Illustration by Crystal Frasier

Sci-Fried: Pucker Up

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cave raptors are sated; it's time to blog!

Back when I was a little ankle-chewer in the distant 1980s, there weren't a lot of strong female role models to choose from. Most of the women on TV were simpering damsels in distress or so fashion- and boy-crazy that they triggered my normally resilient goblin gag reflex. Then in 1985, Mattel rolled out She-Ra and my youthful, violent fanaticism found someone to latch onto. She-Ra still had a lot of fashion doll in her, but she had something that no other female character did: a friggin' sword! For a long while, She-Ra was my favorite show, and I still remember it fondly today, even if the series hasn't aged well.

And why in Lamashtu's name have I forced us all down this horrifying stagger through memory lane? So that it will really drive home the point when I say quite plainly: Jirel of Joiry would kick She-Ra's alabaster ass!

For this week's installment of Sci-Fried, I picked up a copy of the Planet Stories collection Black God's Kiss. Last time around, I enjoyed Kuttner's work on The Dark World, and in my research (and by research, I mean dumpster-diving in Wikipedia) I discovered that he co-wrote most of his later novels with his wife, C. L. Moore.

Illustration by Arnold Tsang

So, major spoilers: C. L. Moore is a woman!

Armed with the knowledge that women can write science fiction, I eagerly dove into Black God's Kiss. And I was not disappointed. The intrusion of pesky adventurers kept me from finishing all six thrilling tales, as their larcenous halfling made off with my copy in the fracas. But the first three short stories were more than enough to whet my appetite and have me picking up a replacement copy today at work.

Black God's Kiss collects Moore's six Jirel of Joiry stories into one convenient volume. The original badass, no-excuses warrior woman before Xena and Lara Croft made it cool, Jirel is the military commander (and later queen) of Joiry, a medieval French territory. She's the best swordswoman in the kingdom, the toughest brawler, and supremely focused on whatever her goal might be. She's every bit as violent as I am, but with all the self-confidence and human emotions I usually use my violence to compensate for.

But like an octopus without its legs, a cool character isn't much to look at if the writing is sub par. And Moore is par excellence. Moore's writing is like an expensive meal. You get the nourishing plot, of course, but what you really love is just putting the prose in your mouth and chewing, savoring those flavorful descriptions and the rich balance of analogies. It's like eating a pickle made out of tasty Halfling toes.

"But the darkness that bandaged her eyes was changed too, indescribably. It was no longer darkness, but void; not an absence of light, but simple nothingness."

That is art. It combines such simple ingredients to create an elegant whole and makes me understand a concept I could never personally experience without visiting family. It makes me want to backtrack, taste it again, and learn how to cook it myself. Jirel's travels beyond reality are so lip-smackingly vivid that they pull me in, despite the book's glaring minority of cephalopods.

Black God's Kiss is an exciting and fun collection of adventures with the kind of action-adventure hero that anyone can enjoy, and any gamer girl and empathize with. This isn't just a book I enjoy reading, this is a book I'm going to enjoy reading to my daughter some day...

Provided I can override my natural instincts to eat my young.

Well, third time's the charm.

Crystal Frasier
Production Specialist

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Tags: Arnold Tsang Barbarians Black God's Kiss C. L. Moore Crystal Frasier Goblins Jirel of Joiry Monsters Planet Stories Sci-Fried
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