C. L. Moore Channels Brackett and Howard

“There Shall Be Darkness”
Miracle in Three Dimensions
Isle Press
Trade Paper, $16.95
Original publication, Astounding, February 1942

I meant to have this review posted a few days ago, but Real Life got in the way. (I am legally prohibited from discussing the situation; its a personnel matter.) I just finished reading the story a little while ago.

It’s definitely a blend of Brackett setting and Howardian themes. James Douglas, AKA Jamie, is the commander of the Earth forces on the planet Venus. There’s some indication this may taken place in the future of the Northwest Smith series. In the first scene, Jamie comes in and asks for segir whiskey, the preferred drink of Northwest Smith. If it is the same future, it’s much later along the timeline.

You can’t blame him for wanting a drink. He’s in a bad situation. He’s just received his orders to evacuate Venus. The Empire of Earth is falling. Barbarians, the less developed races in the solar system in this instance, have conquered Mars and are in the process of invading Earth. There are overtones of ancient Rome in this setup. Jamie’s Venusian lover, Quanna, begs him to take her to Earth. He refuses, so she takes matters into her own hands.

Jamie is dealing with an outlaw chieftain, Vastari, who is the only person who can unite the squabbling Venusian tribes into a single unit. Vastari sees himself as a freedom fighter, a soldier struggling to throw off the yoke of tyranny. He’s also Quanna’s brother. Jamie thinks she’s a loyal lover. Vastari thinks she’s a loyal spy. Quanna is only loyal to herself.

Quanna drugs Jamie’s whiskey, sneaks out, and meets Vastari in the hills to tell him of evacuation. This of course heats things up. Quanna is supposed to assassinate Jamie, but she’s playing her own game. All she wants is to go to Earth with Jamie.

Leigh Brackett

I’m not going to divulge any more of the plot; see the spoiler section below for a glimpse of the ending. There is more than one double cross. The setting, characters, and cultures are reminiscent of what Leigh Brackett was beginning to write at the time. Only Brackett hadn’t written very much at this point; her career was just getting started. The editor of this collection, Ian Lohr, speculates in an afterword to the story that it may have influenced Brackett’s “Dragon Queen of Jupiter”. That story was published in 1947 and was originally set on Venus before editorial intervention.

Howard’s influence can be seen in the Celtic heritage of Jamie. More than once in the story, he has Quanna play tunes from Earth’s ancient history. Those songs are “The Battle of Otterburn, a traditional folk song that dates from the Fifteenth Century and commemorates a Scottish victory over the English in 1388, and “The Star Spangled Banner”. Moore quotes from both at different places. Interestingly, she doesn’t quote the first verse of “The Star Spangled Banner”, which is the one most people know, but the third. (There are four verses, in case you’re wondering.)

Poul Anderson

There’s fatalism that hangs over this tale. Howard’s theme of barbarism vs. civilization runs all through it. Jamie is trying to prevent the collapse of the Empire. He is certain its probably a lost cause, but he knows that if the barbarians take over, things are over for good. Moore portrays the barbarians as a mix of mongrel races who are incapable of building anything, only destroying. Jaime knows that if they conquer Earth, it will be the end of civilization in the solar system. Despite the almost certainty of barbarism triumphing, Jamie fights on.

I was reminded of Poul Anderson’s Dominic Flandry series. (I highly recommend them and intend to reread them soon.) Anderson’s hero tries to prevent the collapse of a a galactic empire, even though he knows it’s a lost cause. There’s a sense of fatalism that hangs over Anderson’s work in this part of his future history. Of course Anderson was of Scandinavian descent, and he could do fatalistic like nobody else.  (See The Broken Sword for one example.)

SPOILER:

There’s a Martian trader who is basically a refugee. He’s moves back and forth between the Earth and Venus forces because he’s neutral. Until the end. He manages to get Jamie and Vastari together and manipulates the situation in an attempt to form an alliance. It’s only when Quanna’s interference nearly kills them that they find common ground.

END SPOILER

Robert E. Howard

Howard felt that barbarism was the natural state of mankind. Moore and Howard knew each, if only through the mail. Much of their correspondence does not survive. I can’t help think that Moore was in conversation with Howard when she wrote this story. (I mean figuratively, not literally. I am well aware that Howard had been dead over half a decade when this story was published. )

Moore seems to be coming to a different conclusion, as evidenced by the ending alluded to in the spoiler section above. Moore seems to have a more optimistic outlook, or at least a more hopeful one than Howard. “There Shall Be Darkness” doesn’t end on a happy note; the empire is falling. Darkness is falling with it. But it does end on a hopeful note. There’s still a light of civilization shining in that darkness, at least for now. Moore gives no hint how she thinks the situation will be resolved. She leaves the possibility of barbarism taking over the solar system as a real one. Civilization surviving is far from certain. But I don’t think she sees barbarism as inevitable as Howard did.

There was one major viewpoint character I didn’t care for. That was Quanna. She is self-centered, manipulative, and is only interested in what she wants. She gives no thought to ho her actions affect other people. I’ve dealt with someone like that this week (the personnel matter), and wasn’t in the mood for a person like that being portrayed sympathetically in my entertainment. In this regard, she wasn’t like a Brackett heroine. Brackett’s women as a general rule tend to be strong, self-reliant, and straight forward in their dealings.

C. L. Moore

“There Shall Be Darkness” was never reprinted in any of Moore’s collections (solo or with Kuttner) during her lifetime. It was reprinted in a Gnome Press anthology and a couple of other anthologies. This is its only inclusion in a Moore collection. Unfortunately the production standards on Miracle in Three Dimensions are somewhat poor. There are a number of typos, and in a couple of places, words appear to be missing. The standard practice of a line break to indicate a scene change isn’t followed. On the other hand, original illustrations are included, which is a nice touch.

In my eternally humble opinion, “There Shall Be Darkness” is one of Moore’s major works. It got the cover; see below. Yes, there are attitudes that will probably send modern snowflakes to their safe spaces. Women are second class citizens in Venusian society, something Moore goes to great length to point out when Quanna tells Vastari about the evacuation of the Earthmen. That doesn’t mean Moore held those views herself. (Gimme a break!) She was showing how that particular society treated women. There’s also an air of colonialism and the White Man’s Burden at times. Keep in mind, when this story was written, many of the world powers still had colonial holdings, although the number of holdings were diminishing rapidly.

Moore tackles some heavy themes, particularly the theme of civilization versus barbarism. I’ve discussed that one above, but I could just as easily talked about the role of colonialism in this story. That’s a little outside my area of expertise. It’s also a little too lit-crit for me.

While I loved the echoes of Howardian themes, it’s the exotic adventures on another planet that make this story work. Moore tells a compelling tale. There are enough twists to keep you guessing. The characters are ones you care about. (I initially was sympathetic to Quanna.) “There Shall be Darkness” should be more widely known. Hopefully someone (Stephen Haffner, are you listening?) will publish a major Moore retrospective.  Something along the line of Centipede Press’s Master of the Weird Tale, only nowhere near as expensive, would be perfect.

6 thoughts on “C. L. Moore Channels Brackett and Howard

  1. Manly Reading

    I’m amazed that this has not been more widely reprinted: its unlike enough from much of Moore’s other work to be able to represent her range, and its just so damn good. The only other “solely” Moore I can think of which is at all like this is Judgment Night, and perhaps the short story “Paradise Street”.

    Reply
    1. Keith West Post author

      You’re right. This one should be more widely reprinted. I’ve not read Judgment Night or “Paradise Street” since I was in high school. I’m going to put them in the rotation, along with Doomsday Morning.

      Reply
  2. deuce

    Sounds pretty damned cool! I’m absolutely convinced that Brackett used Moore’s Solar System as a model. There really wasn’t much like it in the pulps until “Shambleau.” The close parallels are numerous. We know Brackett was a Moore fan.

    REH was fond of “The Battle of Otterburn”.

    Reply
    1. Keith West Post author

      I didn’t realize Howard like “The Battle of Otterburn”. That just supports the idea that Moore wrote this story in part as a tribute to Howard and as a response to some of his ideas.

      Reply
    2. John E. Boyle

      Leigh Brackett and her husband were friends with C.L. Moore and her husband, close enough friends that they sometimes went on vacation together. I remember reading somewhere (forget where at the moment) that Moore gave Brackett express permission to write in Moore’s fictional sandbox, her Solar System.

      I think that Howard and Moore influenced each other, but I’ve never read this particular story. Thanks again for the tip!

      Reply
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