans, and chieftains throughout the solar system.  They are never allowed to walk the streets at night alone and unescorted.  But this one is.

She recognizes Smith, although they’ve never met, and raises her offer to one hundred gold coins.  To receive it, all he has to do is come to a particular gate at the Minga castle in one hour, give her name, and enter.

Other men have died for lesser offenses against the Alendar.

Smith decides to take her up on the offer.

This part of the story was as clear in my mind as the day I first read it.  What had faded were the events that followed.  I had a vague memory of what happened but could recall no details.

Upon entering the Minga castle, Smith enters a dark world where beauty is the most prized and carefully nurtured commodity.  And by nurtured, I mean bred.  Although the woman Vaudir, who entices him into the castle, is one of the most beautiful women Smith has ever seen, she pales in comparison to the others he sees.  Next to them she is plain and homely.

Smith also meets the Alendar, who isn’t a man even though he wears a man’s form.  The Alendar can control people with his thoughts, and he takes Smith captive.  He shows Smith women of such great beauty that it nearly drives Smith insane.

The Alendar is a type of psychic vampire that feeds on beauty, and he’s centuries old.  The women in his stable have been bred for one purpose, and one purpose only.  Food.  The Alendar drains them of their beauty and their life essence.  Only the least beautiful are sold as concubines and queens.

For most of those centuries, especially the most recent, the Alendar had fed on female beauty.  But now he wants a taste of something a little different, male beauty.  And Smith is intended to be the main course.  It’s only with the assistance of Vaudir, and the sacrifice of her life, that Smith manages to escape.

While to my mind not as powerful as “Shambleau”, there are still some dark and disturbing implications in “Black Thirst”.  First there’s the there’s the whole aspect of selling women.  While Moore downplays it and makes it seem like an accepted practice, it’s really nothing more than slavery, and sexual slavery at that.  At least that’s what’s implied when powerful men buy the most beautiful women in the solar system.  Now I’m not saying Moore condones the practice.  She never goes that far.  Instead she states it for what it is, the selling of women by men for their beauty.  Such things have been done for centuries, and in an exotic setting such as this, it’s really more of window dressing than anything else.

Where Moore appears be placing her emphasis is on the destruction of beauty.  The Alendar, and by extension the men who buy women from him, are using women for the purpose of consuming and destroying their beauty.  The women are used to feed, the Alendar’s life force and the men’s egos.

Is Moore saying that men destroy women for their beauty, that beauty is another commodity bought, sold, and consumed in a man’s world?  I don’t know for sure, and like I said in the previous installment of this series, I don’t want to read too much amateur psycho-babble into the fiction.  It’s an interesting thought, though.  She certainly seems to be.

In her introduction to the Lancer edition of Fury, a novel she wrote with her husband Henry Kuttner, she talks about the themes that appear in an author’s work that the author isn’t consciously aware of at the time of writing.  Hers, she writes, is “The most treacherous thing in life is love.”  That’s another interesting thought.

In the two stories we’ve examined so far, love (or something associated with the sexual and/or romantic aspect of it) is presented as destructive and dark, twisted rather nurturing, and incredibly trecherous.  Keep in mind, at this time Moore was unmarried.  I know nothing about her personal life during this period, but I have to wonder.  Had this attractive young woman been burned in a relationship?  Had she witnessed friends or family members have their beauty consumed by a relationship?  I don’t expect to ever find out. Such a thing would seem to be consistent with the Northwest Smith stories so far.  But whether this interpretation is a sound one is a question I’ll leave to the professional literary scholars.

Blogging Northwest Smith: Shambleau

“Shambleau” is the first of the Northwest Smith adventures, and the first published story by C. L. Moore.  According to Lester del Rey, in his introduction to The Best of C. L. Moore (1975), she had been writing for 15 years before she submitted anything for publication.  I’d like to know where he got that information, but I’m not questioning it.  Since he’d known Moore personally for decades, I’m inclined to believe him.  Of course, what I’d like even more is to get my hands on some of those unpublished stories.  I suspect they’ve long since ceased to exist.

I don’t remember if “Shambleau” was the first story I read by C. L. Moore, but it certainly made the strongest impact on me.  Here’s a synopsis of what happens (spoiler alert):

A young woman is being chased by a mob down a street in a spaceport town on Mars.  The mob is closing in on her when she runs into Northwest Smith, a notorious criminal.  He intervenes on her behalf to the bafflement of the crowd.  Smith takes her back to his room, tells her she’s welcome to stay for the few days until he gives up the room and leaves.  This girl isn’t human, and Smith doesn’t recognize her race.  She’s dressed only in a shift and a turban.  Smith assumes she’s bald.  He realizes later she’s not when he sees her tuck what he thinks is a lock of hair under her turban.  He’s sure he saw the lock move on its own.  But he must be mistaken…

While Moore points out that sexual temptations don’t have much hold on Smith, he does find her attractive enough to make advances.  At least until he takes in his arms, at which point he finds her repulsive.  He doesn’t really understand why that is, only that the repulsion he feels is almost primal in nature.

Smith is in town setting up some type of criminal venture.  We’re not ever told what.  Over the next few days, Smith experiences a back and forth attraction and repulsion.  He struggles with it, but ultimately he succumbs.  Only when Smith’s partner Yarol shows up does Smith have a chance of escape, and even then it’s not easy.

Moore is playing with the concept of a gorgon, and goes so far as to state that the ancient Greeks had some knowledge of the Shambleau, which is the name of the race rather than of the girl.  She even takes her resolution from that myth.

One of the things that’s so interesting about this story is that for all its length (~30 pages), not much actually happens.  Other than the initial confrontation, which takes less than 5 pages, and Yarol’s rescue of Smith and the conversation that follows, about half of the story revolves around the Shambleau’s seduction of Smith.  Yet Moore’s prose is so rich that you hardly notice that that many pages have passed.

Caedmon Records recording of “Shambleau”

And it’s the seduction that is the heart and soul of the story.  Moore makes it very clear that Smith’s fall into the Shambelau’s clutches is a very bad thing, but she also makes it clear that it’s also an intensely pleasurable thing.  And it’s described as the Shambleau caressing and touching Smith’s soul more than his body.  It’s how she feeds, essentially a type of psychic vampire.

Moore also stresses Smith’s internal conflict, attracted by the pleasure and repulsed by the unnaturalness of it.  It’s a struggle he ultimately loses, giving in to the temptation while the whole time being repulsed by his actions.  It’s a struggle that on some level most people can probably relate to.  The desire for something that you know is wrong or harmful, the momentary pleasure of something that will ultimately destroy you.

The imagery is definitely sexual in nature.  While tame by today’s standards, I suspect this was pretty potent stuff back then.  It was certainly powerful to the teenage boy I was when I first read it.  Awash as I was in hormones, this story had a major impact on me.  It was almost like Moore was reading my mind at times as I struggled to understand and contain the natural changes I was undergoing and the accompanying urges.  And while the emotional impact when I reread the story the other night wasn’t nearly that intense, echoes were still there.

The reason “Shambleau” had such an impact on me, and why its popularity and acclaim has endured for over 75 years, is simple.  What Moore deals with here, as I mentioned in a previous paragraph, is something that most people can relate to on some level.  She’s dealing with what it means to be human, what it means to struggle with what’s right and what’s convenient.  Unlike many writers obsessed with their own self-importance, she does it by telling a compelling story, and telling it well.right up to the end.

Much has been made of Moore’s introduction of emotion and sexuality into the science fiction and fantasy fields in the 1930s.  I’m not going to rehash that here.  I have neither the time nor the patience for the literature search.  And I’m certainly not going to get into amateur psychoanalysis, a la L. Sprague de Camp with Robert E. Howard, and try to interpret Moore’s emotional and mental state.  I have too much respect for her to ever do that.

One last bit of trivia.  At one point in the story, Smith hums the tune of a song, “The Green Hills of Earth.”  Robert Heinlein has gone on record saying this was the inspiration of his classic story by that name.

C. L. Moore Turns 102

Catherine Lucille Moore was born on this day in 1911.  She was one of the greatest fantasy and science fiction authors to work in the field.  That’s the oldest picture of her I could find.  I saw a photo of her when I was in college that was (I think) taken shortly before her death.  She was sitting on the steps of a back porch, and the photo was shot from what I would consider an intermediate distance.  If anyone is familiar with the picture and knows where I can get a copy, I would appreciate your letting me know.

I wrote a tribute last year and a belated tribute the  year before, so I wanted to do something different this year.  So after giving some basic facts, I’ll tell you what I have in mind.

First, the facts.  Moore was working in an Indiana bank when she published her first story.  The legend is that she wrote on a company typewriter after hours while working late.  Legend also has it that Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright was so impressed by it that he closed the offices for the rest of the day.  I don’t  know for sure if either event actually happened that way, but if they didn’t, they should have.  Moore went on to write some quite successful science fiction on her own before marrying fellow science fiction writer Henry Kuttner, probably my all time favorite author for at least three days of every week.  After Kuttner died in 1958, Moore left the field.  She remarried, and again legend has it, her new husband didn’t want her writing science fiction.  Also again, I don’t know if that’s true.  By this time she was writing for television, which paid considerably better.

She left quite a legacy, both on her own and with her husband.  I’m going to take a closer look at that legacy this year.  Again both her individual legacy and the one she shares with Kuttner.  I’ve got a lot on my plate, and I can see I’ll need something to act as a sanity check.

For quite some time now I’ve been intending to take a closer look at her two signature series, Jirel of Joiry and Northwest Smith.  Jirel was one of the first, if not the very first, sword and sorcery heroine who could swing a blade as well as any man.  Northwest Smith was been called the prototype for Han Solo.  I’ll deal with that in an upcoming post.

I’ve decided to start with the Northwest Smith stories (although I will cover the Jirel tales as well).  They’re set in outer space, but they have strong fantasy elements, so I’m going to post the essays about them here rather than on Futures Past and Present.  I intend to post the first one in the next day or so.  Stick around.  It’s been nearly 30 years since I read most of them, but images from some of the stories are still clear in my mind.  They left quite a mark on a very impressionable young teenager.  We’ll see how well they hold up to middle aged scrutiny.

One Hundred Seven Years Ago Today…

…Robert E. Howard was born.  While his popularity has waxed and waned over the years since his premature death, his legacy has endured.  Right now, we’re seeing a boom in Howard’s works and in Howardian studies.  Maybe soon he’ll take his proper place in the canon of great writers of the early 20th century.  We can hope.

But whether that happens in the near future, the far future, or not at all, one thing is certain.  We shall not see his like again.  While he’s had many imitators over the years, none have matched the power of his writings, the lyricism of his poetry, or the (sometimes) bleakness of his world view.  He helped define a genre, something few men or women can boast.  As long as there are people who love a good adventure with depth as well as action, he will endure.

So raise a glass with me and toast the birth of Robert E. Howard.

Amazing Stories (TM) is Now Live

Hey, everyone.  The Amazing Stories (TM) blog is now live.  I’ve got several pieces up, with more to come on a weekly basis.  The link is Amazing Stories (TM) .  There’s a lot of great stuff over there, and I don’t mean the things I’ve posted.  There are posts about Robert E. Howard, fantasy, science fiction, writing short fiction, indie publishing, and tons more cool stuff.  So head over there and check it out.

What follows is the press release that should be on various media outlets today: 

Amazing Stories, the world’s first science fiction magazine, is now open to the public.

Social Magazine Website Offers Nearly Sixty Writers and Social Networking For Fans!
Experimenter Publishing Company
Hillsboro, NH
January 19, 2013
The Experimenter Publishing Company is pleased to announce the  reintroduction of the world’s most recognizable science fiction magazine – AMAZING STORIES!
Following the completion of a successful Beta Test begun on January 2nd, 2013, Amazing Stories is now open to the public.  Fans of science fiction, fantasy, and horror are invited to join and encouraged to participate in helping to bring back a cherished icon of the field.
For the past several weeks nearly sixty fans, authors, artists, editors and bloggers have been producing articles on your favorite subjects – the literature of SF/F/H, its presentations in media such as television, film, poetry, literature, games, comics and much more.
All contents of Amazing Stories are free to the general public. 
Membership is also free – and entitles members to participate in the discussion, share information and engage in many other familiar social networking activities.
Membership also represents a stake in helping Amazing Stories return to publication.  The more members the site acquires, the faster Amazing Stories can become a paying market for short fiction.
Every genre fan now has a chance to help support the creation of a new market for the stories, artwork and articles they all love so much.
To visit the site and obtain your free membership, go to AMAZING STORIES, and don’t forget to invite your friends too!

This reincarnation of Amazing Stories could not have happened without the generous support of Woodall Design LLC and the members of the Amazing Stories Blog Team:
Cenobyte, Karen G. Anderson, Mike Brotherton, Ricky L. Brown,
Michael A. Burstein, Catherine Coker, Johne Cook, Paul Cook, Gary Dalkin,
Jane Frank, Adria K. Fraser,  Jim Freund, Fran Friel, Adam Gaffen,
Chris Garcia, Chris Gerwel, Tommy Hancock, Liz Henderson, Samantha Henry,
M.D. Jackson, Monique Jacob, Geoffrey James, J. Jay Jones, Daniel M. Kimmel,
Peggy Kolm, Justin Landon, Andrew Liptak, Bob Lock, Melissa Lowery,
Barry Malzberg, C. E. Martin, Farrell J. McGovern, Steve Miller, Matt Mitrovich,
Aidan Moher, Kevin Murray, Ken Neth, Astrid Nielsch, D. Nicklin-Dunbar,
James Palmer, John Purcell, James Rogers, Felicity Savage, Diane Severson,
Steve H. Silver, J. Simpson, Douglas Smith, Lesley Smith, Bill Spangler,
Duane Spurlock, Michael J. Sullivan, G. W. Thomas, Erin Underwood,
Stephan Van Velzen, Cynthia Ward, Michael Webb, Keith West, John M. Whalen,
Karlo Yeager, Leah A. Zeldes
For more information about Amazing Stories, please contact the publisher at

It’s Been Awfully Quiet Around Here…

…and for a good reason.  Or not, depending on how you want to look at it. 

My day job is in academia.  Normally, the first part of January is a little hectic as things gear up for the new semester.  When I came back from the break, I discovered I had a new class to teach in addition to my regular class and supervisory duties.  One of our faculty was awarded an endowed chair at another institution, and he and his wife, also a faculty member, are in the process of relocating even as I type this.  I was assigned one of her classes.  It’s intro planetary astronomy, a course I’ve taught before, but it’s been a few years, and I don’t have lecture notes ready.  Classes just started, so once I get the holes filled in the TA teaching schedule, things should fall into a routine.

Also, my in-laws are celebrating their 50th anniversary, and we’re traveling this weekend for the dinner.  I hope to get some reading and writing done while I’m gone.  We’ll see.

Anyway, I’ve spent three weeks trying to finish two books, one for review at Futures Past and Present, and one for Amazing Stories (TM).  Normally, I would finish both within a week.  I think I can finish them this weekend.  Then I’ll dive into the stack waiting for me that just keeps getting larger.

I’ll try to get a short fiction review or two up here in the next few days as well.  As well as writing some of my own.

Anyway, that’s why I’ve been kinda quiet except for a couple of news items.  Thanks for your patience.

RIP, Steven Utley

Lawrence Person is reporting that science fiction author Steven Utley has died.  Utley announced on December 27, 2012 that he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.  On January 12, he slipped into a coma and died that night.

Along with George W. Proctor, Utley was coeditor of Lone Star Universe, an anthology consisting of Texas writers, many of whom went on to become major figures in the field.  Utley wrote mainly at short lengths.  For the past decade much of his output centered on his Silurian Tales, regarding time travel to, what else, the Silurian Era.  I met Utlely only once, at an Armadillcon a few years ago.  I found him to be a soft-spoken, quiet man.  We only spoke for a few minutes, and I wish I had visited with him more. 

The only current US edition of his work is The Beasts of Love, and I’m not even sure that is in print anymore.  That none of his other work is in print in this country is a disgrace.  If you can find any of his work in anthologies, or if you are fortunate to get your hands on a copy of one of his collections, I encourage you to read it.  I especially recommend “The Country Doctor”, most recently reprinted in Where or When from PS Publishing.  Unfortunately, that volume is out of print. 

Mike Resnick Launches New Short Fiction Magazine

Back in the late 80s/early 90s, there were a number of theme anthologies edited by Mike Resnick.  Really Mike Resnick and Martin H. Greenberg, but you know what I mean.  Resnick wins awards, especially Hugos, at a rate that turns most writers green.  He’s a fantastic writer if you haven’t read him.  I’ve got some of his titles in the queue.  Well, now he’s launching a new short fiction magazine, Galaxy’s Edge.  It goes live on March 1.  You know I’m going to be there.  Look for a review either here or at Futures Past and Present. 

Goals Followup + Amazing Stories

This post will be both a followup on the goals post plus an update on the status of things at Amazing Stories (TM).

First, I hit my writing goal of at least1500 words a week with 1664.  I’m counting a week starting with Sunday.  I wrote 311 last night before I had to stop and think about what comes next.  Not sure how much I’ll write in a few minutes.  I’m thinking of putting a little box up in the corner of the blog with the date I last wrote and word count in it.  If that information is there for all the world to see, I’ll be more motivated to write.  I think I can do that without everybody who follows the blog getting a notice each time it updates. 

Of course, things might be about to slow down.  I found out over the weekend there’s an unexpected vacancy in the department, and I’ll be teaching an additional course this semester.  I go back tomorrow, with classes starting next week, so I’m not in my routine yet.  My son went back to gymnastics tonight and starts back with diving tomorrow night, so once I get into a routine, I may be cursing those 1500 words.

My first post went live at Amazing Stories (TM) today.  The site is still in beta and not accessible to the general public yet.  It should be live for everyone in a week or so unless something unforeseen  happens.  All the posts that have gone up since Thursday, the first day they were up, will be available when the site opens to everyone.  I’m not sure if the present posts will be reposted with everything starting over from scratch or if they will be archived and new material will continue without interruption.  I’ll let you know when that decision is made.

My first post is about some of the changes in publishing and why I think small presses and indie published books are important, and the second will contain the terms I’ll be using and what I mean when I say them (as opposed to what someone else means with the same words).  Then I’ll start in on reviews.  The first is written and ready to go.  It will be a review of Five by Five.  The next review will be of Space Eldritch (which I’m reading now), followed by Frogs in Aspic.  After that is a little up in the air still.  I’ll have my own email address at Amazing Stories (TM).  It’s  Once everything’s a go, I hope you’ll drop by and check it out.  And not just my stuff.  There’s some really cool things being posted. 

A Thought or Two on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

We finally got our act together and saw The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey.  It was better than I was expecting.

I’m not going to try and do an in-depth analysis of the movie.  There are other people who are much more qualified than I am for that.  I’ve only read the book twice, most recently prior to the release of the first LOTR movie.  Some of the details are a little blurry, to say the least.

On the whole, the movie matched the book quite well, at least to the best of my memory.  There were a few details I thought were different.  I know Jackson is embellishing the story a little, drawing on sources in Tolkien’s writings other than the novel itself.  Those scenes were fairly obvious.

The cinematography was great.  Every time I see one of these movies, I want to move to New Zealand. 

One thing I did find interesting.  With all the running the party did, I was impressed that no one ever seemed out of breath, especially since it was in the mountains. 

On the whole I was impressed.  This is one I’ll be getting on DVD.