First, you have to read a great deal of the works you enjoy most. Much of it will be useless. But the trusty unconscious can be relied on to make lots of unseen notes, just in case. Mine did not fail me. Afterword: Footnote to Shambleau by C.L. Moore
Okay, I’m beginning to realise that there are some pretty serious gaps in my reading history. Gaps that just shouldn’t be there. Gaps that I wish someone had pointed out and encouraged me to fill as I was growing up. So I’m here now, listing the writers I’ve recently discovered and telling you why you should read them. I’m calling them Misplaced Writers because somehow they seem to have lost their rightful place in the history of Science Fiction and Fantasy.
C.L.Moore is top of that list. For reasons I don’t really understand Moore wasn’t included within Appendix N, despite her stories being chock full of fantasy goodness. To prove my point I’m going to look at a pair of stories you can find in ‘The Best of C.L. Moore‘ I liked one and loved the other, and in doing so learned more about myself than I knew before. How many times can you say that after reading a story?
Shambleau begins this collection of tales, and I was hooked from the very first sentence:
Man has conquered space before.
Seriously, talk about a getting a grip on your reader! That’s all it took, I was hooked. Moore then takes you on a ride, and it’s not the one you were expecting to go on. It’s seductive, the language is languid and liquid until it sets as hard as the carbonite they enclosed Northwest in. Did I say Northwest? I meant Han. I mean, it’s not like they’re essentially the same character or anything. Clear differences. You know, for trademark reasons obviously. The story is a great bait and switch, and I enjoyed it immensely.
Northwest is a great hero, but Shambleau is the one that really stands out. Now you can have a great setting with vivid description and vibrant mythmaking and I won’t pay the slightest attention to it if I don’t care for your main characters. For me, it has to be the lead front and centre. If you get them right, then I’ll take a closer look at the rest of what you’ve written. Hell, I’ve read everything Andy Mcnab has put out based purely on his Nick Stone character. Same goes for Scott Mariani and his Ben Hope. (Their days are numbered though, the stories they tell are weak beer compared to the good stuff I’ve been working through).
I digress. Shambleau was so well drawn that I could see her, picture her clearly in my minds eye and I understood her motivations. Moore managed to make the alien relatable. And she did it with her very first story. How can you not admire that? The story, though short feels long and that’s purely through the word choice. It’s subtle and clever and any self-respecting writer should go over it a few times to see just how she manages it. Honestly, I liked Shambleau a great deal. I didn’t love it though. The reason is a simple one. Right now, at this point in my life I’m just grokking fantasy more.
Which brings me to…duh duh duuuuh:
Ah, Jirel of Joiry, red head of my dreams. Moore introduces her in The Black Gods Kiss like this:
Guillaume scarcely heard her. He was still staring, as most men stared when they first set eyes upon Jirel of Joiry. She was tall as most men, and as savage as the wildest of them, and the fall of Joiry was bitter enough to break her heart as she stood snarling curses up at her tall conqueror. The face above her mail might not have been fair in a woman’s head-dress, but in the steel setting of her armor it had a biting, sword-edge beauty as keen as the flash of blades. The red hair was short upon her high, defiant head, and the yellow blaze of her eyes held fury as a crucible holds fire.
Now I can believe that this woman is a kick ass hero. Then Moore goes and throws in a trip to a parallel world, my own favourite kind of story! Ye gods I was in heaven. It reminded of Dunsany, the way that his characters start off somewhere we know, and then, shortly after taking a left turn on the way out of London end up somewhere else. Dunsanys characters, at least the ones that I read and believe me I’m no expert, went to these lands to steal, to take something that didn’t belong to them. Jirel goes to find a weapon, one that will regain her the Kingdom.
She gets it too.
On the way is some of the tightest writing I’ve ever come across. Whoever said that Pulp Era authors were verbose was talking out of his ass. I challenge anyone to find a single extraneous word in either story, knowing full well that you won’t find one. Moore was just too good a writer and like Merritt, Haggard and Brackett a natural storyteller. It begins with the character, giving her serious motivations for her actions and then uses them to drive her onwards. Through Hell itself.
The description is tight, suffocatingly so at times. The plot is just as tight, nobody does anything just because. The outcome is inevitable and horrible and so damned sad, you feel for Jirel as she does her dark deed. Every character is pitch perfect, the good are good, the bad are evil and if Guilliame is neither that’s just good writing. I loved this story, I read it in one go, without stopping for anything until it came to conclusion. I then spent a couple of quid and bought the collected stories of Jirel, and enjoyed them equally.
After all that, why do I wish I’d read Moore earlier? Because I’d be a much better writer today if I had. Pacing is everything when it comes to a story and Moore had better pacing than just about anyone else out there. Merritt was better, perhaps but a case can be made either way. If I’d read Moore as a kid rather than King, for example, I think I’d have grown up with a much harsher view of his meandering ways.
That’s all for now, thanks for reading