Saturday, 30 April 2011

Black God's Kiss - C L Moore

C L Moore, of course, being Catherine Moore. This is important. Even today, there are some who do not realise (a) that C L Moore was a woman and (b) just how important that was. And that’s before we get onto the book. Pulp fantasy has always had an image problem, not helped by fantasy art work (Paizo, take note). Yet like all branches of writing, above the 90% crap rises the 10% that is well written, innovative, and worthy of respect.

In a field dominated by men, the work of the few women writers tends to stand out anyway, but Catherine Moore went one further and gave us Jirel of Joiry. Because fantasy was not only dominated by male writers, but their protagonists were male as well. The only women were the ones you saw on the lurid covers. Helpless frails or dark, seductive (and invariably scheming and evil) priestesses or witches. Jirel was different. Oh, how she was different.

In the mid to late 1930s, Jirel was positively inspiring. A woman. Strong. Bold. A warrior and leader. Willing to tackle mortal and magical foes alike. Without once being portrayed as a clone of her male counterparts. And even in the company she kept (works by Lovecraft and Howard) she stood her ground.

Moore’s writing is rich. It is probably best to read these stories in instalments (as they were intended), because in one sitting it can be a bit much. But for all that, these are also beautifully written. Characterization of Jirel is complex and sensitive; the stories are simply but strongly plotted; and the scenes are well imagined and described. It is no wonder that not only did Moore open the way for many other women writers, especially in science fiction and fantasy, she set a high standard as the starting point for those that followed.

Moore was not the only woman writing sf and fantasy, but she gave us its first true female protagonist, someone who was far removed from the masturbatory fantasy art which Paizo has chosen to put on the cover of this collection. A shame. Given the huge amount of illustrative talent that exists, they could surely have found something more appropriate.