Science Fiction's Original Badass
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
I'd edited the thing twice, so I really should have expected it. Still, when Erik dropped our advance copy of Northwest of Earth down in front of me, the resounding "whump" it made was immensely satisfying. You have to understand that this thing is thick—a book measured less in pages than in pounds. And at the same price as all our other Planet Stories installments to date—$12.99—Northwest Smith is a steal for those of us who, like me as a kid especially, strive to make each dollar buy as many words as possible.
Really, though, Northwest of Earth: The Complete Northwest Smith would be worth the price if it were half its size. Decades before Han Solo shot Greedo, thirty years before Captain James Kirk laid eyes on his first seductive alien, there was only Northwest Smith: a hard-bitten spacefarer with a penchant for smuggling and mercenary work, quick with his heat gun and even quicker with his shot glass, Accompanied by his shrewd Venusian sidekick, Northwest paved the way for countless science fiction heroes who chose to operate just outside the bounds of the law. With one broad stroke, C. L. Moore created one of the most cherished archetypes of the genre.
But then, why should we be surprised? After all, C. L. Moore was something of a trailblazer herself. In a time when female authors were marginalized at best, and almost nonexistent in genre fiction, Catherine Lucille Moore kicked down the doors and made the speculative fiction audiences take notice. First published in Weird Tales in 1934, she quickly rose through the ranks of the pulp authors, publishing alongside contemporaries like Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft, continuing to excel even once her gender became widely known. Another of her creations, Jirel of Joiry (whose complete collected stories are available from Planet Stories as Black God's Kiss), was the first female sword-and-sorcery protagonist, a battle-thirsty, take-no-prisoners sort of warrior who showed the fantasy world that some of those clichéd "damsels in distress" could take care of themselves just fine, thank you very much.
Northwest of Earth marks the first-ever complete collection of Northwest Smith stories, including even the rarely-seen "Nymph of Darkness" (a collaboration with Forrest J. Ackerman) and "Quest of the Starstone," a rollicking cross-genre romp in which Moore and husband Henry Kuttner (a groundbreaking SF author in his own right) pair Smith and Jirel together against an evil wizard capable of moving between worlds.
I could talk all day about how important to the genre these stories are, the manner in which they seamlessly blend ray-gun science fiction and cosmic horror, but perhaps you'd rather hear about it from someone more reputable... like, say, H. P. Lovecraft himself? In his personal letters, Lovecraft has this to say about Moore's work:
"These tales have a peculiar quality of cosmic weirdness, hard to define but easy to recognize, which marks them out as really unique... In these tales there is an indefinable atmosphere of vague outsideness and cosmic dread which marks weird work of the best sort. The distinctive thing about Miss Moore is her ability to devise conditions and sights and phenomena of utter strangeness and originality, and to describe them in a language conveying something of their outre, phantasmagoric, and dread-filled quality."—H. P. Lovecraft
So there you have it. Even seventy years ago, the authors of the day understood that this C. L. Moore person was a breed apart—someone of imagination and prose far beyond the standard pulp author. We're putting out a lot of great books this year, but it's with distinct and especial pride that we're releasing Northwest of Earth. I hope you enjoy it.
And now, because everyone loves free samples, a teaser:
For a minute—for two minutes—nothing happened. Then, watching the wall, Smith thought he could discern the shape of the symbol that had been traced. Somehow it was becoming clear among the painted characters. Somehow a grayness was spreading within the outlines he had watched his own hands trace, a fogginess that strengthened and grew clearer and clearer, until he could no longer make out the traceries enclosed within its boundaries, and a great, misty symbol stood out vividly across the wall.
He did not understand for a moment. He watched the grayness take on density and grow stronger with each passing moment, but he did not understand until a long curl of fog drifted lazily out into the room, and the grayness began to spill over its own edges and eddy and billow as if that wall were afire. And from very far away, over measureless voids, he caught the first faint impact of a power so great that he knew in one flash the full horror of what he watched.
The name, traced upon that wall with its own metal counterpart, had opened a doorway for the Thing which bore the name to enter. It was coming back to the world it had left millions of years ago. It was oozing through the opened door, and nothing he could do would stop it...
Editor, Planet Stories